Thursday, August 8th, 2019

Gay USA  (restored) : Does old become classic? 


There has been enough time gone by for this re-released documentary, largely shot at the San Francisco 1977 Gay Pride march, to evolve from out of date to classic. Let’s see if it does.

Its format is terribly predictable. Back to back short testimonials showing the kaleidoscope of the real people on the march, interspersed with long montages of crowds and snatched intimate close ups. Inevitably it resolves around an overall message of the importance of Pride to combat shaming.  So far so familiar. 

It is the particulars that start to elevate it. Historically it sits in a very particular sweet spot. It falls in between the disruption of Stonewall and the devastation of the pre-meds AIDS crisis. It was a definitive flowering of the gay movement that coincided with the maturation of the Civil Rights movement. It also captures a celebration of individuality in stark contrast to the monolithic sameness of the totalitarian regimes, such as the USSR, that still loomed large. Visual comparisons of the Pride march with the military parades of communism mark how Pride evolved within a specific form of largely secular Western liberalism. 

In the personal stories it also has a definitive historic hook. Women’s economic power from equality in the work force was barely nascent. Its 3 years before Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda are to capture the zeitgeist in the movie ‘9 to 5’. Stories of lesbian trapped in marriages for practical economic reasons abound.  

And there was a very loud debate in the LGBT+ community about blatancy. Even Pride marches contained signs with messages like “Do not judge the gays by the outrageous few. Gays do not support Faggots”. Some Gay Rights events had been insisting the men wear business suits and the women wear dresses. One speaker complains ‘The fact is that blatant heterosexuals are everywhere’ whether it is making out at the movies, riding in a Tunnel of Love, dancing together or discussing what bikini is going to make their husband happiest.  

If political documentaries are not your thing give this a shot for the sights and sounds. The free flowing productless hair and love of denim on denim is liberating in itself. But do indulge yourself with the wonderfully awful soundtrack. This is music history. Way before gay music meant superstar DJs and pop tarts there was a genre, influenced heavily by folk, that gay people were forced to make or listen to. Overly earnest, adolescently poetic and ignorant of rhythm you got classic choruses like “Gays all together, join hand in hand, take your lives in your hand. Woman with woman. Man with man” just in case you were not completely clear about what being gay meant. 

The politics of the Pride documentary is very familiar now even though in 1977 it was probably groundbreaking. Enjoy this documentary for its particulars instead. See and listen to a real piece of history. 




Review by Andrew Hebden

Queerguru Correspondent Andrew Hebden is a MEDIA & CULTURAL STUDIES graduate spending his career between London, Beijing and NYC as an expert in media and social trends. As part of the expanding minimalist FIRE movement he recently returned to the UK and lives in Soho. He devotes as much time as possible to the movies, theatre and the gym. His favorite thing is to try something (anything) new every day.


Posted by queerguru  at  12:14

Genres:  documentary

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