Russ Meyer in the Archives

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A few years ago, I thought it would be fun to post some short archival-encounter quickies, but alas, my enthusiasm sometimes snowballs into verbosity, the ostensible quickies took as much effort as full posts, and I guess it trailed off, after an expose of a night with Fassbinder, the gay-leather mag Star Wars review, antigay jerks with eggs in 1980s Wisconsin, and some unearthed 1970s New Jersey lesbian cat poetry.

So, to flare that old archive fever back up, and tersely at that: Continue reading

Merry Belated XXXMas, and Out of the Archives, Into a Book

Not particularly timely update here, but just to log this in the way of eight-newscycles-late blogging lethargy, I co-wrote a fun piece with the great Laura Helen Marks that wound up on Salon on Christmas Day: “Merry XXX-Mas: a brief history of Yuletide smut“!

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Archive Fever: My Night with Fassbinder (Stallion, 1983)

I was sifting through old issues of Stallion last week, and came across this.

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As far as I can tell, the only digital trace this has left is some skeevy, inordinately expensive rip-off pay-to-scan site that I won’t link to, but it seemed a loss to history to leave forgotten a nice little article about my favorite filmmaker of all time. If Google Books is to be trusted, Fassbinder’s biographers and scholars have all missed this gem!

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Willard Motley and the Black Queer Archive

This is not a blog of personal revelation, but I will confess this: I have a hard time shaking the Romance of the Archive. Postcolonial scholarship in particular has rightly highlighted the ways imperial archives (and they’re all imperial) shape historical knowledge and remove certain subjects and identities from memory—though even the fantastic essays in a collection like Archive Stories can’t help but reinscribe some of the very romance they seek to dismantle, in their engaging narratives of seeking access to restricted documents from India to Uzbekistan through charm, subterfuge, or any means necessary. Meanwhile, I’m so haunted by Derrida’s deconstruction of “archive fever” that I sometimes—and this is as far as the confessional goes—walk around the house humming its title to the tune of the amazing Angel Haze.

Yet I continue to dig in archives rather tenaciously, and can’t help feeling a thrill when I come across buried treasures, be they a letter from Bertrand Russell to gay activists in the early 1960s pledging his support in absentia or a letter from then-unknown literature professor Kurt Vonnegut offering to testify at an Iowa obscenity trial. Though the archive must always be viewed with suspicion toward the power formations that structured it and are in turn replicated through it, and always supplemented with other sources of knowledge, I do subscribe to the value of unearthing what remains hidden in its recesses.

Which brings me to Willard Motley. I confess, I know little of the black Chicago author, though upon reviewing Michael Bronski’s essay “Back to the Future: Recovering Our Literary Past” in the Drewey Wayne Gunn-edited collection The Golden Age of Gay Fiction yesterday, I re-read a passage I had underlined, about Motley . His 1947 novel Knock on Any Door had been purged of its queer content for the 1949 Bogart film, like so many other stories from the Production Code era, from Lost Weekend to all those hilariously sweaty heterosexual Charlton Heston epics. Bronski writes that Motley has been largely forgotten, “because he wrote only about white people and because his overt homosexuality and (what was called in the black press) ‘effeminacy’ made him and his books suspect as good role models for African Americans.”

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