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47 of 47 found the following review helpful:
The Power of Cinematic ImageAug 16, 2002
By Gary F. Taylor
Based on the book by Vito Russo, written by Armistead Maupin, and narrated by Lily Tomlin, THE CELLULOID CLOSET uses interviews and hundreds of film clips to examine the way in which Hollywood has presented gay and lesbian characters on film from the age of silent cinema to such recent films as PHILADELPHIA and DESERT HEARTS. Throughout the documentary, the focus is on both stereotypes and the various ways that more creative directors and writers worked around the censorship of various decades to create implicitly homosexual characters, with considerable attention given to the way in which stereotypes shaped public concepts of the gay community in general.
Overtly homosexual characters were not particularly unusual in silent and pre-code Hollywood films, and CLOSET offers an interesting sampling of both swishy stereotypes and unexpectedly sophistocated characters--both of which were doomed by the Hayes Code, a series of censorship rules adopted by Hollywood in the early 1930s. The effect of the Code was to soften some of the more grotesque stereotypes--but more interesting was the impetus the Code gave to film makers to create homosexual characters and plot lines that would go over the heads of industry censors but which could still be interpreted by astute audiences, with films such as THE MALTESE FALCON, REBECCA, BEN-HUR, and REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE cases in point. Once the Code collapsed, however, Hollywood again returned to stereotypes in an effort to cash in on controversy--with the result that throughout most of the sixties and seventies homosexual characters were usually presented as unhappy, maladjusted creatures at best, suicidal and psychopatic entities at worst.
The film clips are fascinating stuff and are often highlighted by interviews of individuals who made the films: Tony Curtis re SOME LIKE IT HOT and SPARTACUS, Shirley MacLaine re THE CHILDREN'S HOUR, Stephen Boyd re BEN-HUR, Farley Granger re ROPE, and Whoopie Goldberg re THE COLOR PURPLE, to name but a few. All are interesting and intriguing, but two deserve special mention: Harvey Fierstein, who talks about the hunger he had as a youth to see accurate reflections of himself on the screen, and Susan Sarandon, who makes an eloquent statement on the power of film as "the keeper of the dreams."
Although the material will have special appeal to gays and lesbians, it should be of interest to any serious film buff with its mix of trivia and significant fact. The DVD also includes notable packages of out-takes from interviews that are often as interesting as the material that made the final cut. If the documentary has a fault, however, it is that it offers no "summing up," preferring instead to show only how far the portrayal of homosexuals has come and indicating how far it has yet to go. Recommended to any one interested in film history and interpretation.
32 of 33 found the following review helpful:
100 minutes of entertainment and educationJan 07, 2003
By S. Lee
"Art Not in Heaven"
I'd once been to a film seminar where the participants watched HItchcock's ROPE together and discussed the queer sub-text of it. I didn't know, until then, that ROPE can be a 'queer' movie, although I had seen it at least 3 times because I'm a big Hitchcock fan and had it among my movie collection. A professor at the seminar had a big hearty laugh when the two characters and James Stewart were discussing how they 'choked the chicken' back when they were younger. I didn't know what 'to choke a chicken' meant, so I didn't see how the scene could cause such a raucous laugh among some participants at the seminar. Now I know, and I could deepen my understanding of 'homosexuality in American cinema' by seeing this well-made documentary dealing with that subject.
I'm straight, and and although I don't think I'm homophobic, I must admit that I used to be prejudiced against homosexuality and homosexuals. A movie helped me to change my view on homosexuality and gay people forever, and it was Ang Lee's The Wedding Banquet. In The Celluloid Closet, you can see tens of movie clips including the one from it. Just looking at those clips--some are from rather obscure titles, some are from my personal favorites--is a delight. I'd strongly recommend this wonderful film to anyone who wants to have an hour and a half of 'educational' entertainment.
