The 1924 conviction of two wealthy Jewish students, Nathan Leopold Jr and Richard Loeb, for the kidnap and murder of a young boy named Bobby Franks scandalised Chicago and drew press attention from all over the world. With its potent aura of unmotivated transgression, the case has continued to fascinate crime aﬁcionados and moviemakers alike, inspiring both Hitchcock’s Rope and Fleischer’s 1959 case study Compulsion, before director Tom Kalin’s latest and most audacious treatment of the same events in this striking debut feature.
Putting the sexual elements up front, Kalin’s ﬁlm is a self-consciously experimental blend of documentary, monochrome melodrama and J armanesque anachronism, examining the pair’s trail of misdemeanours as part of a bizarre sex-for-crime mutual exchange deal that drove them on to ever more extreme undertakings. Here, the planning and execution of the murder is seen as the culmination of both Leopold’s (Daniel Schlachet) obsessive love for Richard (Craig Chester) and the latter’s lifelong fantasies of becoming a master criminal — in Kalin’s words ‘a skewed and symbolic marriage’.
Swoon’s wider project, though, is to investigate the hysteria surrounding the reporting of the trial
“Great lerformances, great
as a key moment in the demonisation of gay sexuality as inherently violent, yet the film’s eliptical and fragmentary narrative indicates that the pair’s actions aren’t as easily contained or explained as the previous mainstream readings have tended to suggest. Famed attorney Clarence Darrow’s groundbreaking psychological defence claimed the men’s ‘inversion’ made them not
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Swoon: ‘a izarre sex-lor-cnme mutual exchange deal’
legally responsible for their actions, but by exploring the laws of desire, Kalin re-orders historical assumptions in a way that’s no more comfortable for today’s viewers. Queer cinema indeed. (Trevor Johnston)
Swoon (18) (Tom Kalin, US, 1991) Daniel Schlachet, Craig Chester, Ron Vawter. 82 mins. From Sun 27: Glasgow Film Theatre.
A tamer producer tor community education organisation AIDSFILMS and member of the AIDS activist collective GRAN FURY, his short works on film and video have been shown in the US and lntematlonally. Swoon is his feature debut as writer, director and co-producer.
‘The biggest motivation for me doing the movie was wanting to go back and talk about how history’s written. I’m intrigued by the course of the 20th century, how we came to be where we are, how lesbian and gay identity came to be articulated in a certain way.
‘Richard Loeb definitely had some sort of psychological disturbance , a lack of traditional moral values. Nathan Leopold was sexually obsessed with him, and so together they turned this game — which started out as a series of pretty mild pranks, really — into a sort of contract.
‘The pact between Leopold and Loeb was about power circulating between two people. Very similar exchanges go on between gangsters and their molls, but that never gets to become an issue in court. You never hear a defence based on the corruption of heterosexuality, yet what’s so disturbing about Darrow’s approach to this case and the way it was reported is that their homosexuality, or ‘inversion’ as it was known then, became a major issue. What’s left of the equation is the element of psychosis. Of madness.’
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The List 25 September — 8 October 199215