Corpses, Fools and Monsters

The History and Future of Transness in Cinema

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Pub Date 9 Jul 2024 | Archive Date Not set

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A radical history of transness in cinema, and an exploration of the political possibilities of its future.

In the history of cinema, trans people are usually murdered, made into a joke, or viewed as threats to the normal order — relegated to a lost highway of corpses, fools, and monsters.

In this book, trans film critics Caden Mark Gardner and Willow Catelyn Maclay take the reader on a drive down this lost highway, exploring the way that trans people and transness have evolved on-screen.

Starting from the very earliest representations of transness in silent film, through to the multiplex-conquering Matrix franchise and on to the emergence of a true trans-authored cinema, Corpses, Fools and Monsters spans everything from musicals to body horror to avant garde experimental film to tell the story of the trans film image. In doing so, the authors investigate the wider history of trans representation — an exhilarating journey of compromise, recuperation, and potential liberation that they argue is only just the beginning.
A radical history of transness in cinema, and an exploration of the political possibilities of its future.

In the history of cinema, trans people are usually murdered, made into a joke, or viewed as...

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Average rating from 16 members

Featured Reviews

This is one of the most comprehensive, well-researched and discussed academic books about transness on screen. Maclay and Gardner address a lacuna and generate an important discussion about the evolving trans film image. I wish this book were published before one of my students’ wrote their dissertation on transgressiveness - there are several great discussion points in his book. I particularly found the chapters 3 through 11 (inc.) extremely insightful. I will request this book for my work and refer to it.

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This book is fairly explanatory- it's a detailed history of transgender representation throughout the history of TV and film. As a side effect, it also serves as a good study of how cultural perceptions of trans people changed throughout America, in particular, in that same time period.
It was a bit of a slow read, in part because of the careful plot descriptions of so many movies, but I enjoyed it, especially the chapters discussing the representation of trans people in horror, particularly Psycho and Silence of the Lamb, and the chapter on The Matrix.
All in all, it's a fairly academic book, but well worth the read.
I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my fair review.

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Corpses, Fools and Monsters is a journey through the history of 'trans images' in cinema, looking at how representations of trans people on screen have come about, changed, and evolved over time. The book is structured through time but also theme, taking into account wider changes in trans liberation and representation over the decades as well as cinematic depictions, and it is organised in a way that allows for a comprehensive overview as well as in depth exploration of individual films and performances.

The book is fairly academic but very accessible, not just for people studying film, and it is ideal for anyone interested in how trans people have been represented on film, covering some of the often more infamous examples as well as less well-known ones. It focuses on history and readings of films, not dense theory, and explore some of the debate and issues around films like The Silence of the Lambs or Boys Don't Cry, whilst also looking at the work of trans filmmakers and where trans film might be going, ending with films like We're All Going To The World's Fair. By nature of the book as a history of trans cinema, it doesn't go into particular analytical depth about films or creators, but it offers a journey through film that is likely to be enlightening for many people, trans and cis alike.

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This book is as the title says: the history and future of transness in cinema. It’s an academic text that references cinema throughout the 20 and 21 century that featured trans representation and how that representation could be harmful or helpful to trans people and the public opinion on trans people - shown as corpses, fools and monsters. It considers the time period the movies were made and released in while also considering the films through a modern lens. For each film mentioned, there’s ample description of the cast, characters, plot, and how transness is shown. I wrote down several of these movies to watch and then revisit the text here. This is so well researched and argued. It is heavy and dense, but it’s an excellent read, especially if you’re interested in cinema or are a queer person or want to know more about how trans people are portrayed. It’s an amazing collection of research and thoughts on the history, current day, and future of trans people depicted in cinema.

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This was such an engaging read about the history and evolution of trans representation in cinema. The authors give historical context for what was happening in the world when the movies were coming out, discuss who the filmmakers were, give plot explanations, and show how language and film images have changed over time.

Big movies like Psycho, The Silence of the Lambs, The Danish Girl, Boys Don’t Cry, and more get coverage within the book. But what I appreciated the most was learning about all of these different trans narrative films and documentaries that I had never heard of before, even with all the research I’ve already done into the history of LGBTQ+ movies. I have such a long list of films that I’m now dying to seek out. Another strength of the book was how the authors discussed how even if a movie isn’t intending to depict a trans character, audiences still take away messages from the film. That can be negative, like even though within The Silence of the Lambs they say that Buffalo Bill isn’t trans, many walked away from that movie with a negative association with trans women being killers. But it can also be positive, like when people have trans reads that help them feel represented within movies that don’t have canonical trans characters.

This isn’t just an encyclopedia of different movies, it brings up discussions of persistent stereotypes, commonly used images, cis vs trans casting, the lack of trans masc films, important figures in trans history, and the filmmakers who are bringing new and unique trans stories to the screen today. It covers so many years of films and so much ground in terms of different topics of conversation.

The book does have an academic tone, but not in the way that makes it difficult to read. The information is portrayed clearly and the connections between the different chapters and topics are easy to follow. I’d definitely recommend this book for anyone who has an interest in trans history or film history. You’ll most likely learn about movies you’ve never heard of before to add to your watchlist.

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I'm really impressed with this book. The authors do not only list trans films from different ears of cinema but also put them into historical and sociological context. This not only helps the reader understand the importance of trans images in cinema, but it is also a great history lesson.I really appreciate how the authors didn't omit films that had trans characters but also had negative and transphobic connotations; instead, they explained the impact of the film and characters on the viewers and future films.
There's also a chapter focusing on cis actors playing trans characters and how such roles often result in Oscar nominations, focusing on a few such instances, but I think it was missing a more in-depth analysis on why it happens and why it's a problem.

