Our Rating: ★★★★½
L Factor: Lesbian Film
Short Take: Covers the history of gay men and lesbians in film in the US and includes interviews with many well known Hollywood figures.
Alternate Titles:
Year: 1995
Duration: 102 min
Language: France, UK, Germany, USA/English
MPAA: R
Director: Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman
Writer: Vito Russo, Rob Epstein
Starring: Lily Tomlin, Tony Curtis, Susie Bright, Arthur Laurents, Armistead Maupin, Whoopi Goldberg, Jan Oxenberg, Harvey Fierstein, Quentin Crisp, Richard Dyer, Jay Presson Allen, Mrs. Gustav Ketterer, Gore Vidal, Will H. Hays, Farley Granger

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Celluloid Closet

This documentary, narrated by Lily Tomlin, covers the history of gay men and lesbians in film in the US and includes interviews with many well known Hollywood figures. The very few depictions were until recently usually something to laugh at, something to pity, or something to fear. Hollywood taught straight people what to think about gay people, and gay people what to think about themselves.

To get by the censors, many films hinted at gay or lesbian characters, and those in the know could recognize like characters and in a sense make their own movies. Gore Vidal tells us that ‘you got very good at projecting subtext without saying a word about what you were doing.’ The content in classic films like Ben-Hur, Rebel Without A Cause and The Rope are discussed.

Shirley MacLaine talks about The Children’s Hour (1961), in which her character committed suicide. ‘We might have been forerunners, but we weren’t really because we didn’t do the picture right. We were in the mindset of not understanding what we were basically doing. These days there would be a tremendous outcry, as well there should be.’

Lots of discussion of more recent film trends, themes and characters. Of particular interest is Susan Sarandon’s interview. She was the one who inserted the kiss at the end of Thelma and Louise, telling no one but co-star Geena Davis about it beforehand. In The Hunger, the script called for her character to be really drunk before being seduced by Miriam, thereby giving her some kind of excuse for letting it happen, but she insisted that not be the case. ‘Certainly, you wouldn’t have to get drunk to bed Catherine Deneuve. I don’t care what your sexual history to that point had been.’

As a bonus, the end credits include an original rendition of the Doris Day song ‘Secret Love’ by kd lang (a song that is included earlier in the film in clips from Calamity Jane). (AB)