Oct 7, 2011
Between 1930-1968, Puritanism indubitably reigned in American cinema due to Hollywood's self-censorship via the Hays Code. Of course, most of the big Hollywood movie moguls and stars were committed purveyors of sin but very rarely were such hedonistic and heretical lifestyles portrayed on the silver screen. Thankfully, a couple independent filmmakers had the audacity to produce libertine films that rivaled the most subversive of works found in comparably morally-free Europa. One of the most notable and greatest of these early American independent films is Lot in Sodom (1933); a silent Avant-Garde short full of surly sins and homoerotic sexual sadism. In fact, Lot in Sodom may be the only film ever made featuring a nude man being dangled upside down by two extremely militant yet androgynous sodomites. The short also features some of the first female breasts and buttocks ever committed to celluloid in the United States. Lot in Sodom was co-directed by Melville Webber and James Sibley Watson; the latter (somewhat strangely) being a Harvard University-educated medical doctor and philanthropist. Before collaborating on Lot in Sodom, the two filmmakers co-directed The Fall of the House of Usher (1928); a brilliant 12-minute-long hyper-surrealist adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s short story of the same name. In a mere 28 minutes, Lot in Sodom manages to feature a variety of sacrilegious cinematic ingredients that are comparable to the biblical blasphemy of Häxan: Witchcraft Through The Age (1922), the phantasmagorical homoeroticism of Jean Cocteau’s The Blood of a Poet (1930), and the majestic body-worship of Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia (1938). As one would expect from the film’s title, Lot in Sodom is based on the Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Unlike most other films based on the story, Lot in Sodom is surprisingly faithful to the bible tale. In the short film, a character named Lot (who is featured in chapters 11-14 and 19 of the Book of Genesis) – an individual known for his dual-vice of drunkenness and incest in the Hebrew bible and as a prophet of Islam – is warned by an angel to leave Sodom so as to avoid having homo-sex with the sinful city's many shameless sexual deviants and horny homosexuals. Eventually, the Hollywood Babylon-esque metropolis is devoured by a holy holocaust and Lot’s overly inquisitive wifey morphs into stone after making the deadly mistake of taking one last glance at her much cherished ex-homeland.
Despite the extremely religious nature of the short, Lot in Sodom is undoubtedly a tribute to comrade Satan and his celestial vacation spot Sodom. The fact that the film was directed by an ultra-altruistic doctor makes it all the more interesting. I hate to say it but Lot in Sodom even makes F.W. Murnau’s Faust (1926) – another Satanic masterpiece that features nudity and Luciferian themes – seem rather tame by comparison. Aesthetically, Lot in Sodom is worthy of being compared to the greatest of early surrealist and expressionist works. I can only assume that Lot in Sodom has fallen somewhat into the realm of obscurity due to its relatively short length and its artsy fartsy “European-ness.” Like Murnau’s Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927); Lot in Sodom is surely a work that baffled the average hopeless American philistine filmgoer due to its abstract artfulness and blatantly erotic nature. Admittedly, upon first viewing the film, I assumed it was European. Of course, like the films of Kenneth Anger, Lot in Sodom is the kind of American film that could have only been produced independently. I would not be surprised if Melville Webber and James Sibley Watson created Lot in Sodom to fulfill their personal void for sadistic homoerotic pornography. Modern viewers would probably only find the film offensive due to its inclusion of stereotypically despicable hook-nosed Hebrews comparable to the caricatures featured in Nazi propagandist Julius Streicher’s infamous newspaper Der Stürmer. Naturally, rainbow-power-bolsheviks will also most likely find Lot in Sodom to be quite objectionable due to its less than flattering portrayal of sexual inverts. Whether one finds the material featured in Lot in Sodom to be offensive or not, it will be hard for the viewer to deny that the short is one of the first and few examples of authentic American cinematic art. Lot in Sodom was made at a time when film was still in its infancy and the medium still seemed to have endless possibilities. Despite only churning out a couple short films, Melville Webber and James Sibley are certainly important (albeit mostly forgotten) pioneers of Avant-Garde filmmaking. In short, Lot in Sodom is mandatory viewing for all serious fans of cinema and truly transgressive art.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 7:07 PM
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