CFP: Queer Underground Cinema, 1950-1968

From: Chuck Kleinhans (email suppressed)
Date: Sun Apr 06 2008 - 13:43:05 PDT


Postwar Queer Underground Cinema, 1950-1968

A Conference at Yale University, February 20-21, 2009

Organized by the Yale Research Initiative on the History of Sexualities

Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising (1963), Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures
(1963), and Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls (1966) are widely regarded as
some of the most important and influential films of postwar
underground cinema. But cinema studies has only recently begun to
take seriously the fact that Anger, Smith, and Warhol were gay
filmmakers whose films developed a queer aesthetic to explore
questions of queer subjectivity and world-making. Moreover, the field
has still barely registered the fact that they were not just
brilliant auteurs working in isolation but were enmeshed in and
influenced by a larger circle of mostly New York-based queer
filmmakers, performers, writers, and artists.

This conference seeks to map the contours and assess the significance
of this wider cultural formation, which we call postwar queer
underground cinema. This cinema largely developed in the 1950s and
60s in the ferment of downtown New York, the scene of complex
interactions, collaborations, and conflicts between mostly gay or
bisexual male filmmakers and critics and mostly heterosexual but
resolutely anti-heteronormative female (and some male) filmmakers as
well as between white, Puerto Rican, African American, bohemian, and
gay cultures, communities, and artists. We hope to explore the work,
interrelationships, and influence of Marie Menken, Willard Maas, Ben
Moore, Ken Jacobs, Jonas Mekas, Barbara Rubin, José Rodriguez-
Soltero, Gregory Markopoulos, Mario Montez, Naomi Levine, Shirley
Clarke, Charles Boultenhouse, and Parker Tyler, among others, as well
as Anger, Smith, and Warhol.

Papers could focus on neglected individual filmmakers in this scene
as well as on groups of filmmakers and other avant-garde artists with
the purpose of charting and analyzing the social networks,
collaborations, and conflicts that shaped the queer underground, as
well as its broader urban, social, cultural, and political sources
and ramifications. (Every paper should discuss more than a single
filmmaker or film.) Papers might also address questions such as: Did
queer underground filmmakers develop a distinctive queer aesthetic,
and if so, what were its traits and what was its relationship to and
influence on the broader avant-garde? How did underground films
explore queer subjectivity, imagine queer futures, or destabilize the
boundaries between hetero and homo—and what did it mean that such
films were seen and discussed so widely by avant-garde audiences?
What was the significance of the queer underground to gay politics
and to the politics of the avant-garde as a whole in the 1950s and
1960s, particularly at a time when screening queer films such as
Flaming Creatures or Chant d’Amour often provoked the police to shut
down avant-garde cinema venues? What was the (social, aesthetic,
political) relationship of the film underground to the queer
underground theater and arts scenes, to the multiracial social worlds
and cultures of postwar New York City, and to other regional avant-
gardes in Europe, Asia, and the Americas?

Confirmed participants include Callie Angel (Whitney Museum of Art),
Douglas Crimp (Rochester), Jennifer Doyle (UC-Riverside), Tom Gunning
(Chicago), Melissa Ragona (Carnegie-Mellon), and Ann Reynolds (UT-
Austin), plus the playwright Robert Heide, filmmaker Ken Jacobs, and
critic Amy Taubin.

The conference will consist of both public sessions and closed
working sessions. Public sessions will feature public lectures, a
panel of artists and critics reflecting on the underground scene they
witnessed, two evenings of performances, film screenings, and panel
discussions, and an exhibition at the Beinecke Rare Books and
Manuscripts Library displaying the library’s considerable holdings of
papers bearing on the conference theme.

The heart of the conference will consist of a series of closed
working sessions at which a dozen or so participants discuss one
another’s pre-circulated papers. Although presenters may show
illustrative film clips and make introductory remarks, most time will
be devoted to discussion--not a reading--of the papers. Our hope is
that this format will produce a more focused, sustained, and
productive conversation than public conferences often do.

This call solicits proposals for papers for the closed sessions.
Proposals should consist of (1) a 750-word précis of the paper, which
clearly indicates how it speaks to the conference theme, and (2) a
1-2 page c.v. Proposals should be submitted as e-mail attachments to
Ron Gregg email suppressed by May 15, 2008. Please also direct
any inquiries about the conference to him.

Presenters are expected to submit the complete 20-25 (double-spaced)
page paper by December 1, 2008. The conference will cover the
travel, lodging, and meals of presenters. We intend to produce an
edited collection based on revised versions of the papers.

The conference is being organized by George Chauncey (Yale), Ron
Gregg (Yale), and Juan Suárez (Murcia) on behalf of the Yale Research
Initiative on the History of Sexualities (YRIHS). It has received
additional support from the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript
Library, the Whitney Humanities Center, the Department of the History
of Art, the World Performance Project, the Department of Theater
Studies, and the Film Studies Program. Check the YRIHS’ web site for
conference updates:

For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.