Reviews

The Celluloid Closet

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From the closet to the catwalk...

Straights have never been slow in using gay culture for their own profit, as these two releases prove.

Landmark doc The Celluloid Closet traces the story of gays and lesbians on-screen from two men dancing in an early Edison short through to New Queer ’90s cinema.

It’s packed with tasty titbits like Gore Vidal’s chortle about duping Charlton Heston over Ben-Hur’s love for men in togas, or additional scenes that include discussions of Hitchcock (“The more kinky and perverse, the more he liked it”) and Gus Van Sant’s affectionate recollections of River Phoenix in My Own Private Idaho.

It has a sharp political point too, arguing that hetero-Hollywood was content to employ gay actors and filmmakers as long as their sexuality stayed firmly in the closet.

One movie that’s happier ransacking closets than hiding in them is Paris Is Burning. It’s a no-frills foray into the all-frills world of ’80s Harlem drag balls. Shooting from the hip, the doc captures the raw energy of this once-underground subculture in which aspirational fashions and impromptu catwalk displays let poor black kids fantasise about being rich and shameless.

Yet although they all dream of being superstars, it’s Madonna who would ultimately take voguing out of the ghetto and onto MTV, for straight kids everywhere to enjoy.

Jamie Russell

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