The Celluloid Closet is a chronological compendium that uncovers gay and lesbian characters and themes often relegated to the shadows and subtexts in films produced in the early days of the Hollywood film industry. Up until the 1960s, open representations of homosexuality in film were frowned upon. While the richness of the contribution of the gay community was welcome, open acknowledgement of gayness was not.
The documentary begins with clips from silent films and goes on to include obscure film clips. In one clip taken from a Thomas Edison short film in 1895, titled “The Gay Brothers,” two men are seen dancing together. The inclusion of the clip suggests that prejudices in the film industry had very long roots. Other examples of the veiled references include cross dressing (Marlene Dietrich in ‘Morocco’), and where gay characters suffered either terminal torment or were subscribed to villainy. The few films that dared to depict gay characters had them confined to madness or death. At one point in the film, there is a montage of gay characters dying.
Also included are celebrity interviews with Gore Vidal, Susie Bright, Mart Crowley, Tom Hanks, Tony Curtis and Susan Sarandon among others. The revealing light of the documentary’s arguments encourages additional interpretation of some scenes in favourite films depicting gay characters. One such example is the scene from ‘Pillow Talk’ – Rock Hudson’s character pretends to be gay to dodge an entanglement with the character of Doris Day’s.
“The Celluloid Closet was directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, who won Oscars for their two previous gay-themed docs, “The Life of Harvey Milk” and “Common Threads: Stories From the Quilt”; their track record encourages their interview subjects to open up.”
— Roger Ebert
“An impressive spectrum of films is covered. Informative, humorous, moving, and sometimes painful to watch, this is one of the most significant documentaries on gay film history in the last twenty years.”
— Max Fincher, Chroma
Did You Know?
The Celluloid Closet is based on Vito Russell’s sensational book of the same name that was first published in 1981, and on his lecture and film clip presentations he presented in 1972–82. The documentary was released in 1996 against the backdrop of rising demonstrations against homosexual representation in the industry. Review our Gay Themed Films Here