Gay Liberation Films

The 26th Edinburgh International Film Festival includes two short documentaries about Gay Liberation, one British, one American. The British film, Come Together, shot in early 1971, was made by John Shane (not his real name, it seems, which is hardly a shining example of liberation). It is colourful, confused and rather appealing, like GLF itself. There are restrained examples of meetings and demonstrations, and the film is held together by crosscutting with interviews of half a dozen or so varied representatives of the movement. Political statements tend to cancel out: GLF must ally itself with the struggle of all oppressed people, GLF must concentrate on Gay issues. By its warmth and vitality the film should (if they ever manage to see it) convey a message of hope to timid provincials wistfully longing to escape from their closets. To straight society it says, successfully I think: homosexuals are real people, not the stereotypes you try to make out of us, and we want a fair deal.

By comparison the American film, Some of Your Best Friends (University of Southern California, directed by Kenneth Robinson) is more coherent, more searching, perhaps just a shade clinical. What basically gives it its different flavour is the more abrasive American situation, and the correspondingly more determined and purposeful action of Gay militants. A meeting is told how a landlord has tried to evict a Lesbian by force. John Platania (a screen natural) describes with vigour and humour his arrest by a police agent provocateur and the subsequent court case. We see the Christopher Street West parade of 1970, catching just a glimpse of that famous Vaseline jar float, and fascinating action shots of the take-over by GLF of a meeting of psychiatrists assembled to hear a lecture on aversion thereapy. In an attempt to range across the whole activist scene, there are shots of a meeting of the Westside Discussion Group, a more CHE type of organisation, and someone makes the entirely valid point that most people cannot be expected to jump from the closet to the streets in one fell leap.

But the impact of this sequence is vitiated cinematically by the fact that the participants did not want to be identifiable on the screen. Let us face once and for all the truth that those shadowed faces and wingbacked chairs are horribly counterproductive, reinforcing in the public mind the image of the homosexual as a lurking, inhuman creature of the dark.

In the same programme (now I wonder why?) a preview of a film made by Brian Mahoney for Scottish Television about our incomparable Lindsay Kemp. The title sequence contains the most quintessential Lindsay, as with his sweet-sad-vulnerable face he stands and creates some of those fragile, Cocteauesque drawings. The rest is perhaps a little thin, despite some charming shots and a commentary that contains interesting apercus: his work, he says, is about failure, as the work of great clowns usually is. I said a preview, but it seems that someone in STV has had cold feet about the full frontals, and so Scottish sitting-rooms will stay unviolated for the present.

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