Archive for ‘craig’

May 31, 2012

Cast Away: The Invisible, Inaudible Family

by Craig Martin

In 2009, Bazura Project co-creator Shannon Marinko produced a sitcom for Melbourne’s Channel 31 called The Invisible, Inaudible Family. In a parody of high concept marketing typical of Marinko’s prankish, cynical nerd-centric humour, the name of the sitcom pretty much describes what the show is about: a family that can neither be seen nor heard.

Marinko purportedly wrote a screenplay for his series that included all the narrative situations and punchlines. He then took his camera into a fully furnished two storey suburban home where he photographed scenes in rooms with everything but a cast. His set ups are based on shots commonly used in sitcoms filmed in front of live audiences, such as Friends, Seinfeld or Two and a Half Men. Establishing shots, pans, master shots and shot-reverse shots tend to dominate, as they do in the run-of-the-mill sitcom.

The use of shot-reverse shots indicate exchanges between characters, and editing provides a sense of the pace of the unheard dialogue. The only sound used in the series – apart from the theme music and its riff of bridging chords used to denote a new scene – is applause and laugh tracks, sometimes referred to as “canned laughter” to indicate that the laughs are inserted in post-production from preexisting stock recordings of audience laughter stored in separate “cans”.

Inger-Lise Bore identifies the laugh track as having two key functions: “one of these is to offer individual viewers a sense that ‘we’ are all watching and laughing at the program together, as a collective audience … [while] a second, related function of the laugh track is to ensure that the comedy feels like a ‘safe’ space where it is okay to laugh at people’s misfortunes or transgressions” (2011, p. 24). However, Bore also points out that there is a manipulative aspect to the laugh track insomuch as it tells us when (it is safe) to laugh and, perhaps more insidiously, that it attempts to discourage polysemic readings of the televisual text by suggesting that there is only one way to view and experience the text presented on screen (p.24). Brett Mills states that sitcoms can never successfully convince us that they are funny, but what they can do is show us, via a live audience’s response, that other people found them funny, which is considered fundamental to their success and the reason why “the key generic characteristic of the sitcom is the laugh track” (2009, p.102). Mills adds that in his interviews with industry personnel, a common view expressed by interviewees was that “laughter captured at the time of recording is a sign of ‘authenticity’ and that using canned laughter was tantamount to acknowledging that a program had failed” (p. 102).

The laugh tracks heard in The Invisible, Inaudible Family are conspicuously canned, evidenced by the way they are cut off as though by the flick of a switch, and by the repetitive use of a finite and specific set of laugh tracks. The repetition of the same bursts of laughter has an accumultively numbing effect as it becomes increasingly disingenuous, and yet it is because of this very effect that it becomes strangely absorbing and amusing, serving to validate Marinko’s project, which is to deliberately poke fun at and highlight the artificiality and contrived nature of the sitcom.

What is fascinating about Marinko’s use of the laugh track is how his manipulation of its regularity and intensity taps into our familiarity with this particular televisual form. Thus without seeing anyone or hearing any dialogue, we develop a general sense of the type of conversations taking place, based entirely on the use of the laugh track, the framing, and the pace of cuts. Thus, where there is only intermittent laughter combined with the shot/reverse shot, we can assume that some of the invisible characters are having a conversation and, most probably, one of the characters is responding with sarcasm to comments (or set ups) made by another character. This is – typically – a set up/punchline format.

Sometimes the camera will focus on a doorway before panning across the room while the laugh track bursts with spontaneous hilarity and applause, indicating that a popular character has just entered the room (in Seinfeld, this was usually Kramer bursting into Jerry’s apartment in some idiosyncratic way, or two decades earlier, Fonzi swaggering into Al’s Diner to deliver his signature, “Aaaaa!”). On other occasions, a take may be quite long while uproarious laughter is heard, suggesting that either a sight gag, a showdown, a deliberate pause to encourage laughter, or a rapid-fire string of punch lines is being performed.

By utilising a laugh track while dispensing with cast and dialogue, and only filming empty spaces, The Invisible Inaudible Family lampoons as well as reveals the artifice of the sitcom template. It also heightens our awareness of the spacial and lighting elements of mise-en-scene that indicate time of day, the function of specific spaces and settings (kitchen, lounge, bedroom, etc), and where within the space we might expect to see characters positioned were they visible. The editing likewise orients us in space, but more importantly it serves the dialogue, cutting to which ever character is speaking.


