15 user 22 critic

Circus of Books (2019)

In 1976, Karen and Barry Mason had fallen on hard times and were looking for a way to support their young family when they answered an ad in the Los Angeles Times. Larry Flynt was seeking ... See full summary »


Rachel Mason


Rachel Mason (screenplay by), Kathryn Robson (screenplay by)
2 wins & 1 nomination. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Karen Mason ... Self
Barry Mason ... Self
Rachel Mason ... Self - Karen and Barry's Daughter
Josh Mason ... Self - Karen and Barry's Son
Micah Mason ... Self - Karen and Barry's Son
Alexei Romanoff ... Self - LGBT Rights Activist
Billy Miller Billy Miller ... Self - Magazine Publisher
Don Norman ... Self - Customer
Freddie Bercovitz ... Self - Former Employee
Paulo Morillo ... Self - Customer and Writer
Ellen Winer ... Self - Karen's Childhood Friend
Larry Flynt ... Self - Publisher of Hustler Magazine
David Gregory ... Self - Former Employee
Fernando Aguilar ... Self - Former Employee
Alaska Thunderfuck ... Self - Former Employee and Drag Queen
Learn more

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In 1976, Karen and Barry Mason had fallen on hard times and were looking for a way to support their young family when they answered an ad in the Los Angeles Times. Larry Flynt was seeking distributors for Hustler Magazine. What was expected to be a brief sideline led to their becoming fully immersed in the LGBT community as they took over a local store, Circus of Books. A decade later, they had become the biggest distributors of gay porn in the US. The film focuses on the double life they led, trying to maintain the balance of being parents at a time when LGBT culture was not yet accepted. Their many challenges included facing jail time for a federal obscenity prosecution and enabling their store to be a place of refuge at the height of the AIDS crisis. Circus of Books offers a rare glimpse into an untold chapter of queer history, and it is told through the lense of the owners' own daughter, Rachel Mason, an artist, filmmaker and musician.

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Did You Know?


Karen Mason: Don't drop the soap. Let me see what it says about that one.
Self - Karen and Barry's Daughter: What are you looking for?
Karen Mason: I'm just trying to find something that..uh... isn't quite as explicit.
Self - Karen and Barry's Daughter: What does he want?
Karen Mason: He wants white men and no penetration, he said.
[pauses a beat]
Karen Mason: Do these guys look white to you, Jorge?
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Features Stryker Force (1987) See more »

User Reviews

Circus of Books opens its store doors to moving LGBT culture, history and rights.
29 May 2020 | by TheMovieDioramaSee all my reviews

8230 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood, Los Angeles. A bookstore aptly named "Book Circus" established its existence until '82 when the owner was experiencing financial difficulties. A entrepreneurial couple, Barry a former special effects engineer for Kubrick's masterpiece '2001: A Space Odyssey' and general inventor, and Karen a former journalist, seized the opportunity to expand their distribution rights for Flynt's 'Hustlers' by owning a shop. A magazine aimed towards capitalising on the adult entertainment industry. So, what did they stock in this store that they aptly renamed to "Circus of Books" that warranted a documentary? Well, hardcore gay pornography comprising of paperbacks (and barebacks *cough*), "used" DVDs and sexually explicit toys (hopefully not "used"...). But there are plenty of adult bookstores littered around the world, what makes this one so important? Well, imagine commencing your business venture in the 80s when the AIDS crisis occurred, Reagan's administration cracked down on materials of obscenity and religiously conservative communities ordered your store to close. All of this, in the heart of Los Angeles. The core of LGBT culture.

Rachel Mason's documentary, the daughter of store owners Barry and Karen, chronicles the history of "Circus of Books" whilst embedding tidbits of LGBT history throughout and how they affected the business. Essentially highlighting the cultural significance one book store has had on a city's subculture that manifested into a national widespread of love. The AIDS crisis regrettably inflicting its terminal afflictions upon employees, with both Barry and Karen melancholically reminiscing of their absence. The Reagan administration prosecuting the couple after an FBI sting operation that trapped them into transporting obscene material, challenging the First Amendment in the process. Culminating in a critique on the Internet era and how online gay pornography and cruising applications have since made reading materials obsolete, plummeting the shop's sales substantially.

Whilst these historical depictions were all too brief and shallow, despite their apparent inclusion to the store's significant legacy, the real bulk of the emotional connectivity that Rachel provides is through an earnest portrait of her parents. Her pertinacious devout Jewish mother coming to terms with her son's eventual coming out, notwithstanding the fact she owns a store primarily targeted towards the gay community. And her endearing father that has an incalculable amount of optimism and goodness within his heart. Both, deep down, were unfazed by the homosexuality that they gloriously brought to life. To them, it was just a business. And there is an honest endearment shrouding that notion that make them such wonderful human beings, with Rachel's focus being on their familial connections. To a point where their story often felt moving, more so due to my own sexuality.

As a documentary though, it's fairly predictable in terms of its structure. Interview with family members and past employees, including legendary drag queen Alaska, attempt to focus the attention on the shop itself. For the most part this is successful, until the third act which transitions into LGBT activism. No inherent issues, however Rachel broadens her scope to tackle everything LGBT history and culture has to offer, instead of narrowing the narrative down to a specific entity or event. Consequently, the documentary resembles a brief thin history lesson from the perspective of a controversial bookstore, as opposed to grasping the true significance this shop had on L.A. gay culture. Also her insincerity, obviously unintentional, peeped through when discussing adult actors whom had died from contracting AIDS. Her slouched body language and nonchalant interest irked me.

Still, if one can see pass the formulaic structure this documentary is built upon, then an emotionally involving offering will be showcased. Its strongest assets aimed towards its familial bonds, rather than tackling the modern history of LGBT. Plus, it's not everyday you see an old woman attempt to find a "non-penetrative white gay porno" in a stack of DVDs...

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22 April 2020 (USA) See more »

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