Release Date: 2005
Nationality and Language: USA, English
Running time: 68 min
MPAA Rating: NC-17
Distributor and Production Company: Wolfe/Sundance/Frameline/Lovett
Director; Writer: Joseph F. Lovett
Technical: 4:3 video
Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site: gay history
I got out of the Army in 1970 and started my working adult life at 26. The 70s were indeed a time of apparent liberation—it started sartorially, with flares and bellbottoms in the office. I “came out” for the second time to myself on a bitterly cold February Sunday in 1973 when I rode a bus across the George Washington Bridge from New Jersey to attend a “gay talk group” in an upper West Side Manhattan apartment. I would move into the City in September 1974 while going to work as a computer programmer analyst for NBC in the RCA building, and live a citified life in the Cast Iron Building at 67 E 11th St, on Broadway, three blocks below Union Square, closest to the IRT, which in those days did not have air conditioning. I lived between the two Villages. I would attend the talk groups at the Ninth Street Center, east of 2nd Avenue. (My rent for a typical efficiency without high ceilings in 1976 was $312.71. I wonder what it is today!)
I would gradually discover the degree of liberation, mostly as I walked west. After about four blocks I would cross 6th Ave. north of the West Fourth Street Station (the street numbers get crazy) and head into neverland, arriving at Julius’s, with its baseball pictures and dachshunds on the floor, in a building that dates back to the Revolutionary War, one block from the Stonewall Inn. I would cross Sheridan Square and Seventh Avenue and pass the Riviera Café, home of great French cinnamon ice cream, and pass Your Father’s Mustache, a straight place—and it was surprising how many straight young men in those days did not realize that they disco-danced in the heart of the gay ghetto. I would head West on Christopher Street to Boots & Saddle, with its model VW, then to Ty’s, and finally the waterfront bars like the Ramrod and Keller’s. I could see the Trucks and the Piers, but I did not partake in such a tawdry, uninhibited scene although I certainly knew what went on. The GAA had its tacky dances in Soho at the Firehouse at 99 Wooster Street. In those days the talk was all about Mafia bars. A mile further down, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center looked like a boxy novelty.
I did not visit the leather bars like the Mineshaft, where I could not fit (they had their strict "dress codes" that did not comport with IBM or EDS). I was not pretty enough to get into Studio 54. I did get initiated at the Club Baths, where in those days you crept into the orgy room and let things happen to you. I visited the Everard, and St. Marks Baths sometimes, and once the famous Continental (where the masseur demanded a large tip!). I made some treks on the Long Island Railroad and ferry to the Fire Island Pines and to Cherry Grove. I was too inhibited to frequent the bushes between these two gay notorious resorts, although they were connected by a pleasant half-mile "hiking" path. Those were the days, my friend--I thought they would never end. I have discovered a certain "freedom" in separation and exile, and had the advantage of relative youth, although not attractiveness, as I had turned prematurely bald with good old hereditary alopecia. In the 70s, there was a certain look that was "desirable": tall, think, long hair, but a mustache (that was very much "in" then) without beard; hairy limbs but often smooth chest. In the 70s, among twenty-something gays, the notion of body fascism started. Gay porn magazines in that period reported secret chambers along the Hudson waterfront where a "Sweeney Todd" operator would fulfill any leather-based sadomasochistic fantasy, including total body shaves. (By the way, Dreamworks will release a film of the notorious play by that name in 2006, directed by Sam Mendes.)
I lived in this separate dominion of liberation and saw its wonders, but was too inhibited to dive in head first like most men. So I would survive the epidemic that would start in 1981. But, following the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and resistance to the War in Vietnam, we were driven to our own paradise ghetto. We thought we had achieved freedom, through privacy and separation from the “real world.” In time, we would become reconciled back to the real world. First through the AIDS epidemic, and then through the concern about equal responsibilities in areas like military service, gay marriage and gay adoptions. The real world, as families got smaller and parents lived longer, would again demand real family responsibility from us, and would have to deal with our openness and our individualistic values as the Internet broke down all pretenses of privacy. But in New York City in the 70s, you sensed a real erasure between Manhattan and the other boroughs (and New Jersey and Long Island suburbs) where "real families with children" lived more collectively. (The South Bronx, though, was something else then.) You could see it from the subway lines when they went above ground.
