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Girls in the Back Room: Looking at the Lesbian Bar

Kelly Hankin
Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Girls in the Back Room
    Book Description:

    The lesbian bar has long been seen as a mysterious place, steeped in mythologies of clandestine meetings and sexuality that is alluring because it is wayward and sinful. Kelly Hankin focuses on the lesbian bar, looking at how it is portrayed in such films as Foxy Brown, The Killing of Sister George, Basic Instinct, Bound, and Chasing Amy; in television series like The Simpsons, Xena: Warrior Princess, Roseanne, Ellen, and Sex and the City; and in independent, lesbian-produced documentaries. The Girls in the Back Room provides an engaging historical and theoretical analysis of the visual lesbian bar as a revelatory intersection of gender, sexuality, and space.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9356-6
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Come Here Often?
    (pp. ix-xxvi)

    Some of the most memorable film scenes of the classical Hollywood era feature “deviant” women in bars. For example, playing a weary and downtrodden prostitute, Greta Garbo utters her first cinematic dialogue to a bartender inAnna Christie(1930). Her saucy command—“Give me a whiskey, ginger ale on the side, and don’t be stingy, baby”—is now the stuff of legend. Equally legendary is Marlene Dietrich’s turn as Frenchie, a saloon entertainer/prostitute inDestry Rides Again(1939). In full cowgirl regalia, Frenchie seduces her audience with her by now famous lyrics “See what the boys in the back room...

  4. CHAPTER ONE Looking at the Lesbian Bar in the Twentieth Century
    (pp. 1-53)

    In the last decade of the twentieth century, the lesbian bar was a frequently depicted site in film and television. Appearing in the controversial thrillerBasic Instinct,the Dolph Lundgren action filmThe Shooter(also known asHidden AssassinandDesafío final), and three female-centered Hollywood narratives—Boys on the Side, The First Wives Club,andLiving Out Loud—lesbian bars also surfaced in the art-house filmsBy Design, Henry and June, Bound, French Twist,andChasing Amy.¹ On both network and cable television, lesbian bars were featured in such diverse programs asThe Simpsons, Xena: Warrior Princess, Relativity, Law...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Lesbians on Location
    (pp. 54-80)

    A friend of mine who lives in New York City often expresses irritation at living in a location riddled with film shoots. She notes how film productions’ numerous sidewalk blockades can make simply getting to work on time an exercise in futility. Describing the real consequences location shooting can have on people’s lives, my friend points to what C. S. Tashiro identifies as the “antagonistic relationship between mainstream filmmakers and the environments they seek to control.” According to Tashiro, this antagonism is the result of an ethic in which the “look” of the film supersedes all concern for the humans...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Badass Supermama Meets Foxy Brown
    (pp. 81-113)

    One of the most frequent strategies lesbian alternative media uses to challenge mainstream representations and erasures of lesbian identity is the practice of what Chris Holmlund calls “celluloid surgery” (1998). For Holmlund, this feminist practice involves “chopping up earlier cinematic sources, then stitching them together with . . . other material” in order to “[create] films that jeopardize ‘natural’ or ‘essential’ definitions of gender, sexual preference, or race” (218).¹ For example, two of the most widely discussed lesbian alternative videos reassemble scenes from Hollywood films—what Holmlund calls cinema’s “spare parts” (217)— in order to render visible the lesbian (sub)texts,...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Wish We Didn’t Have to Meet Secretly?
    (pp. 114-156)

    In the introductory essay of “Lesbians and Film,” a special section ofJump Cutpublished in 1981, editors Edith Becker, Michelle Citron, Julia Lesage, and B. Ruby Rich suggest that the growth, diversity, and success of the nascent practice of lesbian independent cinema is contingent upon, among other key factors, its inclusion of lesbian history. In particular, the editors note that, “despite a network of lesbian and gay history projects,” they “have yet to see any film about that venerable mainstay of lesbian culture, the bars” (20).¹ At the time of their writing, lesbian filmmaking projects certainly were scant, and...

  8. Conclusion, or Confessions of a Former Lesbian Barfly
    (pp. 157-158)

    When I first began writing this book, a heterosexual friend told me she found it surprising that I was writing a book on bars, because, as far as she could tell, I was “not a bar person.” Indeed, as I write this conclusion, I haven’t been to a lesbian bar in quite some time. In the seven years that I lived in Rochester, New York, the few lesbian bars in operation were short-lived. Today there is no lesbian bar there at all.

    Of course, when my friend invoked my slender bar credentials, she wasn’t, I believe, referring to lesbian bars....

  9. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 159-160)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 161-172)
  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 173-184)
  12. Films, Videos, and Television Programs Cited
    (pp. 185-188)
  13. Index
    (pp. 189-202)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 203-203)