Work cited:

Bore, ILK. “Laughing Together?: TV Comedy Audiences and the Laugh Track”. The Velvet Light Trap 68 (2011): 24-34.

Marinko, S 2009, The Invisible, Inaudible Family, Youtube 10 June 2011. 30 June 2012, .

Mills, B, The Sitcom, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009.

April 6, 2011

Medievalism, Modernity and The Exorcist Soundtrack

by Craig Martin

Warner Bros. 2000 re-release of The Exorcist (Friedkin 1973), subtitled The Version You’ve Never Seen (1), adds an additional ten minutes to the original running time of 122 minutes by reinserting previously excised footage. The most significant sequences reinserted include early medical examinations that show Regan growing increasingly distant and hostile, a conversation between Chris and Regan’s doctor in which he discusses Regan’s use of profanity, the bittersweet denouement in which Lieutenant Kinderman strikes up a friendship with Father Dyer (a relationship explored extensively by director William Peter Blatty in his 1990 sequel The Exorcist III based on his 1983 book, Legion), and the infamous “spider walk” scene that Friedkin had earlier insisted served only to detract from the shock revelation of Burke Denning’s death. (2)

The re-release also introduces superimposed shots of the demon Pazuzu flashing briefly onscreen: once over Chris’s right shoulder as she pauses in the kitchen while the lights flicker on and off, and moments later inside Regan’s bedroom against the door, just before Chris opens it to find her daughter uncovered and the windows wide open. But reinserted footage and CG composites are not the only additions to The Version You’ve Never Seen.

A complaint levelled against the narrative coherence of the 1973 film concerns the opening Iraqi sequence and its relevance to Regan’s possession in Georgetown, USA. It is really only the presence of Father Dyer as well as a brief appearance of the statue of Pazuzu in Regan’s bedroom during the exorcism ritual that infers any relationship between the two locations. The 2000 re-release of The Exorcist attempts to close the gap between Northern Iraq and Georgetown through sound. Augmentations to the soundtrack draw us back time and again to the archeological dig, the marketplace, the foundry, the statue of Pazuzu, and, in the final moments of the film, as Father Dyer and Lieutenant Kinderman walk away, the muslim call to prayer that opens the Ninevah sequence at the start of the film.

In this brief discussion of The Exorcist: The Version You’ve Never Seen, I want to explore the ways that sound is used in the film to reinforce clearer links between the events that unfold in Iraq during the film’s prologue, and the subsequent possession and exorcism that takes place in Georgetown.

Sound design in The Exorcist (Friedkin, 1973) can be roughly divided into two groups: the former focuses on medievalism, in which emphasis is placed upon the primacy of religious terminology, invocations and utterances, as well as extensive use of pre-industrial agrarianism and strenuous physical labour. The latter looks at late industrial capitalism where modern technology and mechanised labour are foregrounded.

Throughout the lengthy opening sequence of the film, the soundscape in Iraq can be described as medieval. In using this term, I refer to diegetic sounds derived either from low-tech sources, such as pickaxes and hammers, or from natural sources, such as human or animal voices. In referring to the voice as “medieval” I am specifically addressing the issue of spoken language and in the context of this essay the human voice can be divided into both medieval and modern language categorisations.

The human utterances heard in the opening sequence at the Ninevah excavation site in Iraq are exclusively arabic, a language whose current canonic incarnation dates back to the seventh century CE, although earlier incarnations and linguistic roots date back to the second millennium BCE (3). Although medieval is not the correct term to describe the human voice in the section of the film set in Iraq—a more appropriate term might be “ancient”—I employ it here to distinguish the use of arabic in the opening sequence in Iraq from the modern colloquial Anglo-American language used through most of the rest of the film (with the exception of the modern greek spoken by Mrs. Karras and Pazuzu, who also utters nonsensical smatterings of french and latin).

