He's All Man: Learning Masculinity,
Gayness, and Love from American Movies
John M. Clum
New York: Palgrave, 2002.
$26.95, 232 pages, ISBN 0-312-24035-X.
Université de Rouen
John M. Clum is Professor of Theater Studies and English at Duke University.
He has edited various books and authored a couple of excellent studies, such
as Something for the Boys: Musical Theater and Gay Culture (1999), in
which he examines much more than musical theater and gay culture, looking at
TV shows like Will & Grace in passing, and addressing the politics
of "passing". He has also written a number of plays which have been
produced all over the U.S. Randy's House was produced in Carmel last fall.
Some of his plays can be found in Staging Gay Lives: An Anthology of Contemporary
Gay Theater (1996), which he edited, and in Asking and Telling (2002).
He's All Man: Learning Masculinity, Gayness, and Love from American Movies is
divided into three parts: the first part is called "Learning Masculinity," the
second "Learning Gayness?," and the third "Learning Love." The
chapter titles are witty and tongue-in-cheek, which does not stop them from clearly
announcing the contents. The Foreword is called "Ronald Reagan, Audie Murphy,
and I: A Saturday Matinee Education Into Manhood." Clum announces that he
intends to investigate the "images of masculinity that Hollywood [has] given
us." (xi) He is "particularly interested in the homoeroticism and anxiety
that circulate around films that define and maintain conventional masculine roles." (xi)
Reagan, Clum reminds us, had a ballet dancer son. This triggered rumors during
his first presidential campaign, prompting him to declare at a press conference: "He's
all manwe made sure of that." The son found a wife, abandoned ballet
to work in television, and America could breathe again. Reagan, of course, was
a movie cowboy before he became a White House cowboy (and not the last one either).
We know from the title of the book and the Foreword that He's All Man: Learning
Masculinity, Gayness, and Love from American Movies is going to be about gender
as much as about sexual orientation, and Clum does not disappoint. Judith Butler's
name appears on page xv.
Chapter One is entitled "Dicks and Testosterone: What Little Boys Are Made
Of." At the beginning Clum states: "Butchness is, after all, a state
of mind, not body." (3) Although the book is about American movies, he cannot
help discussing Pedro Almodovar's All About My Mother (1999), nor should
he refrain. Few films have offered such fascinating views on gender and sexual
orientation, complete with metafictional Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote
references. Clum also mentions British films like Peter Cataneo's The Full
Monty (1997). "Paradoxically, we live in a society that worships the
power and authority symbolized by the phallus but which thinks it shameful, literally
'indecent,' to display the penis." (7) He goes on with films like David
Fincher's Fight Club (1999), deeming that the split personality in Chuck
Palahniuk's novel (1996) is convincing, whereas "in the film it seems a
desperate, unconvincing ploy to erase the obvious sexual desire that holds the
two men together." (19) To introduce a passage on Andy & Larry Wachowski's The
Matrix (1999), he relevantly remembers a graduate student of his who "once
declared that the difference between the straight male body and the gay male
body is that the gay body is permeablethings are put in it. The idea of
such permeability is terrifying to straight men." (20)
I do not entirely subscribe to the contrasts he establishes between the body
of Keanu Reeves and those of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, though,
as he seems momentarily to forget that bodybuilders are feminized to an important
degree, body obsessing as they do, shaving from head to toe, developing pectorals
that end up looking like breasts, offering themselves as sexual spectacle (for
the male gaze more than the female gaze), etc.
Chapter Two is called "Father Knows Best: Picturing the Gender Order." To
begin with, it offers undeniable observations, such as: "One of Hollywood's
most important functions has been to market conventional patriarchal heterosexuality
expressed through marriage as the only means to true happiness." (23) He
also reminds us that "it is impossible to write of masculinity without writing
of the groups against which heterosexual men define themselveswomen and
gay men." (24), before recalling R. W. Cornell's definition of "hegemonic
masculinity." (25) A series of acute observations about all sorts of movies
follows, leading to camp classics Sunset Boulevard and All About Eve,
and to tremendous insights about Tennessee Williams movies. The chapter concludes
with Sam Mendes's American Beauty (1999).
