This weekend, thanks to the opening of a new Vidiots location in Eagle Rock, I got reacquainted with one of the most life-changing short film collections I’ve ever had the pleasure of coming across. “Avant Garde: Experimental Cinema of the 20s and 30s” isn’t just one of the finest collections Kino has ever released, it’s a rare example of what experimental filmmakers were doing in the early days of the silent (and early sound) camera, back when anything was possible.
And I do mean anything: if you think it took sound film or the collapse of the studio system to create incredible special effects like superimposition, triptychs, and double exposure, this collection will prove you dead wrong. Among its many gems is a curious artifact from the collaborates Alec Wilder and James Sibley Watson Jr., a short subject that attempts to tell, in a completely visual language, the Biblical tale of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Now most of us in this community know that particular story as one of the few aspects of the Bible in which homosexuality—specifically sodomy—is condemned. But guess what happens when you try to tell a homophobic story using film? It ends up being kind of gay. And by kind of gay, I mean very, very gay. Like, naked men dancing around in makeup and tooting trumpets while engaged in a gigantic orgy. That’s the level of gay we’re talking about here.
Lot in Sodom purports to tell the homophobic story of the fabled city where gay sex is mandatory and ongoing. In scripture, the story goes that Lot, a nephew of Abraham, moved to Sodom and tried to be a good straight citizen but was overcome by the amount of hot man sex happening in both Sodom and neighboring gayborhood Gomorrah. God made a pact with Abraham that if 50 righteous people could be found in both cities, they would escape his wrath and remain in existence. If not, both cities would be destroyed.
We all know what happened: famously Lot and his family left the cities of the plain, but Lot’s wife, because she simply turned back to glance at the destruction of these cities, was transformed into a pillar of salt. Because that makes absolute sense, of course it does. How dare you question the Bible!
Queer creators have understandably been obsessed with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah since the dawn of time: Marcel Proust even named the gayest volume of “In Search of Lost Time” after the story, and kicks it off with a raucous sex scene between two men.
In the 1933 adaptation of the Biblical tale, all the same sh*t happens, but in a very gay way. Which means that if you were a viewer watching this film in 1933, you may have accidentally gotten turned on by the sight of a bunch of hot men doing their thing in Sodom. Again…whoops?
Now I know what you’re thinking: did gays make this movie? Well…
Charles Farrell’s masculinity was soft, rugged, and unbearably sexy.
The answer, as usual, is a big old “maybe.” While Watson did marry a woman, and was possibly bisexual, he made the film with his friend Alec Wilder, who was also possibly bisexual. To make matters more interesting, Watson’s grandfathers—the tycoons Don Alonzo and Hiram Sibley—were so obsessed with each other that they named their sons after each other, which to my mind is very gay. Watson also started a magazine of experimental fiction (The Dial) as well as a press that published queer authors like Djuna Barnes and Mina Loy. So I don’t know, draw your own conclusions.
But before you do, watch this movie. It’s possibly the classiest erotica you’ll find on the world wide web.