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Outhouse Theatre, Tuesday 6 July 2010 6.00pm

USA. 1914. Silent. B&W. 70 min.

Dir. Sidney Drew

Cast: Edith Storey, Sidney Drew, Jane Morrow, Ethel Lloyd, Allan Campbell

Script: Marguerite Bertsch, adapted from a novel published in 1891 by Archibald Clavering Gunter


The outrageous A Florida Enchantment has more gay and lesbian seductions, kissing, and mischief than any other film of the period. It is thrilling to watch such abandon! This seems to be the first gay feature film ever made, and it is likely to be also the first trans film in history. In cinema, gender-transgression is normally a sign of variant sexuality, which is itself often read as a deviation from one’s own biological sex. A Florida Enchantment was made before the roaring twenties popularized androgyny and sexual freedom as an ideal in Europe and the USA; the film has a nineteenth century feel, because of a strong divide between men and women in attitude, behaviour, and appearance. A Florida Enchantment exploits these differences for comic effect, but also exposing the double-standards applied to men and women, and also using a ‘trans’ plot as an excuse to show gay and lesbian scenes and get away with it.

In A Florida Enchantment, a young lady has just inherited a fortune and a mysterious old box, and she decides to surprise his boyfriend, who is spending the winter in a Florida hotel. When she arrives, she mistakenly assumes that he is flirting with another woman and gets furious. She opens the strange box, which contains some magic pill-like seeds with the ability to change your sex. She swallows one, and discovers that even though her body has not changed, she has become ‘a man’ inside, so that she cant help being rude and rowdy, or attempting to seduce every young woman in sight. There are only four magic seeds in the box, and other people get their hands on them too, so that this posh and proper group of people in a Florida hotel end up running amok and breaking every rule.

Gay critic Vitto Russo has quoted the writer of the original play to show that A Florida Enchantment had a pro-gay, pro-feminist, and generally progressive agenda. Frankly, we are not so sure. Part of the problem is that two different endings were shot for the movie, one conservative, and another rebellious, and the last one has been lost (many silent movies were shredded by later censors, and many others where made in perishable materials which just disintegrated over time). It is also disturbing to see actors in black-face in the film, although to an extent racial differences are overruled by the binary of the “sex-gender system”. We found it difficult to decide if the racial, class, gender, and sexual stereotypes in A Florida Enchantment are reinforced or mocked. See what you think.Leaving politics aside... actress Edith Storey is quite magnificent as the man-woman Lillian Travers (traversing boundaries!), while director Sidney Drew plays Lillian’s boyfriend (the man pictured above), and he is clearly happy to contribute to the madness. Watch out for Charles Kent, who directed some remarkable gay-friendly silent adaptations of Shakespeare's plays, making a cameo here as a retired army Major. Apparently, only two feature film comedies were made before A Florida Enchantment! So this film no only marks the begining of lesbian and gay cinema, but also the very begining of Comedy. For this screening, we are fortunate to have a very good quality copy of the film, restored in 2008. This is an Irish Premiere.

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