Jacob Engelberg (KCL) - 2018-19 Students

Cinematic Figurations of Bisexual Transgression

My research makes a bisexual theoretical intervention in queer approaches to film by tracing and theorising cinematic figurations of bisexual transgression. Cinema’s bisexual transgressors are mutable, prevalent, and persistent figures, whose appearance across diverse cinematic contexts warrants further examination. I explore how the figuration of bisexuality works across varied locations, and in cinematic genres and modes of production which are often identified or understood as transgressive themselves. The cinematic contexts I consider are: 1970s vampire film, 1980s and 1990s lesbian-feminist narrative cinema, European art cinema in the wake of HIV/AIDS, and the erotic thrillers of the 1980s and 1990s. 

The cinematic frequency of bisexual figuration alongside a tendency towards social transgression reveals transgression to be a germane analytic through which to understand bisexuality on film. In deploying figuration as a framework, this project emphasises how the films under analysis are formally structured, the historical milieux from which they emerge, and the epistemic fields in which they operate. While theories of bisexuality have not always been prioritised in film studies, I argue that by putting these traditions in conversation, the two can productively complicate one another. The critical deployment of transgressive bisexuality’s inherent multiplicity allows for the formulation of film analyses that are neither oppositional nor reproductive of the monosexual binary. This theoretical cross-fertilisation challenges bisexual erasure in queer approaches to cinema, foregrounding how compulsory monosexuality and transgressive bisexuality are constitutive factors in sexual representability on screen.

This project thus recalibrates the relation of bisexuality to film theory and history, remedying a critical gap in queer and feminist approaches to film studies. The bisexual transgressor—a trespasser of borders, an embodiment of multiplicity, a troubling sexual figure—makes visible new theoretical frameworks through which the contingencies of cinematic figuration can be generatively expanded.

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