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Mad about the boy? Hollywood stardom and masculinity subverted in 'The Swimmer'

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posted on 2023-06-09, 14:58 authored by Christopher BrownChristopher Brown
As Burt Lancaster dives into one luxurious pool after another in 'The Swimmer' (1968), he is increasingly implicated as a casualty of a compromised and hypocritical generation. The product of a confused, transitional moment in Hollywood cinema, the film appears to exploit the star’s subversion of his 1950s muscle-man persona. Yet it is questionable whether Lancaster had ever embodied this without ambiguity or parody to begin with. Moreover, the film emphasizes not the nuances of East Coast pool culture which preoccupied John Cheever (who wrote the story upon which the film is based), but the swimming pool as an arena for the display of the Hollywood star body. As such, it is difficult to judge whether or not the film is supposed to be a parody of older forms, and whether or not it should be viewed as camp, difficulties which are compounded when one investigates the considerable creative role of Lancaster in the film’s troubled production history. At a moment when the ‘butch shift’ in late sixties’ gay culture revealed a preoccupation with reconfiguring men as objects of desire in a manner which transcended traditional associations with sexual abnormality, a process reflected in Cheever’s writings, The Swimmer at times embodies an outdated Narcissism. Yet although inconsistent, the film nonetheless displays an impulse to enacting forms of Naturalism – drained swimming pools, bodies shivering from overexposure – which would become dominant in seventies’ representations of masculinity.


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Quarterly Review of Film and Video




Taylor & Francis





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