By Jacqueline Grima
Manchester Metropolitan University (Manchester Met) launched the second strand of its 2015/16 Humanities in Public Festival last week with an event held at HOME, Manchester. The focus of this term’s strand is ‘SEX’ and opened with an event entitled ‘Sex Symbol: Valentino!’ featuring the work of 1920s film star Rudolph Valentino.
The event began with a drinks reception in HOME’s café-bar followed by a welcome speech from Manchester Met Professor Berthold Schoene (Associate Dean for Research, Faculty of Humanities, Languages and Social Science). Berthold thanked the organisers for all their hard work before handing over to Manchester Met Reader in Cinema History Dr Andrew Moor, who was hosting the event. Andrew thanked HOME for their hospitality and expressed how pleased he was that so many people had turned up to an event that explored the work of an actor with whom many of them may not have been familiar.
Asked why he had chosen to focus on Rudolph Valentino, Andrew told Humanity Hallows, “Valentino was the first person that sprang to mind when I knew we were going to be talking about sex.”
We then asked if Andrew thought that the star would still resonate with audiences today. He said, “I honestly don’t know. He died in 1926 and the film that we will be showing tonight, The Son of Sheikh, was released posthumously in the UK. He is a very handsome man but I’m wondering if he might now come across as a bit camp. It will be interesting to see the audience’s reaction.”
Following the speeches, guests converged in front of one of HOME’s five cinema screens, where Andrew joined dramatist and composer Neil Brand to talk about the use of music during film sex scenes. Neil, who has composed music to accompany a variety of films, spoke to the audience about the difficulties of composing and playing music for sex scenes, in particular for more pornographic scenes. He said, “Sex is usually a turning point in the story but in pornography there is no story so you have to look for the context in the film.”
The highlight of the evening was a screening of Valentino’s 1926 silent film The Son of Sheikh, directed by George Fitzmaurice and starring Vilma Banky. The audience were also treated to a live piano accompaniment by Neil himself. Asked about Valentino’s appeal, Neil told Humanity Hallows, “Most of Valentino’s audience were women and there was a massive outpouring of grief when he died.”
Andrew Moor added, “Yes, he was a massive sex symbol, even more so than Douglas Fairbanks, who was also handsome but who was seen as more of an action hero.”
The Humanities in Public ‘SEX’ strand will run from January to March and will look at the significance of sex in 21st century life. Events will examine some of the questions surrounding sex and sexuality today such as how our era of increased sexualisation affects our relationships with our own bodies and with each other and the impact of parenthood on sexual relationships. Festival coordinator Helen Darby told Humanity Hallows, “Our intention this term is to look at sex, sexuality and gender from all different perspectives. We are looking particularly at LGBTQ issues but also at issues surrounding being child-free and heterosexual intimacy. We are looking at the whole spectrum.”