Modernity, it can be argued, is almost altogether absent from the Iraq-based section of the soundtrack. From the solitary call to prayer through to the disturbing crescendo that accompanies Father Merrin’s discovery of the unearthed statue of Pazuzu, the soundtrack consists almost entirely of primitive and primal elements. The pendulum clock and Merrin’s briefly heard jeep are the only two sonic exceptions belonging to the modern world. Both of these are connected to Merrin and one of these, the clock, is  ominously silenced.

At the other end is the modern. The moment we cross-fade from Ninevah to Georgetown, the sounds of modernity take over: trains, cars, jet engines, motorbikes, radios, megaphones, telephones, a fish tank filter, a steam iron, doorbells, light switches, police sirens, medical machinery and the specialist rational language of medical science. These sounds, signifiers of modernity, for a time dominate the film’s soundtrack. However these sound diminish in proportion to the Regan’s possession as it begins to engulf, destabilise and finally silence the rational, technical, mechanical, medical, jargonistic, automated sounds of the modern age. The sounds of modernity are rendered mute and impotent by the primitive. Muteness is emphasised in Tim Semmerling’s analysis of the film, in which he observes how its protagonists “lose control over language and succumb to the point that they are rendered speechless.” (4)

The Iraqi sequence begins with the busy sounds of multiple pickaxes, shovels, barrows, footsteps and the din of voices at the archeological dig in Nineveh. Later when the film follows Merrin through the marketplace the cacophany of competing sounds dominates: vendors selling their wares, the rise and fall of voices in the crowd, the unending sound of drums, and from a foundry, the synchopated high-pitched clanging of metal on metal as three labourers stand at an anvil, skillfully hammering away in a fast rhythmic sequence of carefully timed hypnotic repeating triplets.

Later still we hear a horse and buggy clopping and rattling on stone paving, distant at first, then arriving with a sonic boom as Merrin narrowly avoids being struck by the galloping animal. Returning to the dig, Merrin confronts the Pazuzu idol and layer upon layer of atonal sounds are combined, creating an alarming and overwhelming crescendo intended to denote the lurking presence of a potent supernatural force. The source of these sounds are in keeping with the sequence’s primitivity insomuch as their origins are likewise drawn from the natural world, rather than the world of machinery. Jay Beck describes how musician Ron Nagle developed his sound effects for the sequence “by agitating several bees trapped in a jar, getting his dogs into a fight, and recording his girlfriend’s stomach while she drank water.” (5)

Ron Nagle’s soundtrack adds layer upon layer

As the unearthly crescendo diminishes with the cross-fade from Iraq to Georgetown, the first noise heard is the whirring scream of airplane engines. The frame shows an extreme long shot of the McNeil house across the other side of the Potomac river. As the shot slowly closes in on the house, the jets fade and the rumble of cars crossing the Potomac bridge is clearly heard. The soundscape has substituted the primitive for the modern. Eventually this will reverse so that the only thing that can be heard on the soundtrack is Regan’s unearthly moaning and howling filling the Georgetown house. Technology is powerless against this demonic auditory force: distressed by the incessant wailing, Sharon seeks comfort from her radio in an effort to drown out the omnipresent demon’s voice, but to no avail.

The sound of modernity also include modern medicine, but this too is ultimately rendered ineffective,  The moment the medical establishment bows its head in defeat takes place not when they suggest Chris take her daughter to a priest, but much earlier when Dr Klein is examining Regan’s initial cranial x-rays. The critical moment occurs as the doctor is analysing the film against an automated x-ray screen. The screens are attached to a motor that whirs loudly as it raises and lowers each set of scans. At one point, an x-ray screen moves down and out of the frame, leaving the cinema screen empty. In this moment, the audience has nothing to look at but whiteness. The blank screen seems representative of the failure of sight – the most privileged of senses – and conflates sightlessness with the inability of rationalism and medical science to provide any explanation for Regan’s condition. In this image, the doctors quite literally draw a blank. As if to confirm this, as the next x-ray rises in close up on screen, Klein declares, “I don’t see a thing.” But the bare white screen also implies that cinema itself – that most modern of Western mechanistic marvels – has also been rendered powerless. For a medium structured around moving pictures, the audience is denied both movement and pictures as cinema is struck as sightless in both eyes as the one-eyed man slaving over an anvil in his Iraqi foundry.

