The Lavender Scare


Before the rainbow.

(2017) Documentary (Full Exposure) Frank Kameny Glenn Close (narrator), Zachary Quinto, David Hyde Pierce, T.R. Knight, Cynthia Nixon, David K. Johnson, John D’Emilio, Lillian Federman, John W. Hanes, Carl Rizzi, Peter Szluk, Jen Totka, Vince Ferrence, Rev. Bruce Forbes, Joan Cassidy. Directed by Josh Howard

Most of us are aware of the strides that the LGBTQ community have made in recent years in asserting their rights and gaining mainstream acceptance. To truly appreciate how far they’ve come, however, it is important to note where they came from.

During the so-called “Red Scare” during the late Forties and Fifties, Americans became convinced that every echelon of our society had been infiltrated by communists and that our way of life was under immediate threat. That belief was amplified when the Russians detonated their own atom bomb in 1949, much sooner than most experts thought they should be able to. It was (correctly, as it turned out) assumed that the Russians had gotten help – from spies or traitors smuggling nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union.

This gave rise to one of the most shameful periods in our history, when constitutional rights were routinely violated in the name of national security, when scum like Senator Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohn both rose to power. Most remember how the McCarthy hearings went after communists in Hollywood as well as in government service. Few remember what happened to the gay community.

President Eisenhower, in one of his first acts after taking office, signed an executive order banning homosexuals from working for the government. The thinking went that those with socially unacceptable sexual preferences were vulnerable to blackmail (although there is no evidence that this ever occurred in America). This led to investigations of people who would be accused of being gay or lesbian.

During the Thirties and Forties, many gay men and lesbians came to Washington to get government jobs which were plentiful. There was tolerance for their lifestyle and there were plenty of bars that catered to that clientele. They were cautiously uncloseted but this very freedom would be worked savagely against them as regular attendance at a gay bar would be enough to get you fired; most went quietly, not wanting to let their secret get out. Most were aware that they would have a hard time getting employment for the rest of their lives.

People would be brought into a room by a pair of federal ages without any legal representation. Their accusers would never be identified; they would be badgered and humiliated, and left little choice but to resign otherwise their secret would come out. Most went meekly into the night.

Not Dr. Franklin Kameny, though. An astronomer for the Army Map-making Corps, he was unceremoniously fired from the job he loved. Not about to take this lying down, he became an activist fighting for the rights of homosexuals; his chapter of the Mattachine Society (an early gay rights organization) was the most in-your-face chapter of the society, with Kameny organizing picketing, demonstrations and marches. In 1963, he became the first openly gay man to testify before Congress and he brought lawsuit after lawsuit trying to overturn the unjust laws which he was remarkably unsuccessful at, although nobody could doubt his intelligence and bulldog tenacity. However, Eisenhower’s executive orders banning gays from government jobs were  finally overturned by President Clinton in 1995.

Director Josh Howard seems to subscribe to the Ken Burns school of documentary filmmaking, using actors (including Hyde Pierce as a young Frank Kameny) reading letters and journal entries of those affected by the persecution of that era, supplemented by interviews with historians as well as those who still survive from that era. There’s also a lot of archival footage, both of pre-Stonewall gay life and anti-Gay propaganda pieces popularizing the myth that gay men are child molesters. The narration of Glenn Close brings everything together nicely, offering up context.

Some of the interviews are heartbreaking, such as Joan Cassidy who aspired to be the first female admiral in the United States Navy but who didn’t dare look for advancement lest her sexuality be discovered. Some are hilarious such as postal employee Carl Rizzi offering smarmy federal agents a better picture of himself in drag for their files. Some are reprehensible, such as the audio interview with investigator Peter Szluk who takes great delight in his accomplishment of ruining lives.

If there is anything that the film gets wrong is that it tends to be repetitive, making a lot of the same points over and over again despite a fairly short 1 hour and 14 minute length. That’s okay to a degree but repetition gets amplified the shorter a film is.

Kameny, who is interviewed here late in life, didn’t live to see the Defense of Marriage Act overturned in 2013 (he died in 2011) but chances are he would have growled “We still have a long way to go” before tilting at another windmill and he’s absolutely correct on that account. Gay rights remain very tenuous and fragile; already there is legislation that seeks to undo all that is done, particularly in red states. There is still plenty of anti-gay behavior out there and the struggle to end repression for our gay brothers and sisters is ongoing. It behooves us to take heart however, in that the cause has come a long way. The efforts of men like Frank Kameny are important to note, if just to remind us that we need more people like him in our society even now.

REASONS TO SEE: The celebration of a largely forgotten but important figure in early gay activism. Lots of nifty archival footage.
REASONS TO AVOID: Despite the compact length the film is repetitious in places.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity as sell as adult thematic material.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was based on and inspired by the book of the same name by historian David K. Johnson
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/11/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews: Metacritic: 72/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Before Stonewall
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Oceans 8

42


Ebony and Ivory...

