Nouveau Désordre: Diabolical Queerness in 1950s French Cinema
1950s France was not the safest cultural terrain on which to build queer cinematic images.1 The gay men of the 1930s French cinema glory days had beaten a sharp retreat back into the celluloid closet.2 The Nazi Occupation introduced anti-gay legislation in France for the first time since the 1791 reforms (and this regression was to remain in place until François Mitterand’s 1981 victory). Yet after the war, gay people were associated with collaboration and decadence and seen as agents of corruption that the shiny new, post-Résistance French nation needed to scrub away from its guilt-sodden consciousness as quickly as possible. These were the years of ‘fast cars and clean bodies’, not transgression, experimentalism, or anything remotely ‘queer’.3 Even the major visible counter-cultural movement in France at the beginning of the decade, Existentialism, was overwhelmingly heterosexual in its Sartre-Beauvoir-Camus-branded café manifestations. If it undoubtedly had its queerer undercurrents and associated players (such as the bisexual writer Violette Leduc, author of the censored adolescent lesbian novel Ravages (1955) and the melancholic autobiography La Bâtarde (1964)), these elements remained muted, unthreatening, in the background.4 Existentialism would be supplanted by cinema’s Nouvelle Vague (or New Wave) towards the end of the decade as France’s hippest left-field export.
KeywordsFrench Nation Drag Queen Lady Gaga Nazi Occupation Clean Body
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- 1.As Richard Dyer reminds us: ‘The post-war period was markedly homophobic. The anti-gay legislation introduced under Vichy in 1942 was maintained, and the Paris police began cracking down on homosexuality from 1949 on; anti-gay laws were to be strengthened under Charles de Gaulle.’ Richard Dyer, ‘No Place lor Homosexuality: Marcel Carné’s L’Air de Paris (1954)’, in Susan Hayward and Ginette Vincendeau’s (eds) French Film: Texts and Contexts (London/New York: Routledge, 2000), 128.Google Scholar
- 3.See Kristin Ross, Fast Cars, Clean Bodies: Decolonization and the Reordering of French Culture (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996).Google Scholar
- 7.See Jane Giles, The Cinema of Jean Genet: Un Chant d’Amour (London: BFI, 1991), 31.Google Scholar
- 8.Notre-Dame-des-Fleurs, circulated anonymously for much of the 1940s, was considered by many who read it to be mere pornography, and was published in truncated form by Gallimard in 1951. For a useful analysis of ‘actual’ homosexual life in 1950s France, as opposed to literary/cinematic fantasies of it, see Julian Jackson’s Living in Arcadia: Homosexuality, Politics and Morality in France from the Liberation to AIDS (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- 11.As James S. Williams puts it: ‘he was considered alter the war to be passé in an age of political engagement’. James S. Williams Jean Cocteau (London: Reaktion, 2008), 114.Google Scholar