Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, June 23, 2016


BEFORE STONEWALL (1984). Directors: Greta Schiller; Robert Rosenberg.

This highly interesting documentary looks at aspects of the gay community before the start of the modern-day Gay Rights Movement. It looks at the large number of gay men and lesbians who fought in WW2, chronicles the harassment of homosexuals during the McCarthy era, and examines the change in attitudes towards gay people both within and without the diverse community. Back in those days, gay couples would often mimic straight couples, with, say, the "butcher" of the two women trying to come off like a man so they wouldn't be hassled as "queer" if they went out on a date. Some gay men deliberately overdid the "camping" as a way of declaring themselves and expressing their independence, although there is little outrageous camping in gay bars today. The Civil Rights Movement for black people influenced the Gay Rights movement with its increasing (non-violent) militancy, leading to the Stonewall rebellion. People interviewed for this film include activist Frank Kameny; Allen Ginsberg (who recounts how his famous poem "Howl" was considered obscene); historian Martin Duberman; Harry Hay of the Mattachine Society, an earlier Gay Rights group; Barbara Gittings; Craig Rodwell of the Oscar Wilde bookstore, and many others. There are perhaps too many clips of alleged drag queens from old movies, but many people will find this an eye-opener.

NOTE: It's become obligatory today to say that Stonewall and the whole modern-gay rights movement was started by drag queens of color. If this was true, no problem, but the Stonewall was not exclusively a drag bar. Yes, drag queens would patronize the place, and there were certainly some drag queens there and fighting against the police the night of the riot, but the crowd was an ethnically diverse group -- Black, White, Hispanic etc. -- and the majority were not in drag; everyone played a part.

Verdict: How things have changed! ***.


angelman66 said...

Has been a long time since I have seen this one, need to check it out again.

I agree with you, I do bow to the courage of those drag queens, but they were not the only heroes of Stonewall. The LGBT movement has morphed in the past few years and is now very trans-centered, which is fine (they need all the visibility they can get), and I think the drag community has helped provide that link, but we still have a long way to go for true gay and lesbian acceptance, as the recent Orlando massacre showed us.

William said...

Too true! Well said, Chris.