0 04 2007

Putting on the Red Dress: Reading Performative Camp in Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows

Ryan Powell


Camp comes into being as a performative vernacular when naturalized constructions of gender and sexuality are questioned through the enactment of their inherent contradictions. As subjects that are feminized through heteronormative ideology, both women and gay men may have a similar attentiveness, or what Keith Harvey describes as a "semiotic awareness," for the signs that are inscribed upon them and through which they negotiate their place in society (Harvey, 407). When this predilection for signs is acted out in the ironic performance of camp, as an artistic vernacular that expresses the ways in which women and gay men suffer as bearers of the passivity, emotionality and inactivity inscribed upon them, the performance may in turn become a radical site of destabilizing activity.

With this in mind, the film genre of the melodrama, and in particular the work of Douglas Sirk, provides an interesting site for exploring representational traces of the inter-subjective positioning of women and gay men for two central reasons: [1] as a genre that is well known for narrativizing the pain and suffering of women, it may have something to say of the conditions which propel this pain and suffering; and [2] the work of Sirk, as a director who relied heavily upon distanciation, or distancing effects, to highlight artifice, demonstrates incongruencies between naturalized and constructed versions of heteronormativity much in the same way as camp does when utilized as a performative vernacular. I will focus on the 1955 film All That Heaven Allows, taking into account the ways in which gender and sexuality are performed through the film in such a manner that demonstrates conflicts surrounding hetero/homo binaries within representations of the period that can be productively read within a matrix of performative camp.

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ISSN 1749-9771

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