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The Celluloid Closet (1995)

A documentary surveying the various Hollywood screen depictions of homosexuals and the attitudes behind them throughout the history of North American film.


(book), (story) | 3 more credits »

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From $2.99 (SD) on Amazon Video

Nominated for 4 Primetime Emmys. Another 7 wins & 4 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Jan Oxenberg ...
Quentin Crisp ...
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Mrs. Gustav Ketterer ...
Himself (archive footage)


A comprehensive documentary of the history of gays and lesbians in cinema, from negative to positive reflections of gay characters and the troubles of actors and actresses. Written by R. John Berggren <jberg@nina.pagesz.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for some graphic footage of sexuality and violence, and for language | See all certifications »



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Release Date:

15 March 1996 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Celluloid Closet  »

Box Office


$1,507,800 (USA)

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


Actor Michael Ontkean not only declined to be interviewed for the documentary, but also attempted to prevent clips from his film Making Love (1982) from being shown in it. He was unsuccessful. See more »


Susie Bright: [on Johnny Guitar] It's amazing how if you're a gay audience and you're accustomed to crumbs, how you will watch an entire movie just to see somebody wear an outfit that you think means that they are homosexual. The whole movie can be a dud, but you're just sitting there waiting for Joan Crawford to put on her black cowboy shirt again.
See more »


Features Their First Mistake (1932) See more »


Streets of Philadelphia
Written and performed by Bruce Springsteen
See more »

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User Reviews

The Power of Cinematic Image
23 April 2005 | by (Biloxi, Mississippi) – See all my reviews

Based on the book by Vito Russo, written by Armistead Maupin, and narrated by Lily Tomlin, THE CELLULOID CLOSET uses interviews and hundreds of film clips to examine the way in which Hollywood has presented gay and lesbian characters on film from the age of silent cinema to such recent films as PHILADELPHIA and DESERT HEARTS.

Throughout the documentary, the focus is on both stereotypes and the various ways that more creative directors and writers worked around the censorship of various decades to create implicitly homosexual characters, with considerable attention given to the way in which stereotypes shaped public concepts of the gay community in general. Overtly homosexual characters were not particularly unusual in silent and pre-code Hollywood films, and CLOSET offers an interesting sampling of both swishy stereotypes and unexpectedly sophisticated characters--both of which were doomed by the Hayes Code, a series of censorship rules adopted by Hollywood in the early 1930s.

The effect of the Code was to soften some of the more grotesque stereotypes--but more interesting was the impetus the Code gave to film makers to create homosexual characters and plot lines that would go over the heads of industry censors but which could still be interpreted by astute audiences, with films such as THE MALTESE FALCON, REBECCA, BEN-HUR, and REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE cases in point. Once the Code collapsed, however, Hollywood again returned to stereotypes in an effort to cash in on controversy--with the result that throughout most of the sixties and seventies homosexual characters were usually presented as unhappy, maladjusted creatures at best, suicidal and psychopathic entities at worst.

The film clips are fascinating stuff and are often highlighted by interviews of individuals who made the films: Tony Curtis re SOME LIKE IT HOT and SPARTACUS, Shirley MacLaine re THE CHILDREN'S HOUR, Stephen Boyd re BEN-HUR, Farley Granger re ROPE, and Whoopie Goldberg re THE COLOR PURPLE, to name but a few. All are interesting and intriguing, but two deserve special mention: Harvey Fierstein, who talks about the hunger he had as a youth to see accurate reflections of himself on the screen, and Susan Sarandon, who makes an eloquent statement on the power of film as "the keeper of the dreams."

Although the material will have special appeal to gays and lesbians, it should be of interest to any serious film buff with its mix of trivia and significant fact. The DVD also includes notable packages of out-takes from interviews that are often as interesting as the material that made the final cut. If the documentary has a fault, however, it is that it offers no "summing up," preferring instead to show only how far the portrayal of homosexuals has come and indicating how far it has yet to go. Recommended to any one interested in film history and interpretation.

Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer

20 of 22 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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