Ebony and Ivory…

(2013) Sports Biography (Warner Brothers) Chadwick Boseman, Nicole Beharie, Harrison Ford, Christopher Meloni, Andre Holland, Lucas Black, Hamish Linklater, Ryan Merriman, T.R. Knight, Alan Tudyk,  John C. McGinley, Toby Huss, Max Gail, Brad Beyer, James Pickens Jr., Gino Anthony Pesi, Brett Cullen, Cherise Boothe. Directed by Brian Helgeland 

I think that I’m not alone in admiring Jackie Robinson or considering him a personal hero of mine. Nearly every American is aware that he was the first African-American to play in major league baseball – in fact, many erroneously believe he was the first African-American to play in professional sports – Fritz Pollard and Bobby Marshall both played in the NFL in 1920 and Robinson made his debut in 1947. But Robinson’s achievement bears closer examination; at the time baseball was America’s pastime. The reaction to a black man in the game most closely identified with the American spirit was not unlike the same reaction one might get if they spit on the tomb of the unknown soldier.

Branch Rickey (Ford), president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, had a very good baseball club, having challenged for the pennant for years. Rickey, a devout Methodist, had made the decision to bring a black man into baseball, a decision that horrified his second in command Harold Parrott (Knight) who envisioned the white fans of Brooklyn deserting the team in droves.

However Rickey was not to be denied and so he went on an exhaustive search to find the right man for the job. He considered a number of stars from the Negro Leagues (some of whom, like Roy Campanella, would end up on the team eventually) but eventually settled on Jack Roosevelt Robinson of the Kansas City Monarchs. Impressed with his character, Rickey summoned the player to Brooklyn.

Robinson, recently married to college sweetheart Rachel (Beharie), is a bit mystified. He has no idea what Rickey has in mind and it is inferred that the idea that he’d be the one to break the color barrier is the furthest thing from his mind. When Rickey tells him he’s looking for someone to turn the other cheek, Robinson is insulted; are they looking for someone without the guts to fight back? “No,” Rickey thunders, “I’m looking for someone with the guts not to fight back.”

Robinson has more than enough guts and he reports to spring training…in Florida. Naturally the natives don’t take too kindly to an uppity you-know-what playing a white man’s game – in Sanford, the sheriff threatens to shut down the game if Robinson plays. His manager, Clay Hopper (Cullen) is read the riot act by Rickey. Eventually, Robinson makes the minor league Montreal Royals, one step away from the big leagues. He spends the season there.

In 1947, Robinson attends training camp – this time in Panama – with the Dodgers and the team is fully aware that Robinson, who’d torn up the International League with Montreal the previous season, is going to be on the opening day roster and on April 15, 1947 Robinson makes history by taking the field at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.

It’s an uphill struggle however. His own teammates circulate a petition, asking Rickey to reconsider (manager Leo Durocher (Meloni) essentially tells them that if they don’t like it, they can expect to be traded). Things aren’t helped much when Durocher is suspended for the season and Burt Shotton (Gail), of whom a New York Sportswriter consistently referred to as Kindly Old Burt Shotton (it’s in Roger Kahn’s excellent The Boys of Summer if you want further insight to this story), is hired in his place.

On the field, Robinson gets it from all sides – the fans, the players, even the managers, particularly Ben Chapman (Tudyk) of the Philadelphia Phillies whose graphic racial attacks are as reprehensible and as vicious as anything you’re ever likely to hear. Hotels refuse to put the Dodgers up because of Robinson’s presence and yet the man perseveres, refusing to give in, turning the other cheek until both cheeks are bruised.

The question to ask here is whether or not the movie tells Robinson’s story properly and I’m of two minds of that here. I think it does a really good job in establishing his relationships with Rickey and Rachel, as well with sportswriter Wendell Smith (Holland) who is hired more or less to be Robinson’s assistant – picking him up and driving him around, arranging for lodging with black politicians when the white hotels won’t admit him, essentially serving as friend and confidante. He also gives Robinson perspective from time to time which proves valuable.

A Jackie Robinson biography had been in the works years ago, with Spike Lee and Denzel Washington attached. Sadly, it never came to pass and sadder still, part of the reason why was studio reluctance to do a movie about Robinson. However, it is a hopeful sign that Warner Brothers agreed not only to do the film, but allow an unknown to be cast in the lead.

Boseman has a relaxed, easy presence that is fiery in places, tender in others. He has the potential to be a star, not only because he captures some of the personality of Robinson but clearly fleshes out the legend some. Unfortunately, the writers really didn’t give him a lot to work with in terms of defining who Robinson was beyond the diamond. That might not be entirely their fault – Robinson was an intensely private man who tended to keep most of his thoughts and feelings to himself. However, Rachel is still alive as are two of his three children and perhaps some contact with them might have fleshed out Robinson’s profile a bit further, although it’s possible they would have preferred to keep what the ballplayer wanted kept private during his lifetime the same way afterwards.

Beharie is also lustrous here and shows signs of being an excellent leading lady. I hope this role gets her some further roles in big films – she has the beauty and the charisma to carry them. I really liked her as Rachel, although again we fail to see the extent of the support she gave Jackie which was considerable by all accounts.

