In late 1955 and early 1956, the citizens of Boise, Idaho believed there was a menace in their midst. On Halloween, investigators arrested three men on charges of having sex with teenage ... See full summary »
In late 1955 and early 1956, the citizens of Boise, Idaho believed there was a menace in their midst. On Halloween, investigators arrested three men on charges of having sex with teenage boys. The investigators claimed the arrests were just the tip of the iceberg-they said hundreds of boys were being abused as part of a child sex ring. There was no such ring, but the result was a widespread investigation which some people consider a witch hunt. By the time the investigation ended, 16 men were charged. Countless other lives were also touched.In some cases, men implicated fled the area. At least one actually left the country. The investigation attracted attention in newspapers across the nation, including Time Magazine. The "Morals Drive" left scars which remain to this day. Written by
"The people of Boise tried to 'stamp out' homosexuality. They discovered it couldn't be done. In the learning process, everybody suffered:" this theme, expressed in 1967 by CBS news sets the tone for "Fall of '55," a documentary by Seth Randal, which while laudable in its goals suffers from a lack of uniform tone and and amateurish TV documentary feel that adds little to its readable source material, John Gerassi's "The Boys of Boise." Contrary to the sinister tone of CBS's pronouncement, the case in question really boiled down to the arrests of 16 men, most of whom were held for contact with minor boys. The hysteria wrought from these trials is alluded to in Randal's documentary, but not nearly so much as in Gerassi's book, which no doubt caused confusion among audience members with no prior exposure to the film (a representative of the Idaho Human Rights Task force went so far as to open the post-film roundtable by denouncing "crimes against juveniles.") This lack of social context in Randal's film is its chief flaw. Opening to a cheesy leaf montage, the film begins with a melodramatic narration recalling the E! network's True Hollywood Stories, intoning that "autumn would bring darker skies" and scandal that would, "shake the City of Trees to its roots." The film's narration and interspersed interviews play over a montage of '50s and modern day film clips of the aforementioned City of Trees, sometimes depicting actual sites described and sometimes as jarringly random as the pseudo-trippy visuals of a 1980s music video. In his opening speech, Randal expressed gratitude for the canisters of 50s era film he'd discovered in the Egyptian theater itself and it soon becomes evident what a blessing the find was, as at least three-quarters of the film's visuals relies wholly upon it. Actual interview footage was a welcome change when presented; the film's sources ranged from participants in the trials to then Boise residents. Fading audiotapes from men tried during the case are presented without subtitles and, at times, virtually impossible to understand. Redolently lacking is the perspective of any gay man or woman living in Boise at the time who could provide perspective on gay life in the 1950s. No suggestion is ever made that any two adult homosexuals anywhere in Idaho were attempting to carry on a private and consensual affair, and this omission only reinforces the old canard that homosexuals recruit by seducing youth, and weakens the film's goal of presenting the incident as a witch hunt, because most people would argue that sex crimes against youth is a goal worth prosecuting. The post-film roundtable proved far more entertaining than the documentary itself, with panelists comparing the Boise incident everything from the War on Terror to the Salem Witch Trials and Statesman columnist Dan Popkey announcing, with a straight face, that the media would no longer actively create hysteria whilst pretending to objectively report on the same hysteria. On the film's website fallof55.com, the filmmaker presents as one of his stated goals: "To fairly and accurately present the various sides of the story, without judgment and bias." And in the roundtable, the "condescending" tone of Gerassi's book is noted; however, a mere retelling of the case in a manner scarcely compelling offers little of new value that an update of the book featuring the same audio recordings or interviews could not have granted. Overall, the film's audience seemed to have turned out as a de facto protest against Idaho's proposed gay marriage ban, but audiences looking for compelling stories and film-making would be advised to skip this movie and read the book.
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