Article written by 2007 DPDF Visual Culture Fellow Ryan Linkof:
This essay closely analyzes the 1936 British film Sensation, directed by the eccentric queer filmmaker Brian Desmond Hurst. The film participated in an extensive and heated debate about intrusive and ‘sensational’ press practices that erupted in the 1930s. In his cinematic version of events, Hurst made sensational journalism seem like an exciting, if morally dubious, part of modern life—a news form that satisfied a basic human desire to learn about the private lives and hidden secrets of other people. This essay shows how Sensation, in its ambivalent relationship to this fraught cultural issue, reveals some of the complexities of interpreting queer filmmaking before the advent of a self-aware and politicized ‘queer film.’ It argues that intrusive journalism was of interest to Hurst precisely because it engaged with issues at the core of queer identity—exposure, revelation, privacy, and criminality—before the decriminalization of homosexual acts.