The Queer Aesthete, The Diva, And The Red Shoes

Out Takes: Essays on Queer Theory and Film – Alexander Doty

3 thoughts on “The Queer Aesthete, The Diva, And The Red Shoes

  1. Very interesting essay.

    I see the point completely, but I disagree slightly. There is a sexual desire element in Lermontov’s feelings for Vicky. Lermontov is certainly gay, but I think what’s compelling about the dynamic between the two characters is the possibility that in Vicky Page he has found a dancer, a woman, for whom his feelings are not classifiable. He has succeeded thus far brilliantly at “ignoring” his (gay) human nature, and then he met a person with whom he becomes obsessed. The scene at Grischa’s birthday party, to which Lermontov hastens, believing Vicky to be there, seems to me to be key. When he gets out of the car, his eyes can be seen darting among the crowd, unconsciously searching for her face. His eagerness to discover whether she is there or not is almost schoolboyish; who among us has not behaved in that out of control way when laboring under a crush? The camera pans over the garish collection of faces that are there, looking at him expectantly and wondering at his strange behavior, and then it’s revealed that she is not at the party and has, in fact, stolen off with the (straight) man who has no qualms about or barriers to “possessing” her (and who goes on to do so, in a pretty disagreeable way, later in the movie). And then the camera lingers on Lermontov’s face, destroyed by the knowledge that his fantasy (whatever it was) of being with her, charming her, maybe even crossing the boundary between them (power, even sexual identity), is forever lost. Just moments before, swept up in her success and his growing feelings for her, he has sought to take her to dinner, a move that clearly is unprecedented, given the reactions of his colleagues when he asks about the best restaurant in town. He’s suddenly coloring outside the lines, changing slightly, because of her. I also think Lermontov does try to hurt Craster’s career partly out of personal jealousy. Though, as he says at the end in the line you quote, he’s jealous of her in a way Craster can’t possibly understand, maybe partly because Lermontov himself doesn’t understand it. His emotions are so unpredictable that they have even made his homosexuality, at least in this one case, something capable of being questioned.

    It’s a discredit to Walbrook not to see the vulnerability he brought out in Lermontov’s character in his portrayal of a powerful man who has discovered that some emotions don’t fit into neat categories. The only times we see him as having any real emotions are when he is confused, and/or angry about being confused, by something she has done or said: from the party scene at the beginning when he is caught off guard by her discussion of dance, to his intense observation of her at the Mercury Theater, to Grischa’s party, to the struggle he goes through with himself before writing a letter to her, begging her to come back to the troupe.

    The question is: What is different about Vicky? If he is merely a monomaniac out to express himself, to master his art by channeling it through a feminine tool, then why isn’t he satisfied with Boronskaja? He’s unaccountably and maddeningly obsessed with a woman, and feeling unexpected emotion makes him uneasy. It’s a very human circumstance. And that is part of the beauty of the writing and the performance.

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  2. I agree with Shira. A strictly homosexual reading of Lermontov ignores the dinner/party scene which has a romantic heterosexual overtone. There is also tremendous chemistry between Walbrook and Shearer in their scenes together. ( Shearer and Goring are a bit of a fizzle together) He is seducing her to get her to stay, to come back and to dance at the end. He is using sex or dangling the promise of a sexual relationship in front of her which is why she shows up in the gown and tiara to his villa. It is clear that he doesn’t know what to do when she responds so openly to his invitation, but shortly afterward he practically throws Julian at her. By the time he thinks he might be willing to consider her in a romantic way, it is too late and she is with Julian. He is an expert at covering his gay identity and he discovers a new bisexual identity which has even less space to exist in his world, an identity which would be distrusted by hetero and homosexual alike. He hesitates. He looses. He lies to himself mainly about the meaning of his relationship with Vicki believing that it is purely a desire to possess her as an artist. Think of that theme, lying to oneself, and how powerful it is in other Powell and Pressburger films: the self-denial of Sister Clodagh in Black Narcissus and of Joan Webster in I Know Where I’m Going. Lermontov has blood on his hands in the same way Clodagh does and Joan nearly does and it is a direct result of his failure to deal with certain aspects of his identity. Ironically, it’s not his gay identity that is a problem, which as Alexander Doty so brilliantly point out has been dealt with by the substitution of a feminine instrument, but it is the domestic relationship he has so long belittled that messes with his head. After he looses Page to Julian he throws himself headlong back into his quest to get his instrument back, free of the domestic entanglement that so repulses him.

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  3. Pingback: British Queer Cinema: A Canterbury Tale | Quixotando

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