Exceeding the Frame: Documentary Filmmaker Marlon T. Riggs as Cultural Agitator Open Access

Combs, Rhea Lynn (2009)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/gt54kn56x?locale=en
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Abstract

Abstract

Exceeding the Frame:
Documentary Filmmaker Marlon T. Riggs as Cultural Agitator
By Rhea L. Combs

Exceeding the Frame: Documentary Filmmaker Marlon T. Riggs as Cultural Agitator argues that Marlon
Riggs was a crucially important nonfiction filmmaker, whose outspoken work in African American
cultural production, and "promiscuous" approach to documentary practice make him a cultural
agitator, one who used his craft as a tool of resistance to interrogate the politics of identity,
specifically the notions of masculinity, sexuality, and race constructed and disseminated in
American mass media.


Between 1981 and 1994, the prolific Riggs produced eight films and videos. Before dying
from AIDS-related complications at 37, he also wrote numerous scholarly articles and held
interviews on identity, politics, art and censorship, African American cultural production, and
documentary film practice. As the first scholarly examination of Riggs's entire body of video and
film works, this interdisciplinary project focuses on Riggs in a social and artistic context, arguing
for his cultural significance in relation to prevalent understandings of inter-and intra-racial identity,
HIV/AIDS, and black masculinity, as well as documentary film practice, during the height of the
culture wars of the 1980s and early 1990s. I analyze his more traditional documentaries: Long Train
Running (1981) , Ethnic Notions (1988) , and Color Adjustment (1992); his most controversial and
innovative work, Tongues Untied (1989); and his more hybrid and essayistic works: the
posthumously produced Black Is...Black Ain't (1995), along with the experimental shorts Affirmations
(1990), Anthem (1991), and No Regret (1992). I examine Riggs's oeuvre using his biography, critical
analysis, and reception studies to demonstrate how his work formulates, in cinematic terms rather
than verbal discourse, the vital notion of Americans' multiple identities.











Table of Contents

TABLE OF CONTENTS Introduction................................................................................................... 1 Chapter 1 Marlon T. Riggs: Life and Early Work.................................................... 19 Chapter 2 Ethnic Notions and Color Adjustment: Specters of Representation.......................... 43 Chapter 3 The Un-doing of Shame and Silence in Tongues Untied .................................... 97 Chapter 4 Riggs ExploringThe Body as Text: Affirmations, Anthem, No Regret,
Black Is…Black Ain't ....................................................................................... 173 Conclusion................................................................................................. 215 Filmography............................................................................................... 221 Discography................................................................................................ 225 Bibliography............................................................................................... 226 Further Works Consulted................................................................................ 246 Endnotes.................................................................................................... 252

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