18 of 18 found the following review helpful:
An Amazing Story of Gay/Lesbian Images and Themes in FilmJul 01, 2001
By Matthew A. Brown
I remember how powerful this movie was upon first viewing. This film is both a celebration and a condemnation of the way Hollywood has portrayed gays in film. It's fascinating to see the early film clips, a Thomas Edison film with two men dancing, a silent western with a preening gay cowboy, Marlene Dietrich in tophat and coattails kissing a woman, and a Charlie Chaplin sequence where a man swishes around the set after Chaplin kisses a woman in drag. I felt so cheated upon learning that 'The Lost Weekend' was supposed to be about a guy confused with his sexuality who goes on a weekend binge, not a writer with writers block. Nevertheless, it won 4 Oscars in 1946 including Best Picture. The montage of scenes from various movies where character after character uses a particular disparaging word for a gay male, stunned me and left me feeling appalled by an industry that has institutionalized homophobia. The film 'Making Love' debuted on HBO and I remembered that day, watching with my parents, listening to their remarks, and hoping they wouldn't realize why I was so captivated. The list of films portrayed in this movie is long and spans each decade. This is definitely one of my favorite documentaries.
11 of 12 found the following review helpful:
"Can we just not hate ourselves as much?"Sep 24, 2005
By Luan Gaines
This remarkable 1966 documentary addresses the portrayal of homosexuals in film, from the silent movies to the 1990"s, narrated by Lily Tomlin, with commentary by Whoopi Goldberg, Armistead Maupin (Tales of the City),Antonio Fargas, Barry Sandler and others. Many of the early black and white films, silent or talkie, featured comic scenes, two men or women spinning out onto the dance floor, a cowboy kissing his best friend, or partner, goodbye before he expires, the little woman looking on with approbation. There is a somewhat tacit agreement that all is not what it may appear on film.
Some of the first films to deal directly with the issue of sexual preference, did so with fear and loathing, a shame that is palpable in Lillian Hellman's "The Children's Hour" (1961) and "Advise and Consent" (1962). "The Boys in the Band" (1971) was one of the first films to openly discuss the lifestyle, an all male cast uttering scathing remarks about the realities of their world and the sources of their discontent. In contrast, "Cabaret" (1972) allowed acceptance and a degree of comfort with different preferences, Liza Minelli perfectly content in her role as foil. Screenwriter Barry Sandler, speaks about the acceptable negative language used in film when dealing with homosexuality, the phrases spoken with a sardonic twist, as well as the acceptable slang. There is one hitchhiking scene in "The Vanishing Point" (1971), where two men wait for a ride from a passing driver. The men exhibit all the stereotypes, language, dress and affectations and are quickly dispensed with by a macho hero.
1981 brought Pacino's "Cruising", turning the homosexual from victim to victimizer. In 1982's "Making Love", a story of two men, David Melnick says the audience left in droves during the love scene, unwilling to watch the scene play out. But "Personal Best" (1982) showed that romance between two women was more palatable to American audiences. Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve played female lovers in "The Hunger" (1983), with soft-focus lenses and drifting veils; Sarandon doesn't think the film was ever taken seriously by the public. By the late 80's we had "The Color Purple" (1985) and "Torch Song Trilogy" (1988), followed by 1993's "The Wedding Singer", all featuring same sex romances.
One groundbreaking film is highlighted, "Philadelphia", which truly humanizes the plight of a gay lawyer with AIDS. This character (played by high box office draw Tom Hanks) exemplifies good citizenship, a man in a committed relationship, a functioning part of society, but taken down by an epidemic too long ignored because of the original population it affected. Ron Nyswanger hoped "Philadelphia" would broaden the public's perspective of the disease and its cost to all of society. And Tom Hanks remarks, "Love is spelled with the same four letters." Armistead Maupin believes that there is still a censorship of "real images", as movie characters are forced from the real and heroic to the "bizarre, guilt-ridden and angry". Produced and directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, this film is a thought-provoking examination of sexual identity in American film, reflecting the cultural attitudes of each decade, the positive dialog still defined by the language of the bottom line. Luan Gaines/ 2005.
7 of 7 found the following review helpful:
Great for film buffs and people who are gay or gay-friendlyJan 03, 1999
The film is a documentary of how gays and lesbians have been portayed in film. It is narrated by people gay and straight in the film industry. Some of the films that are shown are ones that are familiar to most people and there are also some more obscure film clips shown. I am not sure that I agreed with all of the points the commentators made regarding the films shown, but overall I thought the film was very interesting and thought provoking.
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