Lisa Ben's “Cinema Ramblings” in the 1940s underground publication Vice Versa mark some of the first media reviews to focus on homosexual themes, representations, and subtexts from a self-proclaimed lesbian perspective. While still largely unknown, the critical lenses and stylistic methods she employed set a precedent for the kind of radical queer media criticism that reviewers engage in today. Her writings deconstruct heteronormative frameworks by redefining the borders of the “normal” and the “natural”; look to the margins of media texts, often placing more focus on secondary figures than on main characters; rely on intertextual understandings that read films against their adaptation sources; and actively participate in a form of “subtexting,” or, as she puts it, “playing up” suggestive representations. Ben's film reviews present an important and relevant counterframe to cinematic deliberations on the instability of sexual and social relations. This counterframe existed among other counterpublic discourses available at the time and enables a queer reading of 1930s and ’40s film representations such as Children of Loneliness (1934), Club des femmes (1936), and Turnabout (1940). Drawing from reviews and essays published in Vice Versa, I propose a way of reading media representations of transgressive sexuality and gender—an analytic and a vocabulary—that predates queer theory as an institutionalized concern.
- Lisa Ben
- lesbian representation
- Production Code Administration
- Proto-queer media criticism
- queer film criticism
- Vice Versa (magazine)
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