The movie ends with the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, at first called "GRID" and features some comments by Larry Kramer and many others (including my own physician when I lived there, Dr. Unger). There is a photo of a patient with very graphic facial Kaposi's Sarcoma, his face swollen to grotesque extremes with reactive lymph nodes, a clinical severity usually not seen even then. That particular patient had been shown on ABC "20-20" in a Geraldo Rivera report in May 1983, and I remember it well ("the public health threat of the century" -- and today we worry about H5N1 more than HIV, and avian influenza more than AIDS). But the flippancy of the gay sexual freedom that led up to all of this raises questions that gay leaders had trouble answering, and tended to ignore since the most testy questions came from the religious right (and the likes of Paul Cameron and Gene Antonio). That is, gay men (because they often perceived themselves as, for whatever biological or other reasons, as personally non-competitive as fathers, providers and family heads) seemed to have walked out on any sense of responsibility for continuing the transmission of life, and seem to have replaced concern for people "as people" with an expressive, narcissistic aesthetic idealism and upward affiliation that proudly claims to declare what is beautiful, and winds up in a lost king-and-pawn endgame, with the pieces dying off. Of course, however, the heterosexual world is based on its own unfair premises, and there has always been the missed opportunity to answer these premises without degrading personal responsibility. This film, unfortunately, passes up the opportunity.
You can, of course, look back further to try to explain why we were denied our freedoms even to live relatively private lives before the 60s. The world, then, was a dangerous and unequal place, as it is today, but with a different set of problems. Overriding was the idea that, for most men, the promise of family leadership was the bait that allowed them to tolerate systemic social inequalities among different families. Gay men threatened that. And then, as now, there was the realization that freedom must not be taken for granted, and that even those that are relatively well off materially, even if repressed psychologically, can have everything taken from them. So the challenge for film is to look back even further into history, and see how war and race affected our lives and mixed in with us.
Gay Republicans (2004, World of Wonder, dir. Wash Westmoreland, 63 min) examines Log Cabin Republicans, often with the visual metaphor of a log cabin kit. The term "gay Republicans" sounds like an oxymoron to some. They are gay men and women who (outside of sexual orientation) believe in conservative values, particularly the free market, and perhaps even with some social values. The Libertarian Party might be a better home for some of these individuals, as would Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty. Some of the film concerns whether they will endorse President Bush in the 2004 election. Log Cabin decided not to, whereupon Maurice Bonamigo created controversy by trying to do so on his own. http://gaypatriot.blogspot.com/2004/12/breaking-news-log-cabin-infidel-to.html An important substory concerns Arizona state representative Steve May, who outed himself in supporting rights for same-sex couples, and found the Army trying to discharge him. See http://www.logcabinwa.com/archive/199912121014.shtml He would get briefly reinstated on President Clinton's order. There are brief shots of May in the interior of the state capitol in Phoenix, and of a particular bar in Phoenix, both of which I have been in personally. There is a lot attention to President Bush's simpleton efforts to defend the "sanctity of marriage" with a constitutional amendment, to shield the honored place of a male-female commitment from "activist judges." There are plush shots of life in Palm Beach, FL (that's not West Palm Beach). There are demonstrations by anti-gay forces at the Texas state Republican convention in Austin, where LCR is denied a booth. The underlying "moral" points -- do gays undermine the psychological comfort of the family, necessary to raise kids and care for its weakest members -- seem skimmed across.
The Life of Reilly (2006, Civilian/L'Orange, dir. Frank L. Anderson and Barry Poltermann, 87 min, sug PG-13) is essentially a monologue by comedian Charles Nelson Reilly, now 75, on a Dogma-like (like in a Lars Van Trier movie) stage, in garish blues, yellows and reds, with the furniture locations marked in chalk. The film interjects home movie footage (especially of diesel and steam engine trains) all the way back to the 1940s of life in the bad old times, when Charles was the only gay kid around, with his funny mother sounding racist, and his aunt lobotomized (like in "Suddenly, Last Summer" perhaps). In the 50s he gets into comedy, and is told "they don't let queers on TV." In those days, until the late 1960s, gays would be blackballed from all the networks. In the early 70s, after Stonewall, everything changed, and Reilly couldn't count his appearances, although he had made it big in "Off Broadyway" (and maybe "Off Off Broadway"). The film is interesting in showing what can be done in a film by centering a film around a lecture or monologue; Al Gore had done that with "An Inconvenient Truth." William Bendix had been in a famous television sitcom called this starting in 1953.
Licensed to Kill (1997, DeepFocus/PBS, dir. Arthur Dong, 77 min) was a sensation at Sundance, and is a chilling recitation by killers of gay men, of what drives their hatred. Various cities and states: New York, North Carolina, Dallas, Minneapolis, San Francisco. The hatred seems to have a common thread. These are men socialized into a collectivized social culture, where the feeling of self-righteousness about faithfulness to gender roles protects them from facing their own inadequacies. They believe that homosexuals submit to other men in order to express contempt for conventional competitive ideas about masculinity--contempt for them. One black man was a closeted gay himself, but killed or assaulted other gays near Loring Park in Minneapolis, and resented the "racism" of most white gay men in picking their partners. At least two of the men mentioned President Clinton's attempt to lift the ban on gays in the military.
