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Screen (2000) - Continuous Sex: The Editing of Homosexuality in "Bound" and "Rope"


  • article: Continuous Sex: The Editing of Homosexuality in "Bound" and "Rope"
  • author(s): Lee Wallace
  • journal: Screen (2000)
  • issue: volume 41, issue 4, pages 369-387
  • journal ISSN: 0036-9543
  • publisher: Oxford University Press
  • keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, American cinema, Andy Wachowski, Bound (1996), Cinematography, Feature films, Film (Productions), Film (USA), Film criticism, Gender Theory, Homosexuality, James Stewart, Larry Wachowski, Narrative Techniques, Production Code Administration, Rope (1948)



Continuous sex: the editing of homosexuality in Bound and Rope

It is, perhaps, to be expected that the notorious invisibility of lesbianism would leave its mark on the cinematic style of a film whose plot development plays on the impossibility of lesbian legibility Less predictable, however, is the way the Wachowski brothers' sexual thriller, Bound (1996), is everywhere structured by its attempts to visualize lesbianism, to make it succumb, once and for all, to the order of the visible While the elusiveness of homosexuality is crucial to the film's narrative, Bound simultaneously requires lesbianism to function evidentially, to disclose itself within a visual field Under this representational double bind, the film frequently compensates for the indeterminacy of sexuality with cinematic technique. In the enigmatic opening sequence, for instance, Corky (Gina Gershon) - shortly identified as an ex-con, good with her hands - lies unconscious, bound and gagged at the bottom of a closet, the tight dimensions of which the mobile camera has distorted with its wide-angle focus and first vertical, then horizontal, trajectory, so that the place of confinement is oddly capacious, holding as it does not just a limp body but the fetishized accessories that could be said to constitute both her character and that of her accomplice, Violet (Jennifer Tilly) Like many things in Bound, this scene invites a parallel with Alfred Hitchcock's Rope (1948) It would seem that the Wachowskis are deploying Hitchcock's famous moving camera in the one place he never allowed it the closed space which holds the body Toward the end of Rope's dinner party, when Jimmy Stewart finally lifts the lid of the chest that hides the strangled victim, the camera-shot continues to conceal that much anticipated sight off-screen The circumspection of Hitchcock's framing, according to D.A Miller, has little to do with the conventions of a murder plot that generically requires the discovery of a corpse and everything to do with the 'pathways of symbolic signification' that inevitably return to the sexual status of the young man's asphyxiated body. Miller goes on to argue that the 'obscenity' of the aroused male body '"murdered" from behind', and its implications for a heterosexual visual economy mortgaged to castration anxiety, require that the young man's body remain hidden for the duration of Hitchcock's film.1 However, the still-breathing body discovered inside Bound's most recessed space, far from remaining unseen, is repeatedly submitted to the trial of visibility Not once, but three times Bound revisits the spectacle of the restrained figure held in the dark; and that female body's vulnerability to the camera's investigative eye returns us, as unfailingly as Hitchcock's visual reticence, to a consideration of its homosexual status.

In the inaugural scene, the camera's discovery of that body is obscurely diagnostic. Entering the closet from above and commencing its high-angle descent, the tracking camera curiously elongates the distance from the patterned hatboxes neatly aligned across two high shelves, down past the metal hangers which hold Violet's visually foreshortened synthetic dresses, to the rows of white heels that gleam out of shadow nearer to the floor before panning across to Corky's heavy black boots, dark drill pants, cotton tank and labrys tattoo Throughout, disconnected samples of dialogue in female and male voiceover, both seductive and aggressive, echo across the scene, never quite coalescing into anything like a sequence' 'I had this image of you inside of me, like a part of me', 'You planned this whole thing', 'Where's the fucking money?' Disorienting in spatial and acoustic terms, the shot nonetheless establishes a visual continuity between the feminine accoutrements of Violet's wardrobe and the butch tackle worn by Corky throughout the film, so that the optically attenuated space between them is narratively abbreviated - or, in character terms, reduced - so that Corky's dykey taste in fashion verifies the lesbian potential of Violet's own. Having placed these feminine and masculine garments in some soon to be elaborated relation, the camera, now settled at floor level, holds on Corky's attractively battered face, stopping short of knitting into her character those other props which also contribute to the sexually suggestive quality of the scene: the rope, the gag, the designer bruises.

Ellis Hanson's description of Bound's opening sequence similarly draws attention to the visual and sexual ambivalence of this scene:

Once the title disappears from the screen, we are unsure what we are looking at. We cannot make sense of the shapes on the screen Slowly they resolve themselves into a scene in which a woman bound with rope is trapped in a closet. The visual cues slip from bondage as sexual play to bondage as sexual assault - and so we are still unsure what we are looking at We cannot fix the scene or the fantasy that motivates it A woman is in the closet, in bondage, and yet her very restraints, not to mention all those shiny shoes, turn the bondage into a fetish and release the very eroticism that closets are supposed to negate.2

As this quotation from Hanson suggests, it would be hard to underestimate the resonance of this opening scene f...

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  1. D.A. Miller Anal Rope, in Diana Fuss (ed) Inside/Out Lesbian Theories, Gay Theories (London and New York Routledge. 1991) p 137
  2. Ellis Hanson (ed), Out Takes Essays on Queer Theory and Film (Durham NC and London Duke University Press, 1999) p 3
  3. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick Epistemology of the Closet (Berkeley CA University of California Press, 1990)
  4. Hanson, Out Takes p 1
  5. See Miller Anal Rope pp 121-3
  6. Ibid, p 130
  7. Equally suggestive for my thinking about Bound are two discussions of Otto Premmger's Laura (1944) which also align the representational problem of homosexual visualization with contestations between narrative and spectacle in classical cinema See Robert J. Corber, Resisting the lure of the commodity Laura and the spectacle of the gay male body in Homosexuality in Cold War America Resistance and the Crisis of Masculinity (Durham. NC and London Duke University Press, 1997) pp 55-78 and Lee Edelman's Imagining the homosexual Laura and the other face of gender' in Homographesis Essays in Gay Literary and Cultural Theory (New York Routledge 1994) pp 192-241
  8. See for example Mladen Dolar's Hitchcock's objects in Slavoj Žižek (ed ) Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Lacan (But Were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock) (London and New York Verso, 1992) pp 31-46
  9. Miller Anal Rope p 119
  10. The equation assumed between homosexuality and homocide recalls nut only Hope but fat less classical precedents such as Black Widow (Bob Rafelson, 1986), Single While Female (Barbet Schioeder, 1932) and Basic Instinct (Paul Verhoeven, 1997) for an attempt to theorize this tendency In depict lesbianism as a violence against men see Lynda Hart, Fatal Women Lesbian Sexuality and the Mark of Aggression (London Routledge,1994)