Over the weekend, I had the privilege of seeing Stu Maddux's "Reel int he Closet," a moving collection of queer homes movies and other vintage footage from 20th century LGBT history. Although the documentary was at times a bit scattered -- there's a young woman interviewing an older gay man who had adopted a boy back in the day, while single and pretending to be straight; an older gay man who documented his entire life because he knew not enough of our stories were being preserved; various archivists from around the country, who have lovingly restored films found from flea markets and beyond; and a wonderful older news reporter who had the foresight to save videotapes from his station of all LGBT news events during the height of the AIDS epidemic, all of whom would be great subjects for entire films -- it did little to distract from the emotional wallop of a punch the footage he used made.
We see a lesbian bar in 1950 packed with butch/femme couples listening to dykes sing -- WITH sound! We see home movies shot through the eye of a gay man, who knows just which guys to home in on and which body parts are their best attributes. We see dances and holiday parties, where well-dressed men queen out with the best of us. (That MUST be genetic!) And we see a well-off group of hunks having a brunch that (d)evolves into a skinny-dipping party that will blow your mind, if not your wad. Although there have been countless books, this was like the first visual confirmation that not all gay people "back in the day" lived sad and closeted lives. These guys (and they are mostly white men because, as the director points out, they were the ones most likely to be able to afford movie cameras) seemed to have rich and FUN lives, which was a bit overwhelming -- and a welcome relief -- for LGBT people of a certain age.
Filmmaker Stu Maddux puts the meat in a blogger sandwich
Eventually, the footage veers toward seminal moments in LGBT history -- the Mattachine Society, the first Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day parade, the assassination of Harvey Milk, ACT UP -- most of which has been seen before and felt like wouldn't have been entirely necessary if he had more home movies.
You can watch a great Q&A with Maddux HERE. In it, he discusses that he considers the film to be a living document, and that he dreams of getting more diversity included -- which can only happen if fellow LGBT people start poking around and asking our older friends and relatives if they have any reels in the closet that are finally ready to come out. Fantastic job, Stu!
Keep track of the film and where it's showing next via Facebook HERE.