Let's Get Frank (2003, First Run Features, dir. Bart Everly, 75 min) is a biography of openly gay congressman from Massachusetts, Barney Frank. It skips around in time, focusing on two main areas: first, his support of President Clinton during the Monika Lewinsky impeachment scandal (with Kenneth Starr) and, moreover, about all of the gay and "culture war" issues that have come up over the past twenty years. The debate over DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act, signed by President Clinton in 1996) is shown. Frank poses the "irrationality" question. How does a gay couple's relationship harm a straight couple's marriage? Why are straight marriages so vulnerable to cultural distraction? Someone answers that the question is about "the institution of marriage," which Frank hits out of the park by saying it sounds like it was said in an institution. Henry Hyde gives a speech where he complains about the fact that nobody can call homosexuality wrong or a mental illness any more. (The Henry Hyde is exposed for adultery.) Some biographical incidents, like the 1989 "scandal" when Frank hired a male prostitute with Congressional funds (it made The Washington Times) are covered, as is another time when Frank talks about oral sex in front of his mother. During the gays in the military debate in 1993, Frank was accused of "stabbing us in the back" when he suggested a "compromise" that, when a soldier is off duty he can do as he pleases, but he can't tell when "on base." That's not covered in the film.
Black White + Gray: A Portrait of Sam Wagstaff and Robert Mapplethorpe. (2007, Sundance Channel / Arthouse Films / Media GMBH, dir. Robert Crump, USA / Germany, not rated but probably would be NC-17, 75 min). A film with a lot of great stills and a lot of gay history of New York City over the decades. Blogger link here for more details.
One Nation Under God (1993, First Run Features, dir. Teodoro Maniaci and Francine Rzeznik, 83 min) examines the ex-gay movement, especially Exodus and Love in Action. The general trend is for people to believe that they are "changing" and find after a few years that this is one big psychological hoax. Gary Cooper and Michael Busse are presented as an ex-gay couple that fell back in love. This film reviews the days of books like "Growing Up Straight" and "Changing Homosexuality in the Male", in the pre-1973 days when homosexuality belonged to "abnormal psychology." Even Masters and Johnson (later active on the somewhat dubious threat of heterosexual AIDS in the West) got into the act. "Aversion therapy" (the word "vomit" appears that the center of the screen once, and in another scene a man has electrodes attached to his leg) and "covert sensitization" are presented. One comes away with the impression that when people are so determined to make gay people "change", they are admitting that their own family lives work only when they have the power to coerce others to meet their needs.
Excerpts from the horrible 1967 CBS Broadcast "The Homosexuals" with Mike Wallace are shown. (Not shown was the scene where Secretary of State Dean Rusk says, "when we find homosexuals in the department, we discharge them.") There seems to be a real "business" in the pre-1973 psychiatric world of "changing homosexuality in the male." This is not about equality or duty, as in today's debates about gay marriage or gays in the military (there is one World War II induction interview shown where the recruit satisfies the psychiatrist that he "likes girls"). This is about going into people's heads and bodies and making them conform to the demands of the group necessary to maintain a social comfort level in the group.
I do recall "Love in Action" and actually attended a concert that it gave at the National Presbyterian Center in Washington DC in March 1990. During that concert, a Bach cantata was interrupted inappropriately for a "prayer." "Love in Action" made claims for its own AIDS ministry in the early 1990s. I never heard the horror stories that are in the film.
At MCC Dallas in the 1980s, Rev. Don Eastman gave a sermon called "Exploding the ex-gay myth."
Small Town Gay Bar (2006, Netflix, dir. Malcolm Ingram, 81 min) is a documentary about two gay bars in Mississippi: Rumors in Shannon, and Crossroads, apparently in Meridian. There is a lot of discussion of the hatred of other people in the area, especially Fred Phelps from the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, KS. The Crossroads closed in 2003. A member of the American Family Association is interviewed. What comes through the homophobic comments is the idea that the visibility of gay people makes some people with certain religious persuasion question their own confidence in the collective view they have of the traditional family as a vehicle that can help save everyone regardless of adverse circumstances. Their view is that everyone must try to procreate (to validate "life" and "God's Plan") and strict adherence to their moral rules gives everyone the chance to do so; but their rules also include accepting the idea that the welfare of the nuclear family is more important than the autonomous choices of the individual. It's easy to see how this leads to a patriarchal culture and inequalities between classes of people, as well as protecting people from cognition of their own weaknesses, which can make them impotent. One businessman tells of being busted for "contributing to the delinquency of a minor" for handing out leaflet information on AIDS and condoms. I can see how
A club reopens in Meridian at the end, with a shot of some drag queens and some love train dirty dancing (or "spiderwebbing"). But Rumors then closes.
