Spectacular Passions

Cinema, Fantasy, Gay Male Spectatorships

Spectacular Passions

Book Pages: 320 Illustrations: 5 b&w photographs Published: October 2000

Author: Brett Farmer

Gender and Sexuality > Queer Theory, Media Studies > Film, Theory and Philosophy > Psychoanalytic Theory

The image of the movie-obsessed gay man is a widely circulating and readily recognizable element of the contemporary cultural landscape. Using psychoanalytic theory as his guide while inflecting it with insights from both film theory and queer theory, Brett Farmer moves beyond this cliché to develop an innovative exploration of gay spectatorship. The result, Spectacular Passions, reveals how cinema has been engaged by gay men as a vital forum for “fantasmatic performance”—in this case, the production of specifically queer identities, practices, and pleasures.
Building on the psychoanalytic concept of the fantasmatic, Farmer works to depathologize gay male subjectivity. While discussing such films as Kiss of the Spider Woman, The Pirate, Suddenly Last Summer, and Sunset Boulevard, and stars ranging from Mae West to Montgomery Clift, Farmer argues that the particularities of gay men’s social and psychic positionings motivate unique receptions of and investments in film. The Hollywood musical, gay camp readings of the extravagant female star, and the explicit homoeroticism of the cinematic male body in gay fanzines are further proof, says Farmer, of how the shifting libidinal profiles of homosexual desire interact with the fantasy scenarios of Hollywood film to produce a range of variable queer meanings.
This fascinating and provocative study makes a significant new contribution to discussions of cinema, spectatorship, and sexuality. As such, it will be welcomed by those in the fields of film theory, queer theory, and cultural studies.


Spectacular Passions offers interesting ways of (re-)reading films, film stars and their audiences. . . . [Farmer’s] argument throughout is lucid. . . .” — David Buchbinder , Media International Australia

“[A] flexible and broadly useful model of a psychically motivated social spectatorship. . . . Farmer’s book revives an important gay figure that is too infrequently examined by contemporary queer studies.” — Brian Crane , Canadian Journal of Communication

“[Farmer] has gotten some wonderfully fugitive ideas down in black and white. . . . [F]un . . . . He subjects Hollywood musicals, Mae West, Sunset Boulevard and [Montgomery] Clift to such semiotic second-guessing, provides many an illumination along the way and never does serious violence to credibility.” — David McConnell , Lambda Book Report

“Farmer elaborates on his theoretical model by examining an array of film elements that seem particularly relevant for the gay spectator: the musical, camp, maternal desire, and figures of masculinity. The model that Farmer develops seems plausible and points toward significant possibilities for further research. . . . [R]ecommended. . . .” — J. J. Marchesani , Choice

“Farmer touches on Mae West, Judy Garland, Sunset Boulevard, and the rest of the greats to reveal the role gay fantasy plays in understanding ourselves. Toss in his easy-to-read primer on postmodernist debates around gay identity, and you can sit back, soda and popcorn in hand, and enjoy the show.” — Emily Drabinski , OUT

Spectacular Passions makes a compelling case for deploying psychoanalytic theory to explain gay culture's complex relationship with popular film.  But, fear not, author Brett Farmer mixes Freud with fandom to produce an engaging book that is filled with insights and surprises.” — Alexander Doty, Lehigh University

Spectacular Passions offers a series of original, always intelligent, often provocative analyses of the fantasmatic potentiality of gay male spectatorship. The result is the most sustained and complex examination of fantasy and cinematic spectatorship that I have yet read. It is compelling, informed, wide-ranging, and affecting.” — Steve Cohan, author of Masked Men: Masculinity and the Movies in the Fifties

“Brett Farmer's eloquent study of gay male spectatorship in relationship to classical Hollywood cinema is challenging and far-reaching.  Spectacular Passions encourages readers to imagine and re-imagine the dream machine of cinema as very different than standard heterocentric accounts of Hollywood would suggest.  Taking psychoanalytic approaches to fantasy as his point of departure, Farmer demonstrates the complex and fascinating connections between gay male desire and Hollywood cinema.” — Judith Mayne, author of Cinema and Spectatorship


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Price: $27.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Brett Farmer is Lecturer in Cultural Studies at the University of Melbourne.

Table of Contents Back to Top

Introduction: At First Sight

1. Something a Little Strange: Theorizing Gay Male Spectatorships

2. Fantasmatic Escapades: Gay Spectatorships and Queer Negotiations of the Hollywood Musical

3. Camping Under the Stars: Gay Spectatorships, Camp, and the Excessive Female Star Image

4. Mommie Dearest: Gay Spectatorshps and Formations of Maternal-Oriented Desire

5. Papa, Can’t You See That I’m Flaming: Gay Spectatorships and Figures of Masculinity



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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2589-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2559-8
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