DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEW of 4 STONEWALL movies

 

Title: After Stonewall;  Before Stonewall; Stonewall

Release Date:  1998

Nationality and Language: USA, English

Running time: about 85 minutes each (first two films)

MPAA Rating:  n/a  PG-13 (first two), R (Stonewall)

Distributor and Production Company: Independent PBS (first two); Strand

Director; Writer: Producer: James Scagliotti

Producer:

Cast:  Frederick Weller (in “Stonewall”)

Technical:

Relevance to doaskdotell site: gay history

Review:

Independent/PBS films (Public Broadcasting, Corporation for Public Broadcasting); Producer: James Scagliotti; PG-13 (TV-14); First aired on PBS June 23, 1999 (followed by Before Stonewall); When shown in theaters, presented in Digital stereo; 8.5/10.0

Also: Before Stonewall       Stonewall

            Is this the great, expansive film-symphony that engages the average viewer in the history of personal libertarion?

            Maybe not quite. When this film was shown in St. Paul at the Minnesota History Center in June 1999, I asked the producer this question from the audience; and he indicated that he is not a "narrative" film maker, presumably in the style of Peter Jennings / Todd Brewster The Century.

            The film, in fact, comprises a long series of vignettes and interview-clips with gay history figures like Frank Kameny, Larry Kramer, Phil Johnson, Elizabeth Birch and Barbara Gittings. All the clips are shot on-location; we even get to see a gay demonstration in Beijing, China (as well as Sydney, Australia). How many commercial Hollywood films, with their union rules (requiring separate film "units" for every location) can do this? Scagliotti talked to us about the process of getting grants for film (not as hard as it sounds), and the political battle with PBS which had been burned over Tales of the City. PBS contributed, at long last, and Scagliotti bragged that the film had been made with some "taxpayer money" (I wouldn't brag about that!).

            Properly, the film presents post-Stonewall gay history as three chapters: the liberationist 70's, the ages of AIDS, and the political renewal of the 90's (with some coverage of gays in the military). The Anita Bryant ("Save our Children") anti-gay crusade, and 1978 Briggs iniative (an attempted military-style ban on gay teachers in California) all occurred (as backlash) before AIDS was known.

            Interesting are the film clips of our "enemies," especially Jesse Helms, who at one point asks (when talking about AIDS), why just they don't stop? The film doesn't really answer that. Jerry Falwell, (Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., "Liberty University") of course, does come across as a kind of goonie, a kind of buffonish teletubby himself.

            Scagliotti points out some historical facts that I overlooked in my own research for DADT. For example, the early women's movement (National Organization for Women), as symbolized by Betty Friedan (known for getting [married] women back to work after childbirth), actually resisted the participation of open lesbians. During the gays in the military debate in 1993, President Clinton reported called David Mixner (Stranger Among Friends) and "asked" for six months of grace before coming up with an "honorable compromise"; and when President Clinton announced his "Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Pursue" compromise in July 1993 (a policy which could have been acceptable if both Congress and the military had honored it) Mixner had himself arrested at a demonstration.

            The film does focus upon gays as a "minority" and as somewhat separate from the rest of society. Yet, it presents the portion of Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential nomination acceptance speech, where he says "It's not 'them the gays,' it is not them, it is us, we are all Americans." And it does present some libertarian precepts, such as when pornography is discussed, and the point is made that the government wanted to take back all discussion of "sex" in the early 1980's. Right on.

            What I want to see from this kind of exposition, however, is a relation back to the whole theme of individualism, which I think began to blossom in this country as the war in Vietnam became discredited. There is, of course, a film on Ayn Rand that explores this. But I see gay "liberation" as a subclass of general liberation for everyone, mainstreamer or not. The whole cultural war goes way beyond the usual caricatures by the religious right to a probing of the limits of individualism and individual choice. This topic would lead itself to expansive film making, better served by private commercial (for-profit) interests than by public grants. I think it can be done.

The film ends with a performance by the Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus.

The earlier film, Before Stonewall, does a good job of portraying the skittishness of Depression/World War II/Eisenhower era society on homosexuality. (Things had almost broken out in the 1920's, especially in Germany.) It just scratches the surface on the psychologically adaptive denial that explains this homophobia. You could be committed if somebody "found out." (Well, I was!) The point that the military could look the other way when it had to (as did General Eisenhower when confronted by the fact that his WAC support staff after D-Day was largely lesbian) and that gay people were just as patriotic as everyone else, is well supported by interviews. Ironically, Minneapolis-St. Paul is mentioned as a source of military gays during the "War."

Neither of these films should be confused with Strand Releasing's film Stonewall (1996), starring Frederick Weller, who comes across as the super virile, "masculine gay" always helping his drag queen friends and more obvious "sissy boys" out of trouble in the days before the Stonewall riots. Funny is the scene where he helps one boy avoid the draft (by the Marines, no less -- the Marines really did draft people for a while during Vietnam) -- by claiming to be a "queer." The sergeant goes along with it but is not impressed.

Stonewall Uprising (2010, First Run/PBS/American Experience, dir. Kate Davis and David Heilbroner). Blogger.

 

Related reviews: Latter Days, etc.

 

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