The very last take in the film is Fred Phelps saying that gay people will go to hell, and that there is nothing anyone can do about it, "Have a nice day." It does end the film on a down note, as it leads to the end credits with bedraggled rural scenes shot in black and white.
The DVD has many bonus extras.
One of the smallest towns that I remember with a gay bar is Carbondale, IL.
Here! Comedy Presents: Kate Clinton (2006, Liberation / HDNet, 90 min). Somewhat more tasteful that Sarah Silverman, lesbian comic Kate Clinton does her comedy club act in LA and shreds the "arguments" against letting gays participate in society. Gay marriage would destroy straight marriage. Gays in the military would destroy the military. Oh, how those straight people are admitting how weak and vulnerable and personally incompetent they area. (That's why they need salvation through Grace rather than karma.) She speaks of "weapons of marriage destruction." Or "The Bible is like Google for Christians. You can find the answer for anything in that Book." Or, what is the nexus between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden? George W. Bush. I like the one "Elijah Wood is not the same as Tobey Maguire." Later she talks about health care as a "single prayer system" rather than single payer. In the closing section (not with the audience) she says that she has taught 11th and 12th grade English -- and doing comedy club is not so different from interpreting Chaucer (particularly the Pardoner) for "the kids."
The parody of the way gays would "destroy" straight marriage needs to be understood in perspective. Many committed, monogamously married heterosexual parents feel that their experience of potentially procreative sexual intercourse in marriage needs to be revered by others, including those disinclined by temperament or nature to engage in it. They feel they need deference for a special place for marital sex, and gays come back and claim this is an evasion of modern ideas of personal responsibility. It gets to an angry existential exchange about payback and openness to forgiveness and empathizing with the emotional worlds of others when one does not personally enter these worlds.
Eddie Izzard: Dressed to Kill (1999, Ella Communications / Edgewater) starts out with a narrative caricature of San Francisco and soon turns to the transvestite's monologue teaching history, astronomy, and the follies of "don't ask don't tell." Blogger review here.
Suzanne Westenhoefer: Live at the Village (2004, Image) is another lesbian comic that starts out her act by making fun of how people run for the hills when homosexuals are on the loose. From the Village Theater in Hollywood.
Naked Boys Singing (2007, TLA / Funnyboy, dir. Troy Christian, Robert Shrock; 95 min, music by Nic Ten-Brook, NC-17) is a film rendition of the stage musical that started in 1998. Yes, the young adult male cast is nude, completely, most of the time for the ensemble vaudeville-like numbers that recall "High School Musical" and "Chicago", with lyrics based on cute rhymes of gay slang. When an audience member's cell phone goes off, his penalty is that he has to join the cast. The outrageous comedy removes all tension from the scenes, however; undressing is much more interesting when someone else does it to the subject, which does not happen here. Blogger review here.
Wrestling with Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner (2006, Balcony / PBS / POV, dir. Freida Lee Mock, 98 min) is documentary tracing the writings and indirect political activism of Kushner from the 9/11 attacks through the 2004 elections. Kushner had just written "Homebody/ Kabul" before the attacks and remarks that the Taliban are theocratic thugs who nevertheless restored stability to Afghanistan. The film shows some excerpts from the play, and then moves on to document his upbringing in Lake Charles, LA (below sea level, he says, and very vulnerable), shows his synagogue, and then deals with his coming out. It wasn't until college days that he was OK with it. His most famous play is "Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes" in two parts; I've ordered the first part from Netflix (the HBO series based on it). He talks about why he became a writer. PBS POV link is here.
Where Ocean Meets Sky (2003, Film Emporium, dir. wr. Crayton Robey, 99 min) is a documentary presenting the history and culture of Fire Island, on the south shore of Long Island, about 40 miles from Manhattan on the Long Island Rail Road, with a ferry from the Sayville ("Gayville") stop. The two main communities were the Fire Island Pines and, about a mile west, Cherry Grove. I recall many day trips there in 1977 and 1978, when there was a lot going on personally, and I would wonder whom I would bump into. (The "bumping frequency" is an important asset of high density urban living). I would get a burger at the Boatel (I still remember it) and hike down the beach toward the Grove in the afternoon. Yes, I remember the Sandpiper.
