This is a tremendously exciting week for fans of LGBT cinema with two stellar releases on DVD. Word Is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives, the groundbreaking 1977 feature-length documentary focusing on the LGBT community ( and the first movie of its kind ) is finally coming to DVD in a beautifully restored edition. The Cinema Pride Collection from Fox/MGM contains 10 LGBT-themed movies spanning 40 years from 1961's The Children Hour to 2005's Imagine Me & You. Both are absolute must-haves. The releases of both yesterday on June 8 were timed to honor the 40th anniversary of the first gay-pride marches.
Word Is Out was the brainchild of the late filmmaker Peter Adair, a gay television producer living and working in San Francisco, the gay mecca of the '70s. Adair had the idea of creating a film that would allow an assortment of gays and lesbians to speak about their lives in America. He brought together a core group of experienced and nascent filmmakers who shared Adair's vision of creating the film. The core group of six eventually gave themselves the name The Mariposa Film Group. Eventually, 26 individuals were included in the final film. These 26 everyday folks represent a lovely and vivid cross section of gay life in Americathen and, surprisingly for its time, now. Though the clothes and some of the settings have dated the message hasn't. The film gives us an empowering group who speak about the difficulties of living their lives as openly gay in a time when gay liberation was in its formative stages.
Many of the stories are heartbreaking, with many of the subjects describing horrendous physical and verbal abuses ( with two of the individuals being institutionalized and subjected to shock treatments ) along with years of personal traumas and emotional upheavals, in addition to the rejection of family members and the legal separation from children. But none of the interview subjects seems to regret, for a moment, the choice of living their lives out and proud. This message gets through again and again but is never preachythe film is edited so we are caught up in the stories of the folks on camerawho appear unadorned, unashamed and crackling with vitality.
I first saw Word Is Out when it was broadcast on PBS in 1978, and its impact on a young gay man was profound. But in viewing the film again ( which, as noted, has been beautifully restored ) I'd forgotten how entertaining it is. Adair and his core groupwith the members' combined intuition, luck and experiencemake this a memorable cinema experience. The DVD also includes a plethora of special features, including a look back with surviving members of the filmmaking crew and interview subjects, and more fascinating background material.
The Fox/MGM Cinema Pride Collection ( available exclusively at Amazon.com ) makes for a lovely companion set to Word Is Out. The 10 films, as noted, span 40 years of gay cinema and demonstrate just how far we've come in terms of visibility and acceptance and also speak to the increasing use of LGBT-themed subject matter in movies by filmmakers in a myriad of genres. The set kicks off with 1961's lesbian-themed The Children's Hour, William Wyler's updating of his original film version of Lillian Hellman's play in which two schoolteachers, Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Hepburn, are rumored to behorrorslesbians! Attitudes and times have changed but it's well-acted and speaks to a time when intolerance was the norm for Our People. We then jump to 1978 and La Cage Aux Folles, the original French film that inspired the hit Broadway musical and the 1996 American remake, The Birdcage, in which a drag-queen club owner and his diva-like star must butch it up when the owner's son brings his fiancée and her conservative parents home for dinner. These two make for a splendid double feature.
Next in the set is My Beautiful Laundrette, Stephen Frears' 1986 racial drama in which Daniel Day Lewis plays a gay punk who helps his Pakistani lover open the launderette of the title. Sharply written and directed, it remains one of my favorite movieswith the gay characters and themes a decided bonus. Then it's off to the land of Oz for 1994's seminal film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, a road trip with hunky Guy Pearce, Hugo Weaving and Terrence Stamp as drag queens crossing the outback heading to a club date in the appropriately titled pink school bus. Along the way, they get into trouble and perform in Oscar-winning costumes.
Things get serious with 1997's Bent, based on the acclaimed play, with Clive Owen and Lorthaire Bluteau as lovers who can't touch each other enduring torture and other hardships in a World War II concentration camp. Hilary Swank won her first Oscar as the murdered transgendered Brandon Teena in the moving 1999 biopic Boys Don't Cry, also included in the collection. The set also includes the fluffy 1998 comedy The Object of My Affection, which finds Jennifer Aniston in love with gay roommate Paul Rudd; the sweet 2001 lesbian romantic comedy Kissing Jessica Stein; and another of my favorite LGBT-themed movies, 2005's lesbian romantic drama, Imagine Me & You with Piper Perabo, Lena Headey and Matthew Goode.
For those who want to celebrate Gay Pride at the movies Word Is Out and The Cinema Pride Collection will certainly help get the parties started.
Dyke Delicious ends its seventh season Saturday, June 12, at Chicago Filmmakers, 5243 N. Clark, 2nd Floor. A mystery line-up of short films is being selected by organizer Sharon Zurek, who promises an entertaining finale to the series which celebrates the best in lesbian short films. To celebrate the end of the season a special admission price of $7 is being offered while seats last. As usual, the social hour kicks off at 7 p.m. followed by the 8 p.m. screenings. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve seats for the event.
Check out my archived reviews at www.windycitytimes.com or www.knightatthemovies.com . Readers can leave feedback at the latter Web site.