The medical segment of the film ends with the doctors suggesting to Chris that she take her daughter to see a priest. Chris’ reply sums up the failure of modern medicine to help her daughter, and formally introduces the theme of medievalism and primitivity intruding on the modern age: “You’re telling me to take my daughter to see a witch doctor, is that it?” This theme of the primitive invading the modern is also reinforced during Chris’ initial meeting with Father Karras, who recommends a modern solution for Regan and explains to Chris the Church’s censorious policy on exorcism. Karras refers to exorcism as an historical embarrassment for the Church and answers Chris’ question, “How do you go about getting an exorcism?” with the reply, “You’d need to get in a time machine and go back to the middle ages,” emphasising the primitive nature of the practise.

Throughout The Exorcist: The Version You’ve Never Seen, Friedkin regularly returns us to Iraq and its primitive soundscape. When Father Merrin, having returned to America, is walking up a forest path and is presented with a note by a younger priest, as he reads the note summoning him to Georgetown, the triplets of syncopated foundry hammering can be faintly heard on the soundtrack. This hammering sound operates as a reminder of Merrin’s time in Iraq, as well as a prescient indicator of the hard labour ahead of him. When Merrin walks by the foundry in Iraq, the worker with one blind eye stops hammering, wipes his forehead with his kufi and looks directly at the passing priest. Behind the worker, partially concealed by shadows, we see – although more importantly, we hear – his two colleagues still hammering away on the anvil, suggesting a relationship between the arduous work to be performed by the two priests and the manual labour of the foundry workers.

During the exorcism, when we are locked in the room with the priests and Regan, the soundtrack completely reverts to a medievalism that echoes the earlier Iraqi soundscape: the muslim call to prayer becomes the Catholic ritual of exorcism; the multiple voices emanating from Regan recall the cacophany of arabic voices in the marketplace (and perhaps the rebellious rioting students drowning out the megaphone during the filming of “Crash Course”, the movie Chris and Bert are shooting); the thumping of the bed evokes the various rhythmic sounds of tools digging, tapping and hammering at the Nineveh excavation site. And as Pazuzu appears at Regan’s bedside, elements from Nagle’s sound design – most prominently the agitated bees trapped in a jar – can once again be heard.

The droning of bees can once again be heard as Pazuzu appears in Regan’s bedroom

The modern is altogether displaced or removed, just as Regan’s bedroom is stripped of all bourgeois commodities. It is as though Father Karras’ assertion—that in order to perform an exorcism, one would need a time machine to return to the 16th century—has been literalised. Indeed, when Karras first meets Regan, we find that her bedroom has been transformed. Previously the room was full of modern comforts and furnishings: fish tank, plants, a record player, a bookcase, and so on. As Karras opens the door, we see the room has been stripped bare and no longer contains any of its modern trappings. In stepping into the room, he returns to a time that physically and ideologically predates industrialisation. Reduced to nothing more than a bed and side table, the scene recalls Edvard Munch’s By the Death Bed as Karras becomes the sombre figure standing piteously over Regan’s bed.

The modern, it is supposed, can only return once the demon has been expelled and the exorcism concluded. However, following Regan’s deliverance, we never again see the inside of the Georgetown house (this does not occur until John Boorman’s odd 1977 sequel The Exorcist II: The Heretic). We are thus denied a satisfying return to normality. Instead, Chris decides to flee the house. Thus in the film’s denouement the sound of modernity finally reasserts itself as Chris and Regan are noisily driven away in a black Mercedes. Father Dyer then walks to the top of the stairs where Karras met his death, and we can hear the faint sound of traffic as cars busily cross the Potomac bridge in the middle distance. Moments later, Lieutenant Kinderman invites Father Dyer to the movies and modernity, it seems, reasserts its dominance, albeit uneasily and unconvincingly as the final sound heard before the closing credits is the muslim call to prayer.

Works cited

1. The Exorcist: The Version You’ve Never Seen, Dir. William Friedkin 2001, DVD, Warner Home Video.

2. In the documentary, The Fear of God: 25 Years of The Exorcist, Friedkin explains that he cut the spider walk sequence from the film because he felt that the shock of Burke Denning’s death was overshadowed by the alarming spectacle of Regan scampering downstairs backwards, upside down, back arched, on her hands and feet.

