Vito Russo’s 1981 book The Celluloid Closet explored how movies portray gays and lesbians. That book led to a documentary adaptation from directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. While both incarnations of The Celluloid Closet remain ground-breaking and essential, Fabulous! The Story of Queer Cinema focuses mostly on gay films, made from a gay or gay-friendly perspective.
Of course, only a few such films were widely available when Russo wrote his work. Now gay movies line the walls of video stores and the shelves of many gay homes. We just needed some kind of map to help us navigate those movies.
Directors Lisa Ades and Lesli Klainberg provide that map with this exciting new DVD. Though their 82-minute feature sometimes feels a little too brief and rushed, Ades and Klainberg carry the readers through important events in gay history and how those events impacted gay cinema. They also look at how changing attitudes, the popularity of film festivals, the advent of affordable DVDs, and many other changes made gay films a much larger market. If Ades and Klainberg create a sequel to this documentary—and they should—they might also examine the impact of gay TV networks and gay-owned film companies; of course, it might take a few more years to see that impact.
The entire film relies on a high-speed mixture of interviews and film excerpts. The resulting documentary is relentlessly informative and often amusing. Comments from Gus Van Sant, John Waters, Wilson Cruz, Guinevere Turner, Peter Paige, Alan Cumming, and many others in the film industry not only show why these films matter so much to gay viewers but also help trace the evolution of gay cinema. From obscure films to Brokeback Mountain, Ades and Klainberg help viewers see the importance of gay-themed movies. The DVD’s extras include even more interview footage, grouped thematically; my favorite of those features is “First Gay Movie Memories,” with the interviewees telling how particular gay scenes affected them.
Fabulous! succeeds as a gay cultural study, as a reference to help viewers decide which movies to buy and rent, and as an entertaining look at film-making. Even the negative portrayals this film examines will help inform film-lovers. Ades and Klainberg prove that queer cinema is as amazingly diverse as the queer community that supports it.
Duane Simolke, author, Degranon: A Science Fiction Adventure; co-author, The Return of Innocence: A Fantasy Adventure and The Acorn Gathering: Writers Uniting Against Cancer. Visit Duane Simolke’s Homepage