Friday, February 18, 2011

William E. Jones’ Tearoom

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

presented in association with Frameline and in collaboration with SFMOMA in association with the exhibit Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera Since 1870

[members: $7 / non-members: $10]

William E. Jones’ Tearoom consists entirely of footage created in 1962 by the Mansfield, Ohio police department documenting clandestine sexual encounters between men in a public restroom. Ultimately, this footage led to the arrest, prosecution and incarceration of approximately thirty men. Employing a surprisingly impressionistic pastel color palette and a curious “non-style” of cinematography evocative at times of Warhol, this material is presented by Jones more as “document” than documentary—in silence, with minimal editorial intervention, and devoid of direct commentary. This blunt non-interventionist presentation allows a slow accumulation of details and reveals profound intersections of race, class, sexuality and heterosexist power, uncomfortably placing the viewer in the position of voyeur and surveillant, while paradoxically suggesting empathy—even identification—with the on-screen subjects. Asking more questions than it answers, Tearoomi> presents a complex and disturbing picture of institutional power in mid-century America. (Steve Polta)

Download program notes (PDF)