3. For information on the history and development of Arabic, see Verstregh, Kees. The Arabic Language. Second Edition. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014.

4. Semmerling, Tim Jon. “Evil” Arabs in American Popular Film: Orientalist Fear. 1st ed. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006. p.40. Semmerling’s study argues that an East/West ideological struggle is visible in contemporary American cinema. He describes The Exorcist as an “orientalist-imagined struggle between an Eastern bogeyman and the Western hero, with the American cowboy figure failing” (p.31). Semmerling calls Merrin the fallen hero of the film and likens him to the cowboy of the classical Western. While the Western hero is typically accustomed to being the master of they survey, Semmerling observes that in The Exorcist, an “Arab boy stands above Merrin and stares down upon him when Merrin is first introduced to the audience. Merrin must look up, squinting under the boy’s gaze” (p.38).

5. Beck, Jay. “William Friedkin’s The Exorcist and the Proprietary Nature of Sound” Sound on Screen 6.1 (2010): 4-10.

December 18, 2008

Queer Heteronormativity, or How “Queer Duck: The Movie” is Straight-Laced.

by Craig Martin

When the feature-length animated film, Queer Duck: The Movie (Xeth Feinberg), was given a limited theatrical release in July 2006, it was lauded a queer triumph by the popular GLBT press. Reviewing the film for US national gay and lesbian newsmag, The Advocate, Alonso Duralde described it as ‘naughty, outrageous, … the must-see animated film of the summer’ [1]. Despite this and other enthusiastic accolades [2], Queer Duck: The Movie rarely lives up to its name. Certainly, the film lampoons homosexual panic, performative gender stereotypes and ex-gay cults, but it also endorses homosexual/heterosexual binarism and reinforces gender stereotypes, even as it benignly pokes fun. As such, Queer Duck: The Movie contains a considerable lack of authentic queer content, which we will soon explore. What follows is a brief attempt to describe aspects of queer theory for the purpose of illustrating how Queer Duck: The Movie might be considered straight-laced. Let’s commence with a working definition of queer theory.

Perhaps the most important point to make about ‘queer’ is what it is not, and how often it is misunderstood. Annamarie Jagose observes that queer is commonly thought of an “an umbrella term for a coalition of culturally marginal sexual self-identifications” [3] and notes that the term is regularly appropriated as interchangeable for lesbian and gay. Queer is, of course, concerned with sexuality and sexual identity, but it challenges notions that these are fixed. To suggest that queer is merely an alternative label for homosexuality is erroneous, despite the fact that such labeling persists. Queer rejects labels and categories and is committed to displacing ideas of normalcy, exploring instead what Harry Benshoff describes as “spaces wherein normative heterosexuality is threatened, critiqued, camped up, or shown to be an unstable performance identity” [4]. Because queer rejects ideas of normalcy, it also serves to “interrogate and complicate the term ‘gay and lesbian'” [5] as well as challenge binary categorisations of male/female, masculine/feminine, heterosexual/homosexual, in favour of fluid and transgressive sexual identities. Through such a lens, heterosexuality is deemed an artificial construct, despite hegemonic assertions of its naturalness and normalcy. Present within the same binary, homosexuality is an equally contrived and restrictive social construct. Its characterisation as aberrant, or a deviation from heteronormativity, ostensibly delimits heterosexuality, or, as Meredith Li-Vollmer and Mark LaPointe express it, “one function of the deviant is to help define for others that which is not deviant” [6].

Instead of fixed binaries, queer creates a space that argues for the validity of unstable constructs of sexuality and gender, which Alexander Doty refers to as “a place not concerned with, or limited by, notions of a binary opposition of male and female or the homo versus hetero paradigm” [7]. Queer is certainly inclusive of lesbian and gay subjects, but it is also concerned with alternative expressions of sexuality that, according to Jagose, include “cross dressing, hermaphrodotism, gender ambiguity and gender-corrective surgery” [8], as well as transgressive heterosexual behaviours such as masturbation, fetishism, prostitution, bisexuality, and alternatives to monogamy and procreation. Benshoff broadly encapsulates queer as a description of any sexuality “not defined as heterosexual procreative monogamy … [and includes] people who do not organize their sexuality according to that rubric” [9]. Using this amorphous understanding of queer, we can briefly explore the contrasting heteronormativity that characterises Queer Duck: The Movie.

