Saturday, March 20, 2010


The second film in Melbourne Queer Film Festival that I attended was the documentary film Outrage. At the end of the film, I heard someone near me in the audience say it was better than they expected, and which was also my reaction.

The Festival blurb for the film said:
In June 2007, US Senator Larry Craig, a fierce opponent of gay rights, was arrested for soliciting sex from an undercover police officer in a public toilet. From this and other true stories from Capitol Hill, Academy Award-nominated documentary maker, Kirby Dick (This Film Is Not Yet Rated) makes the riveting argument that “there exists a brilliantly orchestrated conspiracy to keep gay and lesbian politicians as closeted as possible.” Furthermore, these double life-leading politicians have consistently supported legislation that harms the gay community, and publicly prevented the advancement of civil rights for gays and lesbians. Many activists opposed to this dangerous hypocrisy have made it their job to publically out these politicians, stirring ethical debate.
A bold and searing political exposé, Outrage features such prominent figures as Larry Kramer (Faggots) and Tony Kushner (Angels In America), probing the psychology of the double life, examining the role of the media in tacitly supporting their closeting, and the moral dilemma of public outing. Fresh from the Tribeca Film Festival, Outrage is bound to be one of the most explosive and controversial documentaries of the Festival.
What bothered me was the phrase "brilliantly orchestrated conspiracy". Fortunately, the film does not make a serious attempt to push that line apart from a brief discussion of the Powell Memorandum. Instead, through a mixture of talking heads, excerpts from news bulletins and current affairs programs and occasional written quotes and comments, Outrage explores very powerfully the operation of the closet in American politics.

The story of Republican Senator Larry Craig partly frames the documentary, though current Florida Governor Charlie Crisp is more of a focus in the latter sections of the documentary, as is senior Republican Congressman David Dreier.

The "talking heads" are well chosen and effective. Some of the most powerful commentary came from former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey, who has clearly thought long and hard about the effects of being closeted, particularly on one's personal integrity; former Congressman Jim Kolbe, who spoke movingly how liberating coming out of the closet is; and McGreevey's former wife, Dina Matos McGreevey on living with the lie. Some of the comments, written quotes and commentary are laugh-out-loud funny. One of the many points McGreevey makes is that gay people have to come to their realisation of who they are alone: an experience very different from that of Jews or blacks or other persecuted groups.

The film explores well how the closet operates--particularly the complicity of the mainstream press in keeping it operating--its effects on individuals and public policy, how much Washington (particularly Congress) relies on gay staffers, how much anti-gay policies are supported and prosecuted by closeted gays. But, as is pointed out, that becomes one's ticket of acceptance (often to oneself as much as anyone else). The film ends with various comments to the effect that ending the closet would result in victory for gay rights, finishing with a short excerpt of Harvey Milk saying that all that was required for equal rights was for all gay people to come out to their friends and family.

To me, the essence of the closet is the notion that same-sex attraction is not a proper manifestation of humanity. Everything flows from that--even the way, as Michelangelo Signorile discusses, gossip media connives at keeping same-sex dating and relationships out of their reporting. That is the core idea from which everything else flows.

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