'What a Pretty Man - or Girl!': Cross-Dressing Performances in Early British Cinema, 1898-1918

O'Rourke, Chris (2020) 'What a Pretty Man - or Girl!': Cross-Dressing Performances in Early British Cinema, 1898-1918. Gender & History, 31 (1). pp. 86-107. ISSN 0953-5233

Full content URL: https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-0424.12467

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'What a Pretty Man - or Girl!': Cross-Dressing Performances in Early British Cinema, 1898-1918
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Abstract

This article contributes to the growing scholarship on the representation of gender and gender transgression in British popular culture at the turn of the twentieth century by exploring the evidence provided by early British films. The article examines surviving prints and records of more than 80 films made in Britain between 1898 and 1918, all of which featured cross-dressing performances. The majority of these films involved male performers dressing as women, either for comic effect or to add novelty value to sensational crime stories. The article situates these films in relation to performance traditions in the Victorian and Edwardian popular theatre, including music hall, pantomime and stage farce, as well as showing how men’s cross-dressing performances were used to satirise the women’s suffrage campaign. Although early British films did not draw a link between male effeminacy and same-sex desire, gender-crossing plots seem to have given filmmakers licence to represent more intimate behaviour on screen. Discussions in early British film periodicals, along with reviews of imported American films, show that, while commentators were sometimes worried about the overtly sexual nature of cross-dressing comedies, they were also enthusiastic about performances that blurred the line between masculinity and femininity.

Keywords:cross-dressing, early film, gender, music hall, popular culture
Subjects:V Historical and Philosophical studies > V145 Modern History 1900-1919
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V210 British History
P Mass Communications and Documentation > P303 Film studies
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V144 Modern History 1800-1899
Divisions:College of Arts
ID Code:31709
Deposited On:07 Nov 2019 10:22

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