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Knight at the Movies: Outrage; Film notes
by Richard Knight, Jr.
2009-05-20

This article shared 3484 times since Wed May 20, 2009
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Kirby Dick, the documentary filmmaker who made the eye-opening 2006 This Film Is Not Yet Rated, returns with Outrage. If I felt frustration and anger over the unfair way that LGBT-themed movies are treated by the MPAA ratings board ( as highlighted in that film ) , imagine how, as a queer movie critic, I felt coming out of Outrage, in which Dick takes on the topic of closeted politicians lobbying for anti-gay legislation, blatantly flying in the face of their own kind. I'm boiling. Just as in Milk, I realized early on during the screening that it was going to be hard, if not impossible, for me to remain objective about the film given the subject matter, so read what I thought with a grain of salt. When it comes to Outrage, I'm not balanced.

That may have to do with Dick's approach. He's less showy and more methodical than Michael Moore; Dick slowly builds his case with solid research and the audaciousness of some of what he shows you—the stunning denial of the participants—is mind-boggling. In Outrage ( which has the canny tagline, "Do Ask. Do Tell" ) he doesn't just expose politicians engaged in this insidious practice ( and, yes, the majority are Republicans ) ; he also takes on their operatives and friends in the media who have also remained closeted while supporting anti-gay agendas. The film also gives us a historical overview; it goes back to Roy Cohn going after commies and queers during the Red Scare, and then into the beginning of AIDS and the terrible silence and indifference during the devastating Reagan era that helped the pandemic take hold. It's a long, painful, gut-wrenching history of willful persecution, and the film persuasively makes the case that staying in the closet has been tremendously damaging on a personal level and to society at large.

What is it with these self-loathing people that make them not just go after their own kind, but outright vilify and try to hurt us? Dick offers some psychological guesswork from formerly closeted Log Cabin Republicans and other talking heads, along with a lot of psychobabble from outed ex-governor Jim McGreevey as possible explanations, but it's still a head-scratcher for me. The powerful film starts with the audio of now-former U.S. Sen. Larry Craig being interviewed by police ( after his arrest while trolling for gay sex in the Minneapolis airport bathroom stall ) over the credits; next, we see bits of Craig's follow-up press conference in which he denied being gay. ( The film keeps coming back to this press conference, interspersed with questionable incidents from Craig's past until this conference becomes ludicrous—a record of shame and guilt. ) Next we learn that apparently our nation's capital is queer central as supporting witnesses confide and we read about "a brilliantly orchestrated conspiracy" to keep Washington's closet door shut tight while somber cello music plays on the soundtrack.

As Dick provides evidence against a cadre of closeted, purportedly anti-gay politicians and their disgraceful voting records, he also delves into the practice of "outing" itself and includes on-camera interviews with those in favor of it ( such as Michelangelo Signorile, who climbed to fame because of his willingness to name names ) , against it ( conservative columnist Andrew Sullivan ) and those in between. Now, no matter your opinion on the practice it is Mike Rogers, the man who has become most feared by closeted politicians doing us the dirty ( because of his Web site, www.blogactive.com, that tracks these guys ) , who neatly sums up the reason to out these venal politicos: "I'm reporting hypocrisy, not outing." U.S. Rep. Barney Frank echoes a moment later that these anti-gay gays deserve " [ a ] right to privacy—not a right to hypocrisy." The seemingly benign Rogers is the film's hero as he shows no fear in going after closeted politicians—past, present and future—and their minions who are working hard against Our People from within their closet walls.

Dick makes the case that while the gay media has been reporting on a batch of these suspect individuals—from Florida Gov. Charlie Crist to David Dreier, a California Republican congressman—the mainstream has ignored it. One reason for that seems to be a collective media sensitivity to their subject's sexuality—a thorny issue the film identifies. How does the mainstream get past its hesitation and "privacy" issues about revealing queer sexuality? The first step, of course, is to remove the shame and stigma attached to it across the board once and for all—a process not for the impatient. The late gay activist Harvey Milk provides the instant solution via an archival clip that comes at the end of the film: "If every gay person in the closet would come out … we'd win."

That was over 30 years ago but, sadly, remains not just timely but up-to-the-minute. Case in point: As Outrage is going into mainstream release Crist has announced his candidacy for senator, a first stop toward the White House. Not one of the mainstream media outlets reporting this announcement has mentioned that Crist is a prominent subject in Kirby Dick's film.

Film notes:

—Columbia College Chicago will present three non-credit evening courses this summer for dedicated film buffs. The classes will focus on the careers of queer Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar ( "The Outrageous Visions of Pedro Almodovar"—Fridays, June 5-July 31 ) , the late Swedish master Ingmar Bergman ( "Mind, Body & Spirit: The Films of Ingmar Bergman"—Tuesdays, June 2-July 21 ) and a collective look at several indie filmmakers, including queer pioneers Kenneth Anger, Andy Warhol and John Waters ( "American Independent Cinema Pioneers"—Thursdays, June 4-July 23 ) . Each of the eight-week courses is designed for adult learners and will include film screenings, lectures and discussion. All three will be taught by Columbia College faculty member/film academic Reid Schultz. Tuition is $375 per course; visit www.colum.edu or call 312-369-8558.

—The Sex Positive documentary film series which has been playing the second and fourth Tuesdays each month ( and curated by Clarisse Thorn ) continues Tuesday, May 26, at 7 p.m. with The Aggressives, a 2005 documentary focusing on lesbian women who look and act like men, eschew traditional restrictions on female behavior and term themselves "aggressives." The free screening takes place at Jane Addams-Hull House Museum, 800 S. Halsted. Call 312-413-5353 for more info.

Check out my archived reviews at www.windycitytimes.com or www.knightatthemovies.com . Readers can leave feedback at the latter Web site.


This article shared 3484 times since Wed May 20, 2009
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