Press Releases: Historiography Edition
Assimilation Co-Opts Rebellion: Bell-Metereau’s Analysis of Hollywood Androgyny
Film History, Gender History, Queer History, Social History
America, but ultimately not specified.
Citation for First Edition/Printing
Bell-Metereau. 1985. Hollywood Androgyny. 1st ed. Columbia University Press.
In Hollywood Androgyny Rebecca Bell-Metereau discusses the occurrence of cross-dressing in Hollywood films and even goes further by discussing female and male impersonators in film. Bell-Metereau splits her book into a few different categories starting with female impersonation before 1960, then male impersonation before 1960. She then goes on to discuss movies after the 1960’s up to 1985 when the first edition was published. The second edition was then published with an added a new chapter called “Fin de Siècle, Anxieties Coming Out” which discusses “newer” films that present gender ambiguity, cross-dressing, gender impersonation, or reversal of gender roles. Bell-Metereau uses a variety of films to explore gender in film such as Some Like It Hot, I Was A Male War Bride, Victor/Victoria, Thelma and Louise, Yentl, Alien, and many more.
Bell-Metereau’s methods include comparing and contrasting queer films against each other to show the variety that is cross-dressing and gender impersonation in film. Also is very critical of the actors or actresses performance themselves not just the story and analyzes the film in less of a historical view. Along with comparing and contrasting Bell-Metereau comments on reviews of the movies she talks about and combats them by revealing their own biases that would have effected their writing but also builds off of it to discuss her own thoughts.
From the one review I was able to find by Geraldine Maschio who states she thinks Bell-Metereau could have explored these topics more in the context of social history and that her ending is very optimistic and words it in a way that gives a sense that that is a bad thing. But otherwise comments on how her exploration and analysis is “astute”.
Impact on Historiography
From what I’ve seen there isn’t much of an impact. I have been able to find one review associated with the journal Signs which is somewhat exclusive. Not only that but when looking for this book it is difficult to find to purchase and the only way I was able to get this book is by accident at a thrift store. So this leads me to believe that because of its small audience it would not have the opportunity to impact historical thought. Not to mention in his review Robert C. Allen mentions how little there is written about gender in film specifically “cross-dressing” or gender impersonators. “Hollywood Androgyny is the first scholarly recognition of this rather common yet unacknowledged phenomenon.”(p 161). It’s lack of acknowledgement could be due to the fact that Bell-Metereau is a doctor in English not history. The outcome of this would result in dismissal as it would not automatically pique the interest of historians, especially since it seems she did not intend to write this from a historical perspective. Despite this fact I think her writing is important because it is necessary evidence that could be used currently in the defense of queer people.