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The Scarlet & Black

Queer theory meets Russian history with “Maggots and Men”

The last Cultural Films Committee Event of the year features two things many Grinnellians have little to no experience with—Transgender Cinema and Russia’s 1921 Kronstadt Rebellion. “Maggots and Men,” directed by Cary Cronenwett, features over 100 trans actors reenacting a relatively unknown uprising by Soviet sailors, civilians and soldiers on the island of Kotlin in the Gulf of Finland. The film attempts to transport the audience back to a period with scratched black and white 16 mm film. An original musical score that plays throughout compliments the nostalgic feeling. The film weaves 1920‘s inspired newsreels with silent film of the sailors’ lives, narrated by a fictionalized version of the rebellion’s leader, Stepan Petrichenko. The sailors lounge, swim, love, and in the end, fight.

Cultural Films Committee Chair Teri Geller, English, chose the film due to its ties to the currently taught seminar “Queer Cinema/Queer Theory” and the seminar that will be taught next semester, “The History of Russian Cinema—From Eisenstein to Tarkovsky and Beyond.” [neither of these courses are listed online]

“I thought, what a great way to celebrate this completely new, totally different approach to the discipline, with a film that actually does both of what we’re doing,” Geller said. “That says something about a specific moment in Russian history…that has potential for great transsexual gender freedom.

Geller is excited to see a transgender film that deals with gender in a more subtle and artistic way.
“The problem with a lot trans films is they tend…to be documentaries,” Geller said. “It has been a failure of imagination to think the way trans discourse…intersects with great story-telling and this is one the few examples where that really happened.”

Artistically, the film is quite innovative by having a cast of trans actors portray sailors who are traditionally viewed as masculine. The result, as stated by the film’s website is a “film that redefines male, challenges the binary gender construct, and intentionally creates confusion.”

By choosing to focus on the group as a whole instead of a few characters, the director creates a unique sense of community. As mentioned earlier, the sole voice of the sailor—Stepan Pertichenko—reads from letters in Russian with his words subtitled. The actors are much more important as a sum than as individuals. There is a striking interplay between the human and factual aspects of the rebellion as scenes of the sailors lives are interspersed with the informative news reels that tell the audience all they need to know about details of the revolt.

Running only 53 minutes, Geller believes the film gives much more than it asks from the viewer.

“The whole point of this event is to do something that is kind of intellectual, but it is only an hour,” Geller said. “This is for people to keep their minds going but still be a fun break and not take too much time away from work… because we’re going into hell week.”

“Maggots and Men” will be showing twice, first at 4 p.m., Friday, May 7 in Bucksbaum 152 and then at 7 p.m. Sunday, May 9 in ARH 302.

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