“THE CELLULOID CLOSET”
If you want to really know about the history of gays and lesbians in movies up until 1995m “The Celluloid Closet” is what you have to see.
It is a documentary but not a typical one. It goes where none others have gone before. Hollywood has always beckoned gays and lesbians with artistic dreams of succeeding on the silver screen. Those that got there are made it have never been properly recognized for the contributions they have made to the movie industry. Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman have worked very hard to give us a film that indeed recognizes our brothers and sisters and also show how discrimination against us has been present since the early days of movie making, We have always had to go to various extremes to be able to work in the movies and this is what “The Celluloid Closet” shows.
The film starts by giving us toe background that explains the Hollywood closet. Interviews with both gay and straight stars give background to what we see in the film and Lily Tomlin’s narration is excellent. But this movie belongs to Epstein and Friedman for the way they shows us the hypocrisy and treatment of the people that have given so much to the movies.
The history of gays in the movies goes all the way back to 1895 whew Thomas Edison made a movie of tow guys dancing together. In the 1930’s there were gay subplots in many movies but the gays were presented as sissies and lesbians were almost always predators. Some of the clips in the movie are quite bold but by and large in the early days things were not so open. There s a scene in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” when Jane Russell sings in a scene populated by half-naked men, none of whom pay any attention to her.
The movie is not only entertaining but provides a great deal of thought provoking ideas and this is a very important film for many reasons two of which that this is our history and secondly a look at homophobia in an industry that has always depended on so much of our talent. The film also examines gay stereotypes and shows how Hollywood elected to portray us.
“The Celluloid Closet” is also touching and at times very sad. We see how much influence the movies have on the way we live and how the powers that be have chosen to depict us through the years. It is really hard to define this film It is not a traditional film nor is it a traditional documentary. It seems to me that it is a history of film. It was ten years in the making and obviously it took a lot of hard work and it is well worth the hard work and the time it took to make the film. By and large the film was based on the book of the same name however when Russo died of AIDS, it was left to the directors to add what was missing. The movie here just deals with American film and Russo had written about film everywhere in the world.
The celebrities who are interviewed in the film give remarkable insight, For a movie that has no plot, no characters, no traditional story line; it remains one of the best gay films ever made. It spotlights the progress of gay visibility by using the people that made the movies. It is informative and clever and revealing and funny and sad. It is our heritage and it is our history and it is oh so important. Yet eve as a lesson in gay history it allows the viewer to come to his own conclusions.
It may change the way you look at movies and you will think of what you saw and how different things are today. It made me want to go out and find all the movies I had ever seen and rewatch them with a different eye. It is a movie to be proud of and the courage with which it was made should be regarded as a goal for all filmmakers. What a wonderful treat it is.