Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My life in the gay cinema

Or maybe that could be better stated as my life "watching" the gay cinema, even as "reflected in" the gay cinema, a train of thought set off by that Netflix subscription I mentioned earlier. That service offers a fairly good, although not comprehensive, menu of LGBT-themed film and I've actually watched on a couple of evenings two old favorites, "The Sum of Us," a sometimes hokey but nice 1994 Australian film starring Russell Crowe and Jack Thompson, and the 1999 documentary, "After Stonewall."

Back when Shep was a pup --- and the pup is now on Social Security --- there wasn't that much to see. The 1995 documentary "The Celluloid Closet," based upon Vito Russo 1981/1987 book of the same title, does a good job of explaining why, covering as it does the homophobia and sterotyping that permeated until more recent times mainstream releases. That's around here somewhere on VHS, I think, and I'd like to see it again, but probably will end up buying the DVD since I doubt the VHS player, languishing in the garage, still works.

I'm reasonably sure that Rob Epstein's "The Times of Harvey Milk," which won the 1984 Academy Award for best documentary, was the first film of any significance I saw on a more or less big screen. And that was in Colorado, appropriate since the film premiered at the Telluride Film Festival.

And despite an odd work schedule complicated by excessive volunteerism I managed to watch somewhere in Iowa with friends the 1985 NBC TV AIDS-themed movie "An Early Frost," which broke a lot of ground for later actual and fictional coverage of the AIDS pandemic.

But the VHS version of "Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt," an 1989 HBO documentary that tells the story of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, was the first film purchased --- and I had to drag the television out of the closet where it had rested for a couple of years (then, as now, I wasn't watching) and buy a VHS player in order to watch it.

The names of people I had known were starting to appear on Quilt panels about then, which was the reason for buying it. It was an amazing film then --- and still is, narrated by Dustin Hoffman with music by Bobby McFerrin. That's another DVD to buy, although the VHS version still is in a box around here somewhere.

"Before Stonewall" (1984) remains the best chronicle out there of the LGBT rights movement up to the 1999 Stonewall Riots, generally seen as the turning point in all of this, and "After Stonewall," the best account of the 30 years of activisim, including the AIDS cruicible, that followed.

"For the Bible Tells Me So," which premiered in 2007, is the latest documentary I actually bought (with rights) --- a couple of years ago when we decided to air it for anyone interested in seeing it at St. Andrew's. It's still the best easily accessible exploration of the relationship between Christianity and the LGBT community out there, offering as it does some hope both to gay people who for one reason or another want to identify as Christian and to straight Christians interested in aspiring to the ideals of that guy who is their namesake.

So that's my trek down movie memory lane so far as documentaries are concerned, and it's still a good basic list of films to see for anyone interested. I'll get around to fiction another time.

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