The Celluloid Closet (Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman)

Rating: *** (out of ****)

Compared to a superior cinematic essay such as Mark Rappaport's From the Journals of Jean Seberg, this documentary adaptation of Vito Russo's landmark study of homosexual images on film seems rather timid, even cowardly. I was disappointed by its narrow focus (the book examined world cinema and U.S. underground and independent films, while the movie concentrates exclusively on Hollywood) and by the exclusion of important voices (e.g. those of Gregg Araki, Gus Van Sant, Ian McKellen, etc.) which were likely deemed "too confrontational"; like Philadelphia (from which it presents clips, and whose star, Tom Hanks, is interviewed in the film), it seems to have been designed to appeal to bigots, or to those who have never considered the subject. Nevertheless, it's a fascinating and very entertaining look at the ways in which gays and lesbians have been deplored and ignored by the major studios for over a century, and while it's far from the groundbreaking work that it might (and should) have been, it's worth a look. The clips alone are worth the price of admission; you'll never be able to look at Montgomery Clift and John Ireland comparing pistols in Red River with a straight face again.