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April 12, 1996 - Image 74

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1996-04-12

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Left to right:Rob Epstein,
Harvey Fierstein and
Jeffrey Friedman. In the
film, Fierstein talks about
being an openly gay
author writing about gay
lives in a straight culture.

Below:In Morocco (1930),
Marlene Dietrich plays a
cabaret singer who kisses
a woman in a nightclub.

Olit o f th e



n a crisp, sunny day in
San Francisco, before
heading out to a
Passover seder with
friends, Jeffrey Friedman talked
by phone about his newest film
release, which makes its local pre-
miere this weekend at the Detroit
Film Theatre.
The Celluloid Closet, the latest
venture by Friedman and part-
ner Rob Epstein, is slowly being
rolled out across the country (Ep-
stein was in Toronto promoting
the film's debut there at the time
of this interview).
Produced by their company,
Telling Pictures, which was
formed in 1987, The Celluloid
Closet is based on author and film
historian Vito Russo's landmark
book of the same name. The Cel-
luloid Closet was the first book to
chronicle gay and lesbian char-
acters during 100 years of motion


Russo first approached Fried-
man and Epstein in 1986 about
making a film out of the book, but
they weren't able to raise the mon-
ey to produce it. In 1990, at age
46, Russo died of an AIDS-relat-
ed illness, and Friedman and Ep-
stein, once they acquired the
rights, again tried to bring Rus-
so's book to the screen.
This time, they had more help.
Michael Lumpkin, former direc-
tor of the San Francisco Interna-
tional Lesbian and Gay Film
Festival, joined the team as co-
producer of the film; Howard
Rosenman, a Hollywood produc-
er (Father of the Bride) and pres-
ident of motion pictures at
Brillstein-Grey Entertainment,
came on as executive producer;
and Lily Tomlin, a personal friend
of Russo's, spearheaded a fund-
raising campaign to get the film
made. Tomlin also serves as the
narrator of The Celluloid Closet,

How are gays depicted in the movies?
How do straights perceive them?
FilmmakerJejliry Friedman provides a
sneak peek into The Celluloid Closet.

which spotlights 120 movie clips
from mainstream Hollywood films
from as early as 1927 to the
present — from the Os-
car-winning silent film
Wings to the modern-
day Philadelphia;
The Adventures of
Priscilla, Queen of
the Desert and
Boys on the Side.
(For more about
the film, see to-
day's review.)
"It's very im-
portant for non-
gays to see this
film," says Fried-
man, who is co-
writer, co-director
and co-producer
with Epstein, as well
as serving as film edi-
tor. "For straight people,
it's an opportunity for them

to see how gays have been de-


picted in the movies. For gay peo-
ple, it's a reflection of their own
experience —you remember
what it's like going to the
movies and not seeing
your image on the
screen or, when it
was there, seeing
it as a gay, per-
verted image."
says they chose
to highlight
films, as op-
posed to foreign,
underground or
films, in The Cel-
luloid Closet be-
cause they best
reflect people's atti-
tudes about homo-
sexuality in pop culture.
Of the hundreds and hun-
dreds of clips that co produc-


er Michael Lumpkin and writer
Sharon Wood scoured, the pro-
duction team chose films that
would be entertaining as well as
illustrate the points they wanted
to make. The editing process took
one year before any interviews,
which lead in and out of each
movie clip, were shot.
Friedman says that the crite-
ria for being an interviewee on
camera was that the person had
to be involved in some way in
making a particular movie (as
writer, producer, director or ac- c'
tor) or be someone who could ar-
ticulate the experience of
watching the film as a gay person.
Noted playwright and screen-
writer Arthur Laurents, in The
Celluloid Closet, talks about work-
ing with Alfred Hitchcock on the
homosexual thriller Rope (1948)
and the homosexual undertones
between John Ireland and Mont-
gomery Cliff in Red River (1948).

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