Queer Duck: The Movie appeared at a time when mainstream lesbian and gay movements, according to Diane Richardson, were “increasingly demanding rights of citizenship on the grounds of being the ‘same’ as most heterosexuals” [10].  Unfortunately, in their pursuit of equal rights, gay and lesbian groups capitulate to the heterosexual/homosexual binary in an effort to create a legitimate, or normalising space for homosexuality. Thus, in their desire for respectability and recognition, significant segments of the lesbian and gay movement have effectively abandoned, or at least, minimised their transgressive identity. Observing this trend, Richardson states that, “both feminist and queer academics and activists have been highly critical of the normalizing politics that form the basis of mainstream lesbian and gay movements organized around claiming ‘equal rights'” [11], because they ostensibly validate social constructs designed to control and limit human sexuality.

Mike Reiss, creator of the Queer Duck universe, is a co-producer and regular writing contributor for The Simpsons. It may not be surprising then, to learn that Queer Duck: The Movie similarly contains an endless flow of parody, pastiche and intertextuality. Its characters eat Quentin Crisps and drink Harvey Milk, and during one promotional interview, Reiss described his film as “Brokeback Rocky and Bullwinkle” [12]. The film exploits almost every lesbian and gay stereotype and is crammed with wall-to-wall jokes about Disney resort ‘Gay Days’, Broadway musicals, drag queens and showbiz Divas. But does this make it queer? Interestingly, the film displays a keen awareness about the anthropomorphism of animals in animation, and this is perhaps its queerest characteristic. Animation is endemically queer because, as Alice Kuzniar argues, it has the ability to “frustrate the laws of nature” [13] that Philip Brophy calls “an incursion or irruption of reality” [14], which makes animation, with its transgressive qualities, an ideal medium for exploring queer issues. We certainly see this in Warner Bros’ Bugs Bunny cartoons, in which the waskily wabbit is forever dressing in drag and kissing the fall guy. Likewise, in Queer Duck: The Movie, the most transgressive aspect of the film is not its endless homosexual references, but its interspecies coupling. A parody of the Rex Harrison voiced song ‘Talk with the Animals’ from Richard Fleischer’s 1967 musical fantasy, Doctor Dolittle, declares we can instead have “Sex with the Animals.” The self-reflexive song winks at the film’s cast of animals and the prevalence of inter-species relationships, highlighting the obvious necessity for bestiality. The characters have drag names with humorous puns that describe their sexuality and species. Along with the titular Duck, there is his sensitive partner Openly Gator, and their friends, Oscar Wildcat and Bi-Polar Bear.

The film’s narrative is concerned with a chance encounter between Queer Duck and aging Norma Desmond-styled Broadway Diva, Lola Buzzard. The two hit it off to such an extent that Lola asks Queer Duck to marry her. He is mighty flattered, but reminds her that he is gay and couldn’t possibly consummate the marriage. Lola offers a solution, recommending that Queer Duck visit homophobic televangelist Reverend van Dergelding. After a few consultations, the Reverend cures Queer Duck of his homosexuality via a home brew. Queer Duck thereafter transforms into Straight Duck, complete with chest hair, stubble and a devil-may-care attitude. He and Lola immediately marry, causing no end of heartbreak for the duck’s former lover, Openly Gator. Straight Duck is the antithesis of Queer Duck. Whereas Queer Duck is talkative, flamboyant and seemingly asexual, Straight Duck is monosyllabic, assertive, sullen and sexually potent. On their wedding night, Straight Duck sees his withered bride waiting for him in bed and instantly develops an enormous erection. Their evening consists of non-stop sex and in the morning Lola speaks of her deep contentment before promptly dying from exhaustion, having bequeathed her fortune to the duck. Alone and lonely, Straight Duck reminisces about his old life and looks up his gay pals, who hire Barbra Streisand to turn him gay once again through the divine power of her nose. The procedure works like a charm and the remainder of the film involves a series of celebrations as Queer Duck reunites with Openly Gator, foils Reverend van Dergelding’s sinister plot to rid the world of homosexuals (by showering the gay populace with his ‘cure’),  and, finally, splurging Lola’s millions on his friends.

