Dirs: Rob Epstein (The Times of Harvey Milk) and Jeffery Freidman
Hollywood's relationship with homosexuality is explored in this documentary. I had not seen it for a while, and it is an interesting time to revisit it given the national attention that Brokeback Mountain is receiving. This film leaves off with Philadelphia as a pionerring humanization of being gay. One cannot help but think that in ten years we have moved from the celebration of a single film to the potential for a whole series of movies that take homosexuality as a matter of course. But the Celluloid Closet is a very useful chroincle of what will hopefully be a distant memory in the future. As Ron alluded to in his recent reivew of B.M., when such a story ceases to be about "gayness" and is just about "love," then we will know we have made it.
The most interesting parts of the documentary are the examinations of the Hays Code and the Legion of Decency (God I love that name!). Attempts to introduce "perverted" sexual material over the objections of the censors led to humorous and awkward metapohors and clunky non-verbal acting. A movie that I reviewed some time ago on I Just Saw, "Suddenly Last Summer," is rightly held up as an example of how this censorship can lead to a bad, silly movie.
The political representation of homosexuality once these prohibitions were lifted is also well examined in this film. Once characters could be gay, they were often frought with pain, confusion, self revulsion and suicidal tendencies. Of course, so too are all kinds of straight characters in melodramas--one has to discern when such protrayals are the result of prejudice and when they are the result of plain old bad writing. But the general trend is well taken and well pointed out.
The documentary does suffer from over statement of the impact of movies. It sometimes comes across like "if only positive images of gays were in Hollywood films, then there would be no homophobia or at least we homosexuals would feel good about ourselves." Crises of identity are no doubt exacerbated by homophobia in films, but the writers and actors interviewed for this documentary fetishize their own medium. Some of that is unavoidable in this project; but more contextualization with society at-large would have been welcome.
The subject matter here is the primary driving force of the film. The documentary does little to elevate the subject in the way that truly great documentaries do. But it is an piece of important film history, and should be reckoned with.