From the Archive

nº 5 - 2020 (2)

Nostalgia and queer tragedy: remembering Rock Hudson and Montgomery Clift on Spanish television in the 80s

Alejandro Melero (Universidad Carlos III de Madrid)

 

In recent years, the popularity of old programs from the TVE archive has escalated. The success of shows as “Cachitos de Hierro y Cromo” or “Viaje al centro de la tele” and, more recently, “Tesoros de la tele”, are perhaps the clearest examples of this popularity. This trend has benefited from the possibilities of the Internet, especially the “A la carta” platform of rtve.es, and even the premium RTVE channel on YouTube. The return to public exposure of these materials from our recent past serves as an opportunity to reconsider the LGBTI discourses of the time. In the following lines, we examine two videos that bring us closer to the way in which public television explored the figures of what we now consider two gay icons of classic Hollywood: Montgomery Clift and Rock Hudson.

Montgomery Clift atDe película (TVE, 1989)

The first of the videos belongs to “De película”, an informative space that each week focused on a topic, often taking advantage of TVE's cinematographic programing. In January 1989, coinciding with a Montgomery Clift retrospective, they aired a video that reviewed his filmography and his place in film history. The program began with a fragment from Red River (Howard Hawks, 1948), Clift's film debut, which is today remembered as a cinematic treasure of homosexual subtext, especially for its scene in which Clift and another cowboy compare their pistols (Girelli, 2013; Feil, 2016). After that introduction, Carmen Maura enters. She was one of the hosts of “De película”, and had traveled to the house where Clift had spent his last years of life, in New York. As she strolls down the sidewalk, her narration emphasizes the most dramatic aspects of Clift's figure. Her words are highly significant, for they reflect the mixture of nostalgic admiration for a glamorous past and the terror at the drama of sexual tragedy with which Clift has often been remembered:

Seven blocks down from Marilyn's apartment, [we find] the home of another tragic movie star: the cute and wonderful Montgomery Clift. […] He spent the last six years of his life in this house, until he died in 1966 at the age of 46. It was a terrible few years for Monty. He suffered from cataracts in his eyes, was drunk, did not sleep, and was almost totally dependent on drugs. Sick, half blind and almost always drunk, he received all kinds of people in this house and organized orgies that lasted several days. Sometimes, he even called out, from his windows, to boys who were passing by, so that they would come up to keep him company. His soul mate Elizabeth Taylor would spend several days with him from time to time, and they would talk about happy times and make plans to work together again.

 

These words suggest images that are a reminder of those studied by Richard Dyer in his essay "Coming out as going in: the image of the homosexual as a sad young man." For Dyer, as for Carmen Maura, the “sad young homosexual” is “a martyr figure” (42). Dyer locates this representational model in Catholic iconography, especially the images of Saint Sebastian, to show that this young tragic homosexual “embodies a mode of sexuality we might now label masochistic” (43). It is highly significant that these words came from Carmen Maura, at that moment already well established as one of the “Almodóvar girls”, and an emblem of that unapologetic symbol of modernity called Movida Madrileña. In fact, Maura had been the cinematic face of the Movida since her association with filmmaker Fernando Colomo (Ibáñez and Iglesias, 2012). Modernity finds ways of coexistence with models of Catholic inspiration, sharing experiences and contradictions.

Rock Hudson's death at Telediario (TVE, 1985)

Our second video belongs to the “Telediario” (the national Newscast) and deals with Rock Hudson’s death, on October 2nd, 1985. Ángeles Caso announces it: "At 59, a victim of AIDS, he has just died at his home in Los Angeles." Next, a voiceover accompanies the international cover images announcing Hudson's coming out of the closet as HIV positive. Also, other shots show nurses transporting what is supposed to be the agonizing body of the actor. They are brief shots that take up little footage compared to the following section: memories of the actor's glorious past in his golden Hollywood days, when he “[prudishly embraced] Doris Day in a series of films that consecrated the idea of the exemplary marriage, with a home, children and a dog ”. The voice continues: “in the end, life reserved its most dramatic role for him: to be the face of a disease that is used as a throwing weapon and triggers a witch hunt. Who is [HIV positive? Gay?] And who is not? Whom has he kissed? Over the images of an emaciated Hudson, with his quixotic face, the report concludes: "rest in peace this rock pulverized by a fashionable disease, manipulated to the end, and paying the price of being different until his last breath." It is not a different model from the way Clift was remembered: tradition and nostalgic reminiscence coexist with typical anxieties of modernity, in a difficult balance between nostalgia (here, personified in Doris Day) and uncertainty in the face of the unknown.

From today’s perspective, perhaps the most interesting aspect of this news is precisely what is not said: that Hudson was gay. The euphemisms used ("the price of being different", "who is and who is not?") could leave no room for doubt for connoisseurs, at the same time that they padded a still thorny ground. There were still more than two years left for TVE to broadcast the first AIDS prevention campaign, which included, in the form of cartoons, “heterosexual and homosexual sexual relations” (Camáñez et al., 190). As with the video about the last years of Clift in “De película”, the revelation of taboo subjects (the promiscuity of Clift, Hudson’s life in the closet) sneak into the television discourses of the time via images where modernity coexists with the traditional.

Both videos are two valuable examples of how public television at the time worked, as Palacio has shown, "with the aim of transmitting the values ​​of social modernity." For Palacio, “TVE was able to capture the modernizing intellectual forces that had emanated with the fall of democracy. Thus, public television was presented in those years as one of the best showcases to represent Spain as a dynamic and orderly society, ready to be accepted by modernity, after entering the European community ”(63). It is to be appreciated that, more than three decades later, RTVE is involved in the dissemination and preservation of these images that allow us to revisit a past that is often mythologized, other times vilified, perhaps seldom valued to the exact extent of what it meant in the creation and circulation on sexual discourses of great impact for Spanish society.

Acknowledgment

This article is the result of the research developed within the Research Project “Cine y Televisión en España en la era del cambio digital y la globalización (1993-2008): identidades, consumo y formas de producción”. Referencia: PID2019-106459GB-I00, financed by the Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación. Plan Nacional I+D 2020, Gobierno de España, and the Research Group TECMERIN: Televisión y cine: memoria, industria, representación.

References

  • Camáñez, Gemma, Gómez Alonso, Rafael, Ibáñez, Juan Carlos y Palacio, Manuel  (2006) “Cronología de TVE”, en Manuel Palacio (ed.), Las cosas que hemos visto: 50 años y más de TVE. Radio Televisión Española, 179-195.
  • Dyer, Richard (1993) “Coming out as going in: the image of the homosexual as a sad young man”, en The Matter of Images: Essays on Representation, 73-92.
  • Feil, Ken (2016) “Montgomery Clift, Queer Star”. The Journal of American Culture 39.1, 107.
  • Girelli, Elisabetta (2013) Montgomery Clift, Queer Star.  Detroit: Wayne State University Press,
  • Ibáñez, Juan Carlos e Iglesias, Paula (2012) “Comedia sentimental y posmodernidad en el cine español”. En Manuel Palacio (ed.) El cine y la Transición política en España 1975-1982, Madrid: Biblioteca Nueva, 103-126.
  • Palacio, Manuel, ed. (2006) “1974-1989. Una España en la modernidad social”, en Las cosas que hemos visto: 50 años y más de TVE. Radio Televisión Española, 61-63.