“Widescreen Dreams: Growing Up Gay at the Movies”–memoir and memory

Horrigan, Patrick E, “Widescreen Dreams: Growing Up Gay at the Movies” University of Wisconsin Press,


Memoir and Memory

Amos Lassen

Patrick Horrigan experimented by bringing his autobiography and cultural studies together in “Widescreen Dreams”. The result is a very successful and readable book.  He uses his critical writings on film as a way to tell us the story of his life and his coming out as a gay male. In five chapters, each of which is centered on a movie, we learn about his family and his own personal maturation. It’s a strange handful of movies but they obviously influenced his growth.

Horrigan was born in 1963 and as a child became a Barbra Streisand devotee which may explain why he devotes a chapter to “Hello Dolly”, a major flop for Babs and her studio and career. The other movies that he uses in his memoir are “The Sound of Music” (of course), “The Poseidon Adventure” (Shelley Winters swims), “The Wiz” (“The Wiz”?), and “Dog Day Afternoon” (a classic). As he goes into great detail in describing scenes from the films, he interweaves stories from his own life as well as snippets of the fantasies these films inspired in him. We do not get a really good look at his life but we do get some interesting and fun reading. To him “The Poseidon Adventure” is a metaphor for gays to come out (or drown?) and he daydreams of how different his life might have been if he had become a movie star (not an actor but a star) instead of a college professor.

Although not very deep, the book is filled with memory and criticism of society and culture as well as family gossip. Horrigan’s personal stories illustrate the closeness of film and the imagination—after all, movies are the stuff fantasies are made of and derived from.

As a boy, he was captured by the movies and he takes us down the yellow brick road of Hollywood, stopping along the way to bring his own life into the journey. We learn about his large Catholic family and how he accepts himself as a gay male and as I read his book I found myself thinking about my own life in terms of the movies I have seen. I also had several good laughs. The memories that “Widescreen Dreams” brought to me were those I had tucked away or simply forgotten.

As for the movies Horrigan chose, I am pretty sure I have better choices but this is his book and his life so who am I to argue? I loved the way Horrigan approached growing up and coming out gay. I wonder if Streisand knows how much she helped recruit members to our community.

You will not learn a lot from this book but you will have a touching and insightful reading experience as Horrigan brings light to the strong relationship between film and imagination.

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