Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Celluloid Closet

The Celluloid Closet (Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman, 1995)

Kind of a That's Entertainment of homosexuality, The Celluloid Closet tells the tale of gay and lesbian characters in Hollywood cinema. Based on the book by Vito Russo, directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman use a bevy of clips to show open, closeted and "coded" homosexual characters from the early days of silent films up to the early '90s. The bulk of the film deals with the days when the Hays Code forced homosexuality underground, resulting in characters who were not "not quite right" such as Plato (Sal Mineo) from Rebel Without a Cause, Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) in The Maltese Falcon, or Brick Pollitt (Paul Newman) in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Yet, through a look, a prop, a word... audiences who were looking for it could figure out what was really trying to be said.

The Celluloid Closet goes beyond the sashaying dandies and digs deep through a rich past of gay characters. Narrator Lily Tomlin ferries viewers through this world, decoding the tapestry of a cinema forbidden to address the "love that dare not speak its name". The film also includes the highs and lows of uncloseted gay cinema from the '70s and '80s, eschewing the films which continued to castigate gays (Cruising, Dressed to Kill, etc). This fascinating film helps remove the blinders from viewers to look back at the more "innocent" days of film and see a whole new world.

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