Word is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives (Milestone, NR)

 They are young and old, male and female, butch and femme, conservative and radical, public figures and private citizens of different races and social classes.

 

 

Word is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives was an absolutely groundbreaking documentary when it was first released in 1978 in theatres and on TV. There’s nothing fancy about this film—just 26 gay and lesbian Americans talking about their lives and their sexuality. They are young and old, male and female, butch and femme, conservative and radical, public figures and private citizens of different races and social classes. All appear on camera without disguising their appearance and their voice. (If you don’t understand how radical a proposition that was in 1977, you need a history lesson.) This film, the first feature-length documentary about gay people and made by gay people, is just the vehicle to provide it.

 In honor of the 30th anniversary of Word is Out, a DVD including a newly restored version of the film courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive and the Mariposa Film Group (the original production company). Supplementary materials include what it took to make the film, several of the original participants’ reflections about appearing in the film, how it affected their lives and how their lives have changed since then, as well as recollections by the Mariposa Film Group about director Peter Adair (who passed away from complications of AIDS in 1996).

 Word is Out was produced by the Mariposa Film Group, a collective consisting Peter Adair, Nancy Adair, Andrew Brown, Rob Epstein, Lucy Massie Phenix and Veronica Selver. You might recognize some of those names: Peter Adair directed several other documentaries including The Holy Ghost People (1967) and Absolutely Positive (1991), Lucy Massie Phenix has directed, edited and produced a number of films and television programs including The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter while Rob Epstein’s films include The Times of Harvey Milk, Paragraph 175, The Celluloid Closet and Howl.

 Some of the interview subjects are well-known: political activist and Mattachine Society founder Harry Hay, poet Elsa Gidlow, writer and professor Sally Gearheart, inventor John Burnside. But many are simply people who could be your neighbors willing to share their experiences. A plaid-shirted man tells us how he was the aggressor as a 14-year-old going after men in their 30s and 40s, without realizing the legal threat he posed to them. A former WAC discusses her regrets in losing the feeling of being part of a secret society with its own language and terminology while also treasuring the feeling of being accepted as part of the larger culture. A drag queen says that when growing up, he felt like a girl trapped in a boy’s body, but since accepting his sexual preference no longer has that conflict.

 Not all the stories are happy. Interviewees recall being put in mental institutions intended to “cure” them, being harassed by the police and dishonorably discharged by the military. And some had self doubts, which no one should experience, feeling they had no value or were perhaps not real people at all because they didn’t conform to traditional views on sexuality. The willingness of the filmmakers to let each subject tell their own story (without adding further drama) only increases the documentary’s impact. Overall, this is an optimistic film, reflecting the period after Stonewall and before the assassination of Harvey Milk. Gay life is different today, of course, while some states recognize gay marriage, others seem to invent new ways to oppress gay people. Either way, Word is Out is the perfect opportunity to revisit this historical period.

 Further information about the Word is Out DVD is available from the official website http://www.wordisoutmovie.com/. | Sarah Boslaugh

 

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