Ford gives one of the most memorable performances of his career, playing Rickey note-perfect as a Bible-thumping curmudgeon on the outside with the kind of heart of gold on the inside that the real Rickey rarely revealed to the public. There’s a really nice scene in a locker room after Jackie is spiked and is being stitched up when he asks Rickey why he did what he did and finally Rickey comes clean with him. It’s the kind of scene that shows up on Oscar telecasts.

I liked this movie a lot, but could have liked it more with a little less baseball, a little more character and maybe a little more time overall with Jackie off the field. Even so, this is an impressive film which I can pretty much recommend without hesitation. As cultural icons go, Robinson has left a towering legacy. That legacy is deserving of a movie that reflects that and while I’m not sure 42 gives it what it deserves, it at least makes a fine attempt in the meantime.

REASONS TO GO: Gives you a sense of what he endured. Ford does some of his best work ever.

REASONS TO STAY: Really doesn’t give you a sense of who Jackie Robinson was other than what you can deduce from the history books.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s some pretty bad language including liberal use of the “N” word (which you have to have if you’re doing a bio on Robinson since he heard it more than his share) and some thematic elements that might be disturbing to young kids.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first time in his career Harrison Ford has portrayed a real person.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/20/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 76% positive reviews. Metacritic: 62/100; positive reviews overall for this one.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: A League of Their Own

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: The ABCs of Death

New Releases for the Week of April 12, 2013


42

42

(Warner Brothers) Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Nicole Beharie, Christopher Meloni, Andre Holland, Lucas Black, Hamish Linklater, T.R. Knight. Directed by Brian Helgeland

One of the greatest heroes of the 20th Century was Jackie Robinson, the legendary Brooklyn Dodgers second baseman who became the first African-American to play Major League Baseball. Most of us are aware of his role in integrating sports but few really understand directly the hardships he faced. Many whites thought he was despoiling the national pastime, some of his teammates included. Hopefully this movie will give us a greater appreciation of his heroism.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Sports Biography

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements including language)

Ginger and Rosa

(A24) Elle Fanning, Alessandro Nivola, Christina Hendricks, Timothy Spall. Two teenage girls in the London of the swinging ’60s who are the fastest of friends must come to terms with the approach of adulthood, the potential for nuclear war and their own feelings for certain men and boys. When one succumbs to forbidden desires, the other believes that she can only save her friend through saving the world – and sets out to do just that.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Coming of Age Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for mature disturbing thematic material involving teen choices – sexuality, drinking, smoking, and for language) 

No

(Sony Classics) Gael Garcia Bernal, Alfredo Castro, Antonia Zegers, Marcial Tagle. Based on actual events, this tells the story of how when Chilean dictator Agustin Pinochet, facing international pressure, called a referendum on his presidency (which was expected to be a whitewash), opposition leaders recruited an advertising executive to spearhead their campaign. Knowing that a misstep would bring one of the most brutal regimes in history down on their heads, they contrive a clever and imaginative campaign to convince the Chilean people to vote no…but will it work? And what will be accomplished if it does?

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Historical Drama

Rating: R (for language)

Not Today

(Ocean Avenue) Cody Longo, Walid Amini, John Schneider, Shari Wiedmann. A privileged young man, vacationing in India, refuses to help a starving man and his daughter. Racked by guilt, he determines to help those he turned his back on only to discover that the man was forced to sell his daughter to human traffickers. Guided by the faith of his family back home, he pledges to make a difference and reunite a family torn apart.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material)

The Place Beyond the Pines

(Focus) Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta. A stunt motorcycle performer travelling town to town with a carnival discovers that he has fathered a child. Yearning to do right by his son, he settles down and gets a job but once his talents are discovered, he falls in with a jewel thief, sending him on a collision course with a cop in a corrupt police force. The two men’s lives will be permanently entwined as the sins of the fathers will be passed down to both of their sons.

See the trailer, a clip and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for language throughout, some violence, teen drug and alcohol use, and a sexual reference)  

Scary Movie V

(Dimension) Erica Ash, Jerry O’Connell, Simon Rex, Ashley Tisdale. The newest installment in the horror spoof franchise that just refuses to die sends up, among others, Black Swan, Paranormal Activity, The Evil Dead, Sinister and Mama. If you can’t say anything nice…

See the trailer, a clip and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror Spoof

Rating: PG-13 (for crude and sexual content throughout, language, some drug material, partial nudity, comic violence and gore)

Trance

(Fox Searchlight) James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, Vincent Cassel, Danny Sapani. An art auctioneer enters a deal with the devil (or in this case a gangland boss) to steal a priceless Goya. However, the auctioneer double crosses the boss, moving him to beat the auctioneer unconscious. When he regains consciousness, the auctioneer no longer remembers where he hid the painting. A hypnotist is engaged to see if she can find the trigger to fetch the location from the auctioneer’s damaged brain when reality and hypnosis begin to blend…

See the trailer, featurettes and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence, some grisly images, and language)