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July 18, 2022

The Silver Screen - Color Me Lavender

lawrence of arabia.jpg

Mark Rappaport - 1997
Kino Classics All Regions DVD

There are probably better analogies, but this new DVD with one feature-length work plus three shorter films as a bonus is kind of like having a good, but not totally satisfying dinner at a restaurant where the desserts are all bette than the main course. Color Me Lavender might be viewed as complimentary to Vito Russo's The Celluloid Closet. Rappaport has more on his mind than how gay men are represented on film, with many of his questions valid on how film should be "read". By this I mean historical and cultural contexts at the time of creation, how certain tropes were understood by audiences of the past, as well as what may or may not have been intended by filmmakers of the time. What makes Rappaport's inquiries into cinema history interesting are the various connections he makes, some of them unexpected.

Rappaport limits his survey to films from the Thirties, Forties and Fifties with a slight nudge into the early Sixties, and primarily Hollywood with a brief jaunt into France and Italy. Dan Butler provides the narration and appears on screen walking in on freeze frames of several of the films. Some of material is familiar - the homoeroticism of the onscreen relationship of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, the now beaten to death Randolph Scott/Cary Grant stories, how the film Crossfire, praised for addressing anti-Semitism, was based on a novel where the victim was a gay soldier. More amusingly, and possibly to the chagrin of fans and scholars of Westerns, is the presentation of cowboy hero and his older sidekick as coded, with the dynamics of the relationship based on who makes the coffee. I am almost surprised that Rappaport made no jokes about Walter Brennan having two modes of acting - with or without teeth. That very brief foray into the Sixties is in the opening, with Jose Ferrer getting to first base with the shirtless Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia, a film that could have easily been advertised as starring "an all male cast" and really not be wrong.

Curiously, the only gay filmmakers discussed are Jean Cocteau and Luchino Visconti, and their male muses. For Cocteau, this means how Jean Marais is lit and framed in loving close-ups. For Visconti, it is how Massimo Girotti was filmed in Ossessione. Aside from Alain Delon's photogenic qualities in Rocco and His Brothers, Rappaport looks at the relationship between Rocco and Simone, how the brothers are also linked by the woman they are both in love with as well as the boxing manager they both work for.

The bonus films, three video essays, are tangentially connected to the main feature. The Vanity Tables of Douglas Sirk is about literal and symbolic uses of reflections within the narrative in Sirk's films. Additionally the choice of shots and how multiple characters may appear in the mirror demonstrates Sirk's ability to create several focal points within the camera frame. The Double Life of Paul Henreid is about actor turned director's career trajectory, from top or second lead as a Warner Brothers contract star, to his turn in lower budget fare in independent or foreign films following the blacklisting era. Rappaport connects three film Henreid produced, directed and/or starred in Hallow Triumph, Stolen Face and Dead Ringer with plots involving twin identities. Dead Ringer. Martin und Hans is presentation of clips from films featuring Martin Kosleck and Hans Heinrich von Twardowski, gay German refugees and longtime partners, who had varying degrees of success as supporting players in Hollywood. Rappaport's screenplay is comprised of first person offscreen narration from actors portraying the two men. The lesser known von Twardowski's biggest role was as a gay prisoners in the German silent, Sex in Chains by William Dieterle. The better known Martin Kosleck made a career of playing Nazi officers. At one point, Kosleck suggests to Rappaport that a video essay be made of Kosleck's five times portraying Joseph Goebbels, to which I say, "Yes, please".

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at July 18, 2022 06:29 AM