A gripping documentary which takes us beyond the obvious images and stories on screen to ‘find the gay in the movies’.
Inspired by a 1981 book by Vito Russo and narrated by Lily Tomlin, we learn to look in the shadows and subtexts of movies to find the homosexual characters who were surely there, exposing the contradictions of a Hollywood which benefitted from the richness that gays added to films, but didn't want to acknowledge their sexuality – and/or which illustrate how creative directors and writers worked around the extreme censorship of various decades to create implicitly 'gay' characters.
“The Celluloid Closet” surveys movies from the earliest times to the present, showing characters who were gay even though the movies pretended not to know (Marlene Dietrich in trousers in the 1930 film “Morocco,” for example, or a musical number named “Ain't There Anyone Here for Love?” in 1953's “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” in which Jane Russell dances smolderingly through a gym where the body-builders studiously ignore her). It gives full due to the ground-breaking 1970 movie “The Boys in the Band” and “Philadelphia.”
The Celluloid Closet is a fitting finale to a festival weekend which celebrates LGBT lives, and exposes blatant homophobia and the subsequent recording of history through limited vision. We find that Richard Burton's estate refused the rights to show scenes from “Alexander the Great.” Goldwyn wouldn't license clips from “Hans Christian Andersen” Lawyers stepped in at the possibility that the film would identify Cole Porter as homosexual. And Charlton Heston refused permission to use scenes from “The Agony and the Ecstasy”.