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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.

Writers:

Vito Russo (book), Rob Epstein (story) | 3 more credits »
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Nominated for 4 Primetime Emmys. Another 7 wins & 4 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Lily Tomlin ... Narrator
Tony Curtis ... Himself
Susie Bright ... Herself
Arthur Laurents ... Himself
Armistead Maupin ... Himself
Whoopi Goldberg ... Herself
Jan Oxenberg Jan Oxenberg ... Herself
Harvey Fierstein ... Himself
Quentin Crisp Quentin Crisp ... Himself
Richard Dyer Richard Dyer ... Himself
Jay Presson Allen ... Herself
Mrs. Gustav Ketterer Mrs. Gustav Ketterer ... Herself
Gore Vidal ... Himself
Will H. Hays ... Himself (archive footage)
Farley Granger ... Himself
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Storyline

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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Details

Country:

France | UK | Germany | USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

15 March 1996 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Celluloid Closet See more »

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Box Office

Gross USA:

$1,507,800
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Dolby

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

This documentary, which was based on the eponymous book by film scholar Vito Russo, was narrated and co-executive produced by Lily Tomlin. Russo, who died of AIDS in 1990, did not live to see the documentary. Russo and Tomlin were close friends; Russo wrote some material for her comedy shows, and while Russo was writing the book The Celluloid Closet, Tomlin let him stay, rent-free, in a house she was not using at the time. See more »

Quotes

Narrator: Hollywood, that great maker of myths, taught straight people what to think about gays and gay people what to think about themselves.
See more »

Connections

Features Midnight Express (1978) See more »

Soundtracks

Advise and Consent (Main Theme)
Written by Jerry Fielding
See more »

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User Reviews

 
One of the Most Important Documentaries I've Ever Seen
21 October 2007 | by jzappaSee all my reviews

The Celluloid Closet is a fascinating, well-informed, vastly entertaining, heavily emotional, and infuriating documentary. It reminds us how aware we already were before watching it and makes us even more aware upon watching it that America has always been full of blind hate for things it hardly knows of, when those things may be innate parts of someone, both hoping and scared to be noticed and nonetheless only wanting acceptance. The Celluloid Closet, one of the most important documentaries I have ever seen, makes it clear that in over 100 years of movies, homosexuality has only been depicted on the screen every here and there and almost always as something to laugh at, or pity, or fear, thus hate. These images have always been momentary or subtle and passing, but they have left a deep imprint on America, and so the world. Lily Tomlin narrates, "Hollywood taught straight people what to think about gay people, and gay people what to think about themselves. No one escaped its influence."

Also, when you watch this film, you may hopefully slowly slip out of that defensive shell we as a culture have, a denial that movies affect us, or that any of that depends on age. This film proves beyond the shadow of a doubt how the subtlest alterations to a film and the slightest shades of attitudes can leave lasting conscious or subconscious imprints on us.

The film takes us through the thrillingly interesting period of the 1950s, when screenwriters and directors acted almost as undercover operatives when slipping in the slightest ambiguous homosexual or bisexual undertones, the most shocking of which was Ben-Hur, and the staggeringly angering 1960s, but maybe the focal point of the movie's conclusion is that at the very beginning, starting with Thomas Edison's experimental film of two men dancing together and continuing sparingly through the silent era and shortly after, was a time when men were free to express tenderness with each other on the screen, but as the world grew more aware of homosexuality, affection between males would be seen as a completely unacceptable, shun-worthy act. Two guy friends can rarely even hold each other in a movie! However, there has always been a difference in how audiences look at two men being affectionate or sexual and two women being sexual. There's a comfort with female nudity and affectionate bonding that can be not only acceptable but considered sexy by the general public. Women somehow don't find it threatening the way it is with men, and men find it either completely nonthreatening or arousing, or both. Movies like The Color Purple, Personal Best and Thelma & Louise showcase things between two women that are still highly taboo between two men. Even hit movies like Philadelphia and Brokeback Mountain, which actually is not mentioned in this film only because this was released about a decade before it, are no true steps forward for homosexuality in cinema, because they are about the sadness and alienation of being gay, and, on a very obscure note in case someone hasn't seen one or either, they end with death.

It remains to be seen whether or not Hollywood and American audiences will embrace a movie with a gay hero who lives, and can be integrated with other people. They are the only minority who has yet to be given solid recognition and voice in the most universal and popular form of entertainment and communication in our culture.


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