Chapter Three, "Fathers and Cowboys: Teaching Manhood," quotes Susan
Faludi, which was not really necessary, but it then covers more Tennessee Williams
(great material about Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Paul Newman) and Arthur
Miller (along with Sam Shepard) while embarking on a splendid John Wayne discussion.
Chapter Four is entitled "Manhood Unraveling: Homosexual Panic and Martyrdom." There
is more Williams, of course, and among others John Boorman's Deliverance (1972),
Derek Jarman's Sebastiane (1976), Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter (1978). "The
Deer Hunter can easily be read as a love story between Michael and [
Nick." (86) Chapter Five, "Gay Killers," looks atof courseMervyn
LeRoy's Little Caesar (1930), Rouben Mamoulian's Golden Boy (1939),
etc. In both John Huston's The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Charles Vidor's Gilda (1946),
Clum writes, "homosexuals and homosexual desire are crucial to the action
of the film, particularly as they relate to the gender order." (109) In
my Cercles reviews of Michael Woodiwiss's Organized Crime and American
Power: A History (2001), Herbert Asbury's The Gangs of New York:
An Informal History of the Underworld (1928/2001) and Romain Huret's Le
Crime organisé à la
ville et à lécran: 1929-1951, I spoke of the Agrégation
/ CAPES syllabus. These words might not mean much to our international readership;
they designate, roughly, French post-BA competitive exams that among other
advantages secure at least a teaching job in a secondary school. This academic
of the questions is "Organized Crime in Fact and on Film: United States,
1929-1951," and I have no doubt the students would greatly profit from
the help Clum provides when it comes to pondering the (construction of) masculinity
of the Golden Age Hollywood gangster. Chapter Five also examines films like
Hitchcock's Rope (1948), Richard Fleisher's Compulsion (1959)
and Anthony Minghella's The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999).
In Chapter Six, "Sex and the City: Nuts, Sluts, and Deadly Queers," Clum
addresses urban folk tales and urban horror tales, "films of sex, murder,
and revenge." (134) Fritz Lang, Adrian Lyne, Martin Scorsese, Richard
Brooks, Alan Pakula and William Friedkin are summoned, and I am glad to say
speaks of not-so-well-known films, like Scott Silver's disturbing Johns (1996)
or Gregg Araki's postmodern masterpieces (I personally consider Araki a genius).
Chapter Seven, "In the Shadow of Cary Grant: Gay Romance," and Chapter
Eight, "Black and White: Ennobling Love," are equally illuminating.
Chapter Seven deals with the wish or need to queer romantic comedies of the
1940s and 1950s for boys growing up gay back then, and the possibilities on
Chapter Eight, short but effective, shows that things get even more complicated
and maybe more interesting when gender and sexual orientation problematics
intersect with race.
He's All Man: Learning Masculinity, Gayness, and Love from American Movies is
easy to read. While it may be seen as a piece of Queer Theory, and while it
is obvious that Clum has read everything he should have before writing such
from Michel Foucault to Jonathan Ned Katz to Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick to Richard
Dyer to Judith Butler (and seen every movie and read all the critics), he does
not quote too much from other books and steers clear of hermetic jargon, so
that the general public and specialists alike can enjoy it thoroughly. There
movies he has not tackledonly 232 pagesbut readers, shown the right
analytic path by the book, may continue the reflection. Anyone who has ever
wondered after Fredric Wertham, Umberto Eco and Will Brooker just what it is
Robin do when they are not fighting crime, or why emblematic cowboy figures
are such (apparent) loners, or how prescriptive today's Hollywood conceptions
masculinity are, or what makes Inspector Harry so appealing, or how different
things are from the 1950s will want to read this book.