The Gay Shoe Clerk (1903)
This is a classic example of voyeurism in early film, but note that the term “gay” had no connection to same-sex eroticism at the time. It fits in with the general run of work that Edwin S. Porter was doing for the Edison Company at the time, but note that it is no “Great Train Robbery.”
The original Edison catalog entry described the action thus: “Scene shows interior of shoe-store. Young lady and chaperone enter. While a fresh young clerk is trying a pair of high-heeled slippers on the young lady, the chaperone seats herself and gets interested in a paper. The scene changes to a very close view, showing only the lady’s foot and the clerk’s hands tying the slipper. As her dress is slightly raised, showing a shapely ankle, the clerk’s hands become very nervous, making it difficult for him to tie the slipper. The picture changes back to former scene. The clerk makes rapid progress with his fair customer, and while he is in the act of kissing her the chaperone looks up from her paper, and proceeds to beat the clerk with an umbrella. He falls backward off the stool. Then she takes the young lady by the arm, and leads her from the store.”
The key to this movie is the cut to the close-up, which allows the audience to see a “forbidden” part of a woman’s anatomy, emphasizing once again the effect which this produces on the male character, as in “What Demoralized the Barber Shop.” He is punished for his transgression, but the audience is encouraged to take pleasure from watching without consequences. The “shoe shop” set is interesting as well – it essentially consists of row after row of identical shoe boxes on the back wall, with no attempt at showing displays or other merchandizing. I believe this to be a somewhat accurate portrayal of stores at the time, based on other images I’ve seen, but it could also reflect the stingingess of Porter’s budget at Edison. Although there probably was no deliberate homoerotic intent behind the movie, I understand that the “girl” in the film is actually played by a man (it’s difficult to tell because of the hat “she” wears and the distance from the camera if this is really true), which makes the title seem all the more subversive to a modern audience.
Director: Edwin S. Porter
Camera: Edwin S. Porter
Starring: Edward Boulden
Run Time: 1 Min
You can watch it for free: here.