Friday, May 08, 2009

"Outrage": Kirby Dick's new documentary about closeted (allegedly) gay politicians


Kirby Dick’s new film “Outrage” (featured at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York) started today at Landmark E-Street in Washington DC, and the 1:45 show on a Friday afternoon was about half full. I think some people wandered over from Capitol Hill.

The film, distributed by Magnolia and produced by Chain Camera Pictures, Sundance and Red Envelope (Netflix) was shown right off a DVD (without previews), and I think it’s interesting that Magnolia’s usual trademark did not show. The film has lots of simple gray frames with black and white text to introduce concepts.

The film starts with the sound bites from the media coverage of the arrest of Idaho Senator Larry Craig in a men’s room at the Minneapolis airport. Remember all that “I’m a fairy wide guy” and then “I am not gay, I’ve never been gay!” The film traces Craig’s childhood to the days of the “boys of Boise” scandal in the mid 1950s, when he would have witnessed homophobic hysteria in his own home town, heavily Mormon.

It moves on to the story of Florida governor Charlie Crist, the “bachelor” conservative Republican governor. He had married in 1979 and divorced soon, but he married in December 2008 after a short courtship, which was made to look like a heterosexual relationship of necessity.

The film went on to cover another of supposed closeted and mostly Republican politicians, showing their voting record on ENDA, gay marriage, gays in the military, and particularly gay adoption. The film gives accounts of gay congresspersons meeting men in bars and sex clubs, with the partners being paid off to remain quiet.

The film covers the activity of blogger activist Michael Rogers and his “Blog Active” (“Real Truth, Direct Action") which often features playwright Larry Kramer, who also appears in the film. Outing people can be dangerous; you have to know what you’re doing.

Barney Frank appears and makes the interesting comment that most people who believe that homosexuality is wrong believe that because their leaders tell them to believe it. The movie then goes into the history of the growth of the religious right in the early 80s when Reagan came in (and Ronald Reagan could not say the word “AIDS” until 1987). The beginnings of that “morning” period is also covered by the book Perry Deane Young. God's Bullies: Power, Politics and Religious Tyranny (1982, Holt, Rinehart & Winston, ISBN 0030597064). Young’s book, as I recall, reinforces the idea among closeted conservatives that the closet is cool, that it’s about privacy and being “smart” enough to lead a double life and beat the system. Barney Frank comes back at this idea and says that the idea that people can pass laws that will not be enforced on them undermines the whole process of democracy. Frank also discusses the difficulty of being a public official and leading a “private” gay life, which inevitably becomes public (even before the Internet came along).

Another anecdote concerns the story of New York City mayor Ed Koch. I remember his inauguration speech, “Come East”, on January 1, 1978, my last year in New York City (and a very eventful one, it would turn out). Koch, when a congressman, actually favored the idea of filial responsibility laws, an idea left out in the film but which I remember from living in New York in the 1970s. The film covers his supposed relationship with a man who would die of AIDS in 1996, but whom Koch allegedly blackballed to keep him out of New York once Koch became mayor.

The film shows a Biblical commercial for Florida’s Amendment 2 (about how God made male and female to be joined as one, etc), which Crist supported. It also maintains that President Bush’s support of the attempted Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004 helped fan anti-gay violence in some parts of the country. I think back to Barney Frank’s comment about homophobia, and it seems to me that some people need to believe that other people will share the sacrifices they make and that the universality of heterosexual family values makes their own marriages more sexually meaningful, when otherwise they might tend to lose interest.

The Miami Herald has an article (by Beth Reinhard) "Is Republican Party united behind Charlie Crist? The Republican primary battle between Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio reflects the party's broader struggle between its moderate and conservative wings", May 13, 2009, here. If he really is (as this movie insinuates) gay after all, well, that's interesting. Is Crist the "moderate" candidate, mapping on to Log Cabin Republicans? Why not go libertarian?

Former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey (his book was called “The Confession”; his ex-wife’s was called “Silent Partner: A Memoir of My Marriage”) appears. He says that it is more important to honor one’s own version of the truth than other people’s ideas of the truth. That is a challenge. I did not see Robert Baumann ("A Gentleman from Maryland") whose story is interesting, to say the least.

The film also interviews Richard Tafel ("Party Crasher: A Gay Republican Challenges Politics as Usual"), Patrick Guerrero, and the Washington Blade's Kevin Naff. I would like to have seen Steve May, an Arizona state representative who challenged "Don't Ask Don't Tell".

The film does mention McCarthyism and covers Roy Cohn, but curiously skips J. Edgar Hoover.

As I noted, the marquee for the film has the phrase “Do Ask, Do Tell” underneath the title, but that is not part of the official name of the film and does not appear in the film. Imdb lists the phrase as a tagline.

Visitors will also want to explore the “Politics on Film” festival in Washington May 7-10 here. "Outrage" is not part of that festival, but it could have been.

Please see other links for this film on the May 1 entry on this blog.

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