Vito Russo was an extraordinary man. A discerning cineaste and movie historian, an avid gay activist and a leading Aids activist : my kind of hero! In filmmaker Jeffery Schwarz’s awe-inspiring new documentary on Russo’s action-packed short life we can see the full extent of this remarkable man’s leadership and involvement in gay rights, his major contribution to gay cinema, and especially the sheer passion that he invested in everything he did.
Born in 1946 in a tight knit Italian family who much to young Russo’s distressed moved to New Jersey which he so hated. On his 18th birthday, already very sexually active, he moved to New York City which was the perfect home for his boundless energy. He made a sketchy living writing magazine articles on movies which led him to a position in the Film Dept. at MOMA. There the Curator encouraged him to research and write about homosexuality in movies before and after Hollywood’s notorious ‘Production Code’, something that no-one else has ever done before. The result was Russo’s ‘The Celluloid Closet’ which he took in lecture form all over the world, and as a best selling book, and later posthumously, as a documentary film.
Soon after the Stonewall uprising in 1969 he enthusiastically threw himself into gay politics as a leading light in the new Gay Activist Alliance. In later life he was a founder member of two of the most important gay groups ever i.e GLAAD (Gay Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) and ACT-UP Aids Coalition to Unleash Power)
From interviews with Russo’s family members (particularly Patricia his wonderful cousin) we learn that even as young boy he never ever believed that it was wrong to be gay, or that it was a sin. From his friends and activists colleagues we hear of his unselfish and dedicated commitment to fight injustice and also get decent treatment and help for people with AIDS right to the end even when he was very ill himself.
Russo was an instigator, a mover, a mouthpiece and from all accounts a hell of a nice person too. He achieved so much more in his 44 years that many never even touch upon in a lifetime that is twice that long.
A tough movie to watch if you have lived through any of that time as some of the memories that come flooding are still not at all easy to deal with. But as time passes it is essential that crucial and significant people like Russo are remembered for the profound difference that they made, and the price that they paid for us all. This excellent profile is a perfect record to help ensure that we, and future generations, do not forget.