1/04/2006
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Halberstam: "The exposure of a trans character whom the audience has already accepted as male or female, causes the audience to reorient themselves in relation to the film's past in order to read the film's present and prepare themselves for the film's future. When we 'see' the transgender character, then, we are actually seeing cinematic time's sleight of hand. Visibility, under these circumstances, may be equated with jeopardy, danger, and exposure, and it often becomes necessary for the transgender character to disappear in order to remain viable. The transgender gaze becomes difficult to track because it depends on complex relations in time and space between seeing and not seeing, appearing and disappearing, knowing and not knowing."

I wonder to what extent such an argument could be resituated for disabled characters who are ultimately revealed as normal, as in The Usual Suspects, for example. Verbal has to leave the screen and the movie has to end right at the moment when we learn that he is Keyser Soze. (Of course he is a normal villian, the embodiment of "evil," or as they say, less Tiny Tim and more Captain "demonic crip" Ahab.)

Comments on ""

 

Blogger kari said ... (11:02 PM) : 

There maybe some credence to you point... not only being trans but I am very dyslexic... though this is rarely seen as anything... and even though I register it... most do not get it, and still wonder why I ca nt spl....

I think the gaze always situates, with only a moment in between, nothing and instant signification...... I do not recall the usual suspect... and cannot recall any instances of one who is labeled with a disability and later seen as not having one.. but it seems as if that would be a conversation with someone who receives that gaze... and what that means to be seems as....

And this maybe off point….

but there is a moment, a wonderful moment, that one (I) notice when someone is attempting to read someone and cannot.. There is always a sense of disorientation.. And maybe no time... but it is at that moment of signification and if the individual perpetrating the gaze feels betrayed that is when the danger arises..

 

Blogger -k said ... (10:08 AM) : 

Halberstam would agree, I think. The potential for violence happens when the gaze becomes indeterminate (or as you say disoriented) from focusing on a transgender subject. Her main examples are _Boys Don't Cry_ and __The Crying Game_. She says the directors mostly avoid a transgender gaze except for a few key moments. But mostly the films operate in a way that seeks to isolate either male-or-female gender.

In _Usual Suspects_ the narrator, Verbal, is portrayed as physically disabled and mentally below everyone else in the film, especially in contrast to the condescending detective who interrogates him in the police station. At the end of the movie we realize (along with the detective) that Verbal is really the mastermind behind the entire plot and moreover that the entire plot that we've just heard was an impromptu fabrication that Verbal/Keyser Soze invented during the interrogation. The gaze of the audience is aligned with the detective. Our job, like his, is to figure out the "truth" of Verbal/Keyser's narrative. The moment of instability comes at the very end when we realize Verbal/Keyser's complete control over the situation.

But I think my comparison of Halberstam's argument with the disability issue can only go so far because the film does not point to some kind of liminal or in-between place where ability and disability would be undecidable. The key detail which I'd forgotten was that Kevin Spacy's character (Verbal/Keyser Soze) actually straightens out his bent limbs during the final scene. We see him as "normal" and his disability as an elaborate performance. It's interesting that his gesture actually corresponds to a long tradition in filmmaking. Some of the earliest films from the late 19C feature disabled beggars panhandling for money until a policeman shows they are faking it. There were lots of variations on this from blind to quadriplegic beggars, all with lots of comedic overtones. According to a book I have on the history of disability in movies, these films participated in a movement to empty certain areas of NY of any homeless population--the implication being that anyone on the streets was pulling a con. In other words the films helped rationalize any violent actions taken against the homeless.

 

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