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« Contrarian Corner: Age is Just a Number As J.Law Dazzles in 'Joy' | Main | Oscar Ballots Out Today. Three Simple FYCs for Voters. »
Wednesday
Dec302015

HBO’s LGBT History: The Out List (2013)

Manuel is working his way through all the LGBT-themed HBO productions.

Last week we looked at Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra, a horror movie of sorts which we all agreed is not as good as the sum of its talented parts. This week we look at Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’s The Out List (Watch Online), a documentary that’s easier to admire than to enjoy.

I actually hesitate in calling it a “documentary” since it’s just a collection of on-camera interviews seemingly strung together one next to the other. Thus, we spend a couple of minutes with Neil Patrick Harris as he discusses his struggles as an out actor. We then hear about Janet Mock’s decision to take up trans rights activism in earnest. We move onto Dustin Lance Black’s experience of growing up in a religious family… and so on and so forth. Each interview is its own mini-doc; the result would, presumably, be a quilted canvas of the contemporary LGBT movement. [More...]

Sadly such fragmented cohesion never emerges. Parts of The Out List are illuminating (Christine Quinn’s a natural raconteur and Larry Kramer is as great a historian of the AIDS crisis as anyone) but as a whole it’s all rather unremarkable. It’s not even organized in any particularly interesting way. I’m sure I could reshuffle all the interviews and the film would be no worse for it.

Director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, Janet Mock and Sam MacConnell

It makes you wonder who the film was intended for. In choosing to showcase only “high profile” members of the LGBT community — not just entertainers but athletes and elected officials — The Out List limits its own reach while hoping to craft a clearer picture of the mainstream image of the community. Yet, while Ellen, Wanda Sykes and Cynthia Nixon talk about how fame and the spotlight affected their own “coming out” narratives, it’s unclear how or if this is really something director Greenfield-Sanders and interviewer Sam McConnell have any interest in. Instead, especially as it coincided with the fight for marriage equality, the film seems almost like an LGBT infomercial putting its best foot forward and sanding down any prickly topics.

Given that Greenfield-Sanders is first and foremost a photographer whose other projects (The Blacklist, The Latino List) feel more curatorial than analytical, it is no surprise this earnest and well-intentioned film comes off as a glossy portrait gallery. Its moments of spark come courtesy of those natural performers (and Janet Mock, who is oh so eloquent and smart).

Exhibit A: Lady Bunny on how sick and tired she is of conservative gays claiming that leather men and drag queens “don’t represent our community”:

“We started your gay rights! It was not the conservative gays that put on a pink t-shirt or a rainbow flag one day a year and then went back to their closeted office jobs. It was the drag queens and the street people that were getting harassed by the police and said ‘Uh uh, enough! Here’s a brick in your fucking face!”

Exhibit B: Jake Shears on his devil may care attitude about his own sexuality and being an outsider.

“There’s something I love so much about being a homo and I feel like, anybody who’s gonna be wagging a finger at us it’s like… fuck, who cares, fuck off!”

All it made me want to do was re-watch 1977’s Word is Out which is a fascinating tapestry of coming out stories that remains a necessary time capsule of a community in the making and which perhaps tell us more about these issues than The Out List ever could.

 Fun Awards Fact: Given all of the above it should come as no surprise that The Out List didn’t net any nominations (not even from GLAAD) even though it boasted an Oscar winner, several Emmy winners, and even two Vito Russo Award winners in its midst.

Next Week: What better way to kick off the new year than with Sondheim? We’re taking another detour into Six By Sondheim (Watch on HBOGo and on Amazon Video) because we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to discuss musical theater in our HBO LGBT history now could we?

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Reader Comments (4)

Oh, Manuel. Word Is Out places somewhere near Dog Day Afternoon and A Place in the Sun on all my all-time Top 10 list, so thanks for the acknowledgement of that great and important little doc!

December 30, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

I need to watch Word Is Out!!!

December 30, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

WORD IS OUT is especially great time-capsule of a documentary as it came about before AIDS, which is a subject that - rightfully so, at least in some cases - takes over the narrative of most films about gay history.

December 30, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Ah, I remember this one. A nice little watch but I mostly remember being gutted about Jake Shears' story and his longtime friend whose surgery he paid for.

December 30, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDerreck.

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