Judge Brett Cullum wishes more people would watch good GLBT history documentaries like this one.
Our review of Shadows, Lies, And Private Eyes: The Film Noir Collection, published July 5th, 2004, is also available.
"We were up against a wall of ignorance."
In 1995, Utah high school senior Kelli Preston wanted to start a club called "The Gay Straight Alliance." She thought it wouldn't be a big deal, since the members would meet after school and provide a forum for teenagers to talk to one another about issues of homophobia and prejudice. No problem, right? A vicious battle ensued between Kelli's group, the PTA, the school board, the state legislature, and the Federal government. Kelli ended up on the cover of every newspaper in her state, was interviewed on every cable news channel, was talked about on every broadcast morning news show, and became a staple of MTV News that year. A quiet, unassuming girl from Utah had become the nation's most famous lesbian, and she hadn't even made it out of high school. History was being written, and it was sparked just because a girl felt alone and wanted a place to talk.
Out of the Past, subtitled "The Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Rights in America," chronicles Kelli's struggle, weaving it together with various stories from gay and lesbian history. Michael Wigglesworth, Sarah Orne Jewett, Henry Gerber, Bayard Rustin, and Barbara Gittings are some of the historical figures explored for their contributions to the evolving GLBT community. Their lives are told in pictures, clips, and vocal reenactments by Gwyneth Paltrow (Bounce), Edward Norton (Fight Club), and Stephen Spinella (Connie and Carla). The subjects who are still alive contribute talking head interviews, and Linda Hunt (The Year of Living Dangerously) narrates the entire film. It succeeds in weaving a patchwork quilt of American history mixed with personal and frank revelations.
The film is surprisingly spry and quick-moving for a documentary. It mines its subject more for emotional impact than historical significance, as we are told again and again how these people felt alone and alienated. No matter what time they were born, no matter how affluent or successful they were, these people struggled against what their sexuality meant to their lives. They lost their jobs, were robbed of all dignity, and yet still soldiered on to achieve great things that were often ignored by history books because of their lifestyle. It's a sad truth—homosexuality is so ill-regarded it impacts people far outside of the bedroom. The struggle with sexuality is a concept straight men and women do not understand, and is what makes sexual identity tied to civil rights. It's a revolutionary idea that is a sticking point for most of Middle America, who simply cannot accept a live-and-let-live attitude.
Ardustry's release defines "bare bones." There are no extras, and the menu is a simple mix of "play movie" and "scenes." Out of the Past receives a fullscreen transfer with a fair amount of grain and dirt. Quality varies wildly between aged clips and the more recent interviews. The feature clocks in at an hour and ten minutes. It's by no means a definitive release in the technical department, but the DVD is so timely and socially relevant its existence qualifies it as a "special" edition.
Recently George Takei (Sulu from Star Trek) came out of the closet, and the media had a field day with the item. Talk radio channels and Internet discussion boards (our own included) were abuzz with a debate about what his disclosure meant, and what its ramifications might be. Why would a respected actor, beloved for many years, fear the reaction of the nation to the admission he had been part of a loving couple for over eighteen years? The answer was painfully clear when cries of "He's going to Hell!" rose out of conservative corners. When Out of the Past was assembled in 1998 the country's mood was more permissive, and we were in the midst of what GLBT activists call "the Gay '90s." Perhaps now more than ever the film is needed to remind audiences of the struggle the gay community faces to reach a place where they are simply understood by American society. It is a cry for tolerance, and an affirmation that nobody struggles with this issue alone. Out of the Past will only attract a GLBT audience, and that's the real shame. The people who need to see it most will avoid it at all costs, and sadly reaffirm the need for documentaries like this to comfort gay teens who feel isolated and alone as a result of discrimination. Like Kelli Preston, Out of the Past seeks to find a safe place to talk about an issue that spans hundreds of years—the fact that love still offends some people when it is different from their own definition.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Ardustry Home Entertainment
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