GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies
Proteus (2003; 100 min., Canada and South Africa) is a low-budget feature film, directed by John Greyson (Toronto) and Jack Lewis (Cape Town), that made the international rounds of “art cinema” and queer festivals in 2003 and 2004, with limited theatrical release in New York, Toronto, and other cities. The film advances Greyson’s and Lewis’s experiments with political essay-narrative forms both in their respective documentary, experimental, and dramatic videos dating back to the early 1980s (including Lewis’s Apostles of Civilized Vice ) and in Greyson’s theatrical feature films beginning with Urinal in 1988. Based on an early-eighteenth-century court record, Proteus narrates the meeting, sexual relationship, and eventual trial and execution for sodomy of two prisoners in the Dutch Cape Colony, the Dutchman Rijkhaart Jacobsz and the Khoi Claas Blank. Subsidiary narratives focus on the Scottish botanist Virgil Niven, who observed the prisoners, and on the contemporaneous crackdown on sodomites in Amsterdam. GLQ initiated the following “virtual conversation” among the two directors, Israeli queer legal theorist Noa Ben-Asher, American film scholar R. Bruce Brasell, American film critic Daniel Garrett, and South African historian Susan Newton-King. Though it will “spoil” the plot for readers who have not seen the movie, we offer it as a lively debate about one of the more interesting entries in the new “new queer cinema.” The debate explores the precarious and artful interrelationship of histories, nations, narratives, and the law; cinematic intent and spectatorial interpretation; same-sexuality, conjugality, and difference; and even, as one participant dares to put it, love.