Despite its name, Queer Duck: The Movie contains little that is actually queer per se. Rather, the film emphasises the homosexual/heterosexual binary, problematically reinforcing a heterosexist, heteronormative paradigm. The only valid choices of sexual expression the characters are given is either gay or straight. Queer Duck readily abandons his homosexual lifestyle and friends, including his life partner, Openly Gator, and panders to stereotypes that homosexuals are incapable of long-term commitment and that a gay lifestyle is wayward, superficial and essentially sexually unsatisfying. Indeed, the only occasion in which an erect penis or sex acts find representation on screen is when Queer Duck is transformed into the virile, hyper-masculine Straight Duck. We subsequently learn that straight sex is infinitely more satisfying, potent, and even dangerous, as is evinced by Lola Buzzard’s post-coital demise. In contrast, when we see Queer Duck and Openly Gator in bed together, they do not touch, nor kiss. Indeed, their relationship is altogether asexual – oscillating between hystrionic and angst-ridden. There is of course a parodic element contained in the reversal of stereotypes that see straights oversexed and gays reserved and sexless, and this aspect of the comedy works well. Yet the fact remains that in the Queer Duck universe, homosexuality is confined to a superficial, self-loathing, agamous lifestyle primarily preoccupied with artifice, or what Susan Sontag describes in her Notes on Camp as “style at the expense of substance” [15]. Writer/Creator Reiss’ commentary on gay culture deliberately limits itself to artifice, offering a stereotypically camp view of homosexuality. While his cartoon seems, at first, witty and innocuous, there is little that is actually humourous or innocent about the way Queer Duck: The Movie exploits gay culture and negates transgressive sexual identifications. With so little actual queerness in Queer Duck: The  Movie it is fascinating to consider the enthusiastic reception the film received, especially from within the LGBT community. Or is it? Richardson’s observations about the quest for equality and – of even greater concern – assimilation among some gays and lesbians might lead us to conclude that Queer Duck: The Movie conspires to, if not strip queerness of its transgressive power, then at least tone it down. Straight society, Richardson effectively suggests, is more likely to accept homosexuality if it can distance itself from its transgressive roots and prove that it belongs. And there’s nothing queer about that.

[1] Duralde, Alonso. “Fine Feathered Fop.” Rev. of Queer Duck: The Movie, dir. Xeth Feinberg. The Advocate.  967 (18 July 1996): 57.

[2] The DVD cover for Queer Duck: The Movie includes a quote it attributes to BBC Television claiming that Queer Duck is “One of the 100 Greatest Cartoons of All Time.” Thanks go to Dean, who found that the source of this claim is a Channel 4 poll conducted in 2005 to determine the most popular cartoon characters and animated films. Queer Duck is listed 94th, while The Simpsons topped the list in first place. For the complete list of animated films, see

[3] Jagose, Annamarie. Queer Theory. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1996. p. 1.

[4] Benshoff, Harry and Griffin, Sean. “General Introduction.” Queer Cinema, the Film Reader. (Ed) Harry  Benshoff and Sean Griffin. New York: Routledge, 2004. p. 2.

[5] p. 1.

[6] Li-Vollmer, Meredith and LaPointe, Mark. “Gender Transgression and Villainy in Animated Film.” Popular Communication. 1.2 (May 2003): 89-109. p. 91.

[7] Qtd in Griffin, Sean. “Pronoun Trouble: The “Queerness” of Animation.” Queer Cinema, the Film Reader. Ed. Harry Benshoff and Sean Griffin. New York: Routledge, 2004. p. 107.

[8] p. 3.

[9] p. 1.

[10] Richardson, Diane. “Locating Sexualities: From Here to Normality.” Sexualities. 7.4 (2004: 391-411. p. 391.

[11] p 392.

[12] Urban, Robert. “Queer Duck: The Movie is Sooooo Gay!” Online 18 July 2006. 27 October 2008.

[13] Kuzniar, Alice A. The Queer German Cinema. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000. p. 239.

[14] Sontag, Susan. Against Interpretation, and Other Essays. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1967. p. 278.