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A comprehensive documentary of the history of gays and lesbians in cinema, from negative to positive reflections of gay characters and the troubles of actors and actresses.Written by
R. John Berggren <email@example.com>
This documentary, which was based on the eponymous book by film scholar Vito Russo, was narrated and co-executive produced by Lily Tomlin. Russo, who died of AIDS in 1990, did not live to see the documentary. Russo and Tomlin were close friends; Russo wrote some material for her comedy shows, and while Russo was writing the book The Celluloid Closet, Tomlin let him stay, rent-free, in a house she was not using at the time. See more »
You must pay. You must suffer. If you're a woman who commits adultery, you're only put out in the storm. If you're a woman who has another woman you better go hang yourself. It's a question of degree and certainly if you're gay, you have to do real penance - die!
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A documentary that follows the appearance of gays in the history of the movies, the film takes a talking heads approach with interviews, splicing in some terrific film pieces. We get to see Marlene Dietrich, in "Morocco," kiss another woman while dressed in tails -- and looking better than any man ever could. There's a brilliant in-joke clip from "Red River" where Montgomery Clift is told about the beauty of a Swiss watch and a woman -- and then asked if he's ever had a Swiss watch. The film looks at gay stereotypes such as the pansy or the sissy, the characters that Franklin Pangborn used to play. Some of the interviewees are exceptional, namely Harvey Fierstein, Gore Vidal, and the incredible Quentin Crisp. Vidal gives a hilarious recount of including a gay backstory in "Ben Hur" which Charlton Heston of course denies.
The film is also touching and kind of heartbreaking. You realize that in the century we've had movies how enormously they've shaped our culture and our perception of people, and how if the filmmakers and studio heads hadn't been pressured by the horrible Hayes code, society's collective view of gays might not be so troublesome. There's a great moment where Quentin Crisp talks about census takers in England, asking about homosexuality. They were asked whether they knew any homosexuals. If the answer was yes, they were asked what they were like, to which they replied, "just like everybody else." If they answered no, they were asked what they would expect to meet, to which they replied, someone with grand gestures and flamboyance and bright colors. So that there are two images we have in our minds -- one of what homosexuals are like, and one of what homosexuals should be like. And movies played a huge role in that. 8/10
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