Of course, Fire Island wasn't always a gay resort. (In 1973, the "West Side Discussion Group" in Chelsea had a program "are gay resorts really gay?" In the 70s, another area beach destination was Jacob Riis Park, at the end of the A lines, and then a bus ride, in Queens.) It has a long and interesting history, surviving and rebuilding after the 1938 hurricane. There are pictures from that event in the film that remind one of the more recent carnage at Bay St. Louis, MS from Katrina, and remind one that a huge hurricane could hit southern Long Island again. There was tremendous destruction from a Noreaster in March 1962 (which dumped 15 inches of snow in northern VA after a very mild winter, while I was rebuilding my life by starting out as a freshman at George Washington in DC).
The controversy in the film, though, was the growing pains of the local area accepting the idea of a gay resort. The Pines at one time resisted and tried to remain a "family community." (One recalls similar cultural wars around Rehoboth Beach and Bethany Beach, DE.) In the 50s and 60s, the police would come and raid the bars and clubs and arrest gay men until they made their "quotas" of twenty men. (During Wagner's mayorship in the 1960s, New York tried to "clean up" the gay bars for the New York Worlds Fair in Flushing-Queens in 1964-65, which I attended in 64 with high school / college friends one August weekend, staying at the New Yorker for $10 a night then; most gay bars were closed down and people went to Boston to play; there were rumors of tragic "incidents" at the Fair.) When dance clubs came into being, there was a state law against men dancing together without women (but not against women dancing -- that's a curious observation about gender conformity and roles). Club owners would try to get one woman to join "love trains" of men dirty dancing together -- the practice is still common. In New York City itself, because of real estate prices and space, relatively few of the gay clubs have dancing even today.
The film covers the advent of tea dances, founded by John Whyte. Carson Kressley (from the Fab 5) makes many appearances in the film.
Toward the end, the film covers the AIDS epidemic, which people originally blamed on the parties and orgies at places like Fire Island. People stopped coming for a while in the 80s, although Randy Shilts covers it in his "And the Band Played On."
Logo presented this film on Jan. 18 but its scheduled film was "Outing Riley" which I have not yet seen. The documentary film has a long period of opening credits, and doesn't even announce its title for about five minutes. This was a bit confusing to a cable viewer expecting a different film.
The Great Pink Scare (2008, PBS Independent Lens, dir. Dan Miller) tells the story of a postal service witch-hunt at Northhampton College in 1960. Blogger.
Chris & Don: A Love Story: The Hollywood Life of Christopher Isherwood & Don Barchardy (2008, Zeitgeist / Asphalt Stars, dir. Tina Mascari and Guido Santi). This is a documentary about the 30 year gay relationship between the novelist and portrait artist. The younger Don is quite striking visually in the older clips, and the man now in his 70s narrates, so you see the time lapse. Blogger discussion.
Outrage (2009, Magnolia Pictures, dir. Kirby Dick) starts May 8 and reportedly deals with closeted aides in Congress. I will report in detail as soon as I can see it. The poster for the film has the words "Do Ask Do Tell" underneath the title of the film, but they do not seem to be part of the title. Website. Don't confuse with the Ace Cruz film with Michael Madsen, reportedly in production, from Spirit Films, Website. Blogger review.
The Butch Factor (2009, dir. Christopher Hines). A preview of this film was shown at the Town DC in Washington Sept 29. It appears in the Reel Affirmations film festival. There is a middle section that deals with bullying of gay teens. Blogger. Also includes 10 minute short subject: For the Love of Sport, Gay Men Play Ball.
8: The Mormon Proposition (2010, Red Flag, dir. Steven Greenstreet and Reed Cowan). At Sundance, with a short subject “Prop 8: Did Mormons Go To Far” also directed by Steven Greenstreet on YouTube; Details on Blogger. (Review here).
Marriage Trial (2010, dir. John Ireland and John Ainsworth) Reenactment of trial Perry v. Schwarzenegger, regarding Proposition 8 in California. Blogger.
City of Borders (2009, IVTS, dir. Yun Suh). Gay people from both sides of the religious conflicts in the Middle East and West Bank gather in a gay bar, the Shushan, in Jersualem and tell their stories, especially about Jerusalem pride. Blogger.
Out in the Silence (2009, Sundance/PBS, dir. Dean Hamer). Joe Wilson, who grew up in Oil City, PA, returns after announcement of his gay marriage in Washington DC stirs up the town. Blogger.
Gary and Tony Have a Baby (2010, CNN, narr. Soledad O’Brien, 45 min). Blogger.
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