Reframing Bodies

AIDS, Bearing Witness, and the Queer Moving Image

Reframing Bodies

Book Pages: 336 Illustrations: 63 b&w photographs Published: December 2009

Author: Roger Hallas

Cultural Studies, Gender and Sexuality > LGBTQ Studies, Media Studies > Film

In Reframing Bodies, Roger Hallas illuminates the capacities of film and video to bear witness to the cultural, political, and psychological imperatives of the AIDS crisis. He explains how queer films and videos made in response to the AIDS epidemics in North America, Europe, Australia, and South Africa challenge longstanding assumptions about both historical trauma and the politics of gay visibility. Drawing on a wide range of works, including activist tapes, found footage films, autobiographical videos, documentary portraits, museum installations, and even film musicals, Hallas reveals how such “queer AIDS media” simultaneously express both immediacy and historical consciousness. Queer AIDS media are neither mere ideological critiques of the dominant media representation of homosexuality and AIDS nor corrective attempts to produce “positive images” of people living with HIV/AIDS. Rather, they perform complex, mediated acts of bearing witness to the individual and collective trauma of AIDS.

Challenging the entrenched media politics of who gets to speak, how, and to whom, Hallas offers a bold reconsideration of the intersubjective relations that connect filmmakers, subjects, and viewers. He explains how queer testimony reframes AIDS witnesses and their speech through its striking combination of direct address and aesthetic experimentation. In addition, Hallas engages recent historical changes and media transformations that have not only displaced queer AIDS media from activism to the archive, but also created new witnessing dynamics through the logics of the database and the remix. Reframing Bodies provides new insight into the work of Gregg Bordowitz, John Greyson, Derek Jarman, Matthias Müller, and Marlon Riggs, and offers critical consideration of important but often overlooked filmmakers, including Jim Hubbard, Jack Lewis, and Stuart Marshall.


“[Hallas] applies contemporary film theory to [films] in a sophisticated yet reliable manner. . . . Hallas’s use of theory transcends the subject matter on which he is ruminating. . . . This is an example of the application of cinematic theory at its quintessential best.” — G. R. Butters Jr., Choice

“In this incisive and well-written volume, Hallas argues that ‘reframing’ is fundamental to the success of AIDS films and videos in bearing witness to tragedy and trauma while putting forward or holding open alternative imaginings of social existence.” — Steven Epstein, GLQ

"Hallas consistently proves that bearing witness is a viable lens through which to view AIDS media by his meticulous research, theoretical support of scholars in the field, and wonderfully detailed analyses of the AIDS media throughout Reframing Bodies. His scholarship reveals how it is possible for some moving images to create not just political consciousness, but also social change." — Joseph S. Valle, Senses of Cinema

"Hallas's work is compelling and engaging, achieving a balance between necessarily detailed descriptions of rare works and insightful analysis of the techniques employed…. Reframing Bodies is an important and accessible work on queer visual art, AIDS activism and postmodern self-reflexivity, employing uncluttered prose to articulate complex questions of representation, testimony, homosexuality and AIDS." — Deb Waterhouse-Watson, Media International Australia

“And although he does a solicitous and richly nuanced job of situating these works in the ever-shifting cultural dynamics of their production and reception, Reframing Bodies does much more than provide a descriptive and historicist re-appraisal of these video/film texts (although in this enterprise it is both detailed and insightful). Beyond the particularity of Hallas’ interest in AIDS, homosexuality and representation, Reframing Bodies will also be essential reading for scholars and students of both memory/trauma studies and film/media studies more generally.” — Dion Kagan, Screening the Past

“Hallas looks at reframings of film and video conventions like autobiography, home movies, song, museum installations, and news reports. . . . It is wonderful to see attention given to this important archive. One wishes these were all on DVD and that Hallas could offer commentary as one viewed them! In his thoroughness, Hallas collects a wide range of voices in a kind of fraternity, but one based in a n embrace of complexity and difference and never denying the multifaceted trauma of AIDS. Taken together, they say something different than what each could say alone.” — Chael Needle, A&U Magazine

“This book presents an original and intriguing re-evaluation of queer film and videos made between the mid-1980’s and the early 2000’s in response to the AIDS epidemic. . . . Reframing Bodies expands our understanding of the political importance of visual media to the act of witnessing and the ongoing efforts of AIDS activism.” — James Polchin, Gay & Lesbian Review

“This excruciating, tender and evocative book not only produces a timeline of politicized queer corporeal action but peels back the intrinsic value between intersubjectivity and representation. Reframing Bodies explores the boundaries of visuality and visibility through an archive of AIDS activism and queer social history that leaves no rock unturned.” — Stephanie Rogerson, Fuse Magazine

“This is an important, informative, persuasive and timely book. . . . Reframing Bodies is a significant testament and testimony, itself bearing witness to a criminally unrecorded and underexamined time in our lives.” — Monica B. Pearl, Screen

“With Reframing bodies, Roger Hallas has written a complex yet accessible book that manages to recapture the sense of urgency animating earlier queer AIDS media. But it is not nostalgic. It is also a moving work that reminds us that the AIDS crisis is far from over and that our duties to those afflicted have not abated.” — David Caron, Culture, Health & Sexuality

“Roger Hallas ensures that HIV/AIDS activist media receives its critical due by showing not only its historical importance but also its formal complexity. Through his passionate engagement, keen sensitivity to shifting contexts of reception, and sophisticated account of the testimonial function of the moving image, he keeps this body of activist media, and its political and memorial legacies, alive for the future. ” — Ann Cvetkovich, author of An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures

“Roger Hallas is perhaps today’s leading expert on AIDS and the ‘queer moving image,’ and with Reframing Bodies he takes AIDS cultural studies in a variety of new, compelling directions. He makes important contributions about the practices and politics of homosexuality’s cultural visibility, the representational strategies mobilized around AIDS as a historical trauma experienced by gay men, and the ways that queer moving images allow us to rethink spectatorship, bearing witness, and trauma.” — Alexandra Juhasz, author of AIDS TV: Identity, Community, and Alternative Video


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Roger Hallas is an assistant professor of English at Syracuse University. He is the coeditor of The Image and the Witness: Trauma, Memory and Visual Culture.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction 1

1. Historical Trauma and the Performance of Talking Heads 35

2. The Embodied Immediacy of Direct Action: Space and Movement in AIDS Video Activism 77

3. Related Bodies: Resisting Confession in Autobiographical AIDS Video 113

4. Queer Anachronism and the Testimonial Space of Song 151

5. Gay Cinephilia and the Cherished Body of Experimental Film 185

6. Sound, Image, and the Corporeal Implication of Witnessing 217

Afterword 241

Notes 253

Bibliography 291

Index 307
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4601-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4583-1
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