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I remember when "Word Is Out" came out in 1978. Acquaintances kept
stopping me on the street to ask if I'd seen 'the movie.' As if there
were no other. As soon as I saw it, I started asking people the same
It wasn't until I saw this film that I realized my whole life I had been trying to relate to straight romances, conflicts, comedies, and life experiences in general on the screen. When the film was done I wanted to see it all over againimmediatelyto memorize the people and their stories. Every one of them said something that spoke to me very directly and strongly. I cannot explain or express my feelings after I watched, for the first time in my life, gay peoplehonestly and beautifullytell what it's like to live in this country. I finally knew I belonged to a culture. I didn't feel as though I had to hide. I was not sick. I was not alone.
My story is not an anomaly. It is impossible to count the number of lives this film has changed by publicizing positive images of gay Americans for the first time ever. For thousands of peoplegay and straightit broke down stereotypes. It makes gay people identifiable even for those buried in the heartland of homophobic America because it's really about the universality of love and discovering who we really are. Everyone should see this movie.
Far from a "clunker," "Word Is Out" is a beautifully edited collective
portrait of a moment in gay and lesbian history in the US. The film
captures the optimism of the late 1970s after the early headiness of
the g/l movement and before the horrors of HIV/AIDS. Most documentaries
focus on a small number of subjects, but "Word" manages to weave
together the stories of 26 men and women of different ages and
backgrounds, primarily from the SF Bay Area and the Northeast, but with
some reference to the Southwest and the South. The effect is to
demonstrate that no single narrative of g/l life is adequate.
Displaying humor, tact and candor, the film is a "must see" for younger g/l/b/t people for whom 1977 is ancient history. Rumor has it that the film will be released on DVD with updates on most of the participants this fall.
Documentary which has 26 gay men and lesbian discussing growing up gay
and how they dealt with it. Some of the stories are horrific--one man
was institutionalized and given shock treatment to "cure" him! Another
women lost custody of all her children when she started to live with
her lesbian lover. That never happens today. Still--this isn't all doom
and gloom. All of them made it clear that they went through hell--but
they made it and weren't backing down.
For 1978 it was a groundbreaker. I think all the 26 people were very courageous to do this. This came out when I was a closeted high school student. I couldn't see it (it was R rated and I was only 16 and looked 12!) and missed it when it played on PBS a year later. Finally--after 30 YEARS--I finally saw it. Yes it's dated and has plenty of dull spots but I was never really bored. Also this film tries to show all nationalities--there are white, black, Asian and American Indian participants. There was also a shot of an interracial couple which must have been shocking in 1978. It's tame by todays standards (it would get a PG-13 easy) but is still compelling. I think everyone should see this--ESPECIALLY GLBT youth. Some of them take for granted what us older people went through. A 10 all the way.
I saw this 1977 pre-AIDS documentary on TCM this week. I had never
heard of it and found it remarkable.
So many positive things stick out: The fact that none of the participants are angry or overly resentful; the fact that they are all candid, non-delusional and totally open to the questions; the fact that they are at their ease; the fact that they can tell everything about their past experience and still have hope in the future in spite of some occasional twangs of nostalgia for their "underground" life and of pain at what they have endured. I can't imagine (in a SF alternate universe), straight people being so forgiving if heterosexuality had been persecuted for thousands of years.
But the thing I found the most remarkable is that all the participants are so lucid and very articulate. Even the ones that are not scholarly (like the two women living as a farming couple in the country) express themselves in a clear, concise and honest manner. The same can be said of the few "flamboyant" gays. What they say ultimately makes sense, in spite of their expressiveness and their love of hyperbole. This kind of faculty for expressing the truth or simply communicating in a direct manner has totally disappeared from most of the gays I know today. It's as if these troubled times on the cusp of new era made people more intelligent and perceptive. Now that homosexuality is "more or less" accepted (except by inbred small-town Republicans), gay people seem to have lost some of that lucidity and that is very sad. Or maybe Americans have just gotten dumber as a whole with the influence of movies, television and video games and the loss of basic literacy due to a degrading education system. I'm just saying... It's interesting to note in that respect that the IMDb user ratings show that this film doesn't "connect" as much with the younger generations as it does with older viewers.
On the other hand, there is absolutely no reference by any of the participants to any concept, reality or news from outside the U.S. (except for a few insights on growing up Asian and gay or Black and gay), which to a non-American of today like myself, may seem strange. There are also very few references to the influence of the media. Even the most inarticulate, delusional, and misinformed gays of today know they live in a global media-controlled universe and can compare themselves to other parts of the world. But that is just another sign of the times, I guess. Today's young people take the global village for granted and that may not necessarily make them more intelligent, more self-aware or more informed about anything. And gay liberation was perhaps (arguably) first and foremost a North-American phenomenon, made possible by relative prosperity, democracy and the access to higher education.
The only things that can bring a smile or a wince today are the conscious and/or unconscious role-playing of some of the lesbian couples and the few mentions of "lesbian separatism" by some of the participants. But that is - and has always been - something for the feminists to analyze. And who's to say the male-male couples wouldn't have exhibited just as much butch-femme role-playing if they had actually been shown more?
In conclusion, I like the way the participants - despite all the rhetoric - mostly come off as thinking individuals first and gays second.
Word Is Out (1977) was directed by Nancy Adair, Andrew Brown, and Rob
Epstein. This film is an outstanding documentary about the lives and
experiences of LGBT people, who look back on their past and look ahead
to their future. The directors chose to show us interviews with about
two dozen "ordinary" people, all of whose lives were greatly affected
by their sexual orientation.
The film was made less than ten years after the Stonewall Rebellion, and equal rights for the lesbian and gay community appeared then to be moving forward in a linear fashion. This belief in progress to come gave the film a hopeful quality. The movie also has a poignant quality, because so many of the people interviewed had suffered terrible discrimination, especially those who had been in the military.
Now, over 30 years later, we know that LGBT rights have moved ahead at a two-steps-forward-one-step-back pace, and almost all LGBT people are still facing discrimination, especially, of course, in the military.
Word is Out can stand on its own as an excellent documentary. If you care about the rights of LGBT people, it's a must-see film.
We saw the movie at the Dryden Theatre, as part of the splendid ImageOut: Rochester Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. The festival had obtained a newly restored 35mm print. Word is Out will work well on DVD and, apparently, the DVD version of the restored film is now available. Be sure to find it and watch it--it's an excellent film.
Clunky, earnest early document of the gay movement, pre-AIDS. A lot of unintentional humor--and a few scenes that, in retrospect, have an equally unintended horror. Briefly celebrated when it was released, the film seems to have vanished entirely.
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