Corpses, Fools and Monsters does not only clearly discuss trans characters; there's a whole chapter focusing on trans allegories in Cronenberg's and other body horror films. And of course there's a Matrix chapter; if I could, I would force every person who misinterpreted Matrix to read this...

Overall, this book is a really well-written analysis of trans images in cinema through the years, and it contains everything you need to know to understand the impact of this film. Highly recommended.

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Corpses, Fools and Monsters: The History and Future of Transness in Cinema
by: Willow Maclay and Caden Gardner
due 7-9-2024
Repeater Books, UK

A cultural and historical critique into the exploration of being trans in cinema. This is a dynamic deep dive, its depth and thoroughness are amazing and fascinating to read.

We begin in the 1930's, the days of studio self censorship, and the Hays Code, when being gay or trans was illegal and punishable by law. Crossdressing was seen as comedy, and not taken seriously. The lifes of many cross-dressers are discussed in depth, as are the movies. It made me realize and see things in the movies I had never saw before. There is so much trans history in film I did not know about. This book follows the films of every year, and how it relates to, or is, trans
I loved reading this. I am hoping to find some of the books mentioned, and to see some of the movies from this book.
Fun, eye-opening and essential reading.

Thanks to NetGalley for sending this e-book ARC for review.
#NetGalley #CorpsesFoolsAndMonsters

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Absolutely essential primer on the history of trans identity in film. Beautifully written and researched, a needed text in the film history cannon. Can’t recommend this enough, especially needed now.

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I love cinema. I love reading trans essays and papers. Put that together and I was hooked from the title.

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Legitimately wonderful stuff - begins a little academic, mind you (although I’m a sicko who likes that about it) but the latter half is so readable I couldn’t put it down. This belongs in every school, public, and personal library possible. A triumph!

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"I don't think movies are the be-all, end-all for social change or anything of the sort, but there's something symptomatic in the American psyche where for the most part the only times we've been on screen are to be murdered, turned into a joke, or a tragedy of failed transition. The mainstream isn't interested in our livelihoods or our goals. Its a lost highway of corpses, fools, and monsters."
This was a brilliant dissection of trans cinema history, discussing both the good, the bad, and the complicated of transness shown on screen. Its at times frustrating and at times hopeful, and even amusing. An utterly fantastic book that has given me plenty of films to watch.
I really liked how thorough the chapters were, discussing specific movies within along with specific trans folk behind the screen, primarily directors. Its a clearly well researched book and I have no direct complaints about it. I especially liked the two sections discussing trans folk in genres of horror, as that's my primary genre.
This is an enthusiastic recommendation from me and I will be purchasing copies for me and a couple friends. If you enjoy movies, trans history, or just are a trans person it's a high recommendation. Please read this!

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A delightfully hard-hitting cornucopia of trans history

This history of trans cinema has not come too soon. As much a history of trans narratives and people on, in and around film, it is not a simple hagiography of all trans representation in film—across the world but predominantly American—it also touches on the troubling representations, the unflattering, the divisive, the ambiguous, offering a nuanced and realistic cultural criticism of trans images on screen and trans people as filmmakers. At the same time, it recounts the history and the context of trans, gay and queer lives, as well as offering pin-sharp portraits of the characters—over-the-top, self-effacing, unbelievable, camp, eccentric, or loveable—to whom we owe these foundational texts of trans and queer experience.

As good criticism should be, this is dense but readable, doing its best to translate the moving image, and that would be a circumscribed, rarefied moving image, on to the page, and I'm convinced. I've got a whole new list of films that I want to revisit or seek out for the first time. Taking a mostly chronological approach, the book shows the development of trans cinema and all that that means, starting with trans narratives vilified by cis male directors in the early twentieth century, to the ownership of her own story and image by Christine Jorgensen, through to the fly-on-the-wall documentaries of the Eighties and the works of Cronenberg and the Wachowski sisters, and to where we are now, with trans filmmakers making trans cinema that explores a whole world of experiences.

A flag waving four and half stars, rounded up to five

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The second I saw "The History and Future of Transness in Cinema" I knew I had to have this book. I do enjoy Media Studies as a field and the history of trans images particularly in horror movies are something I have spent quite some time thinking about and feeling devasted because of it. Thankfully, albeit slowly, there is starting to be a bit more representiation in modern horror (Bit 2019, Hellraiser 2022, We're All Going to the World's Fair 2022, They/Them 2022, Evil Dead Rise 2023, T Blockers 2023), but I also enjoyed reading what came before.
This book is an incredible addition to queer media studies and I really enjoyed reading it! This book does start out a bit academic, but you don't need to be a scholar to understand it and once you get past the first chapter, it all becomes easily accessible. If you are in any way interested in representation in movies then everything described here is easily understandable.
While it is a slow read at times, in part due to the often lenghtly descriptions of a film's plot, that makes it easily accessible if you haven't seen a movie. If you have and you aren't like me, who wants to read every word in a book, you can always skip the summary and get to the analysis faster. I also liked that while a big portion of this text is centered on trans women, as they were portrayed more often in early trans film (although often in very transmisogynist ways), trans man and nonbinary characters also play a role. An incredibly number of topics from documentary depictions, horror, Cronenberg's Media, the Matrix, cis-as-trans casting, Christine Jorgensen, the 1960s, 70s and 80s, and finally The New Frontier of the Trans Film.
So if you want to enjoy a really interesting look into trans media (the good, the bad & the severly transmisogynistic) I can only recommend you check out this amazing piece of queer media study.

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