“Maggots and Men”
An Experimental Historical Narrative
Cary Cronenwett’s experimental film “Maggots and Men” is the story of the 1921 rebellion of the Kronstadt sailors against the Bolshevik regime as well as an imagined love story between Stepan Petrichenko, leader of the sailors and another sailor. There is a gender twist here in that the film is cast with female-to-male transgender actors and the film documents a rapidly evolving transgender community and we see the gender revolution that is taking place in our own society. The communal society at Kronstadt is seen as a utopia and we are taken to a place where we can visualize alternatives to capitalist society. The parallel is drawn between the history of revolution and the free expression of gender and the movie shows that the world we live in also has elements of radicals whose hopes have not yet been fulfilled.
The film is based on actual historical events and it manages to bring together the eroticism of Jean Genet, early Soviet cinema and a transgender cast in order to show us that queer utopias are necessary in the world today.
“The Kronstadt sailors had a long tradition as radicals and fierce warriors, which began with the failed revolution of 1905 (the subject of Battleship Potemkin). “Maggots and Men” recounts the tragic events of March 1921 that ensued when the Kronstadt sailors drafted a resolution that supported the factory workers on strike in St. Petersburg. In addition to echoing the starving workers’ demand for food, the resolution called for a re-election of the soviets and demanded greater autonomy from an increasingly authoritarian government. The Bolshevik government destroyed public support for the sailors by launching a propaganda campaign that falsely labeled them as counter-revolutionaries. Rather than de-escalating the situation Trotsky, Minister of War, ordered the sailors to be taken by force. After heavy losses on both sides the two-week long battle ended with victory for the Bolsheviks and death or exile for the sailors”.
The film does not take itself seriously and the director obviously brought some of his own transgender experience to his work, Cronenwett transitioned from female to male in California some time in after 1993 and discovered film. The film brings transgender and anarchist politics together. It conceptualizes the LGBT community and its struggle for power within a larger social justice movement and the film relates to issues that are very relevant—labor struggles, police violence, control of the media, abuse of power and conflict.