Institute History

  • 1996 Sundance Film Festival


As cinema celebrates its hundredth year, it is particularly timely that we look at Hollywood and how it has both reflected and defined the way we think about homosexuality. From comic sissies to lesbian vampires, from pathetic queens to sadistic predators, from the good to the bad, gay characters have been around since the beginning. Vito Russo’s book The Celluloid Closet has served as the primer for anyone researching queer cinema, but as provocative as the book is, it still leaves you to your own devices to actually find and see the images it mentions. You have to search your video store, usually to discover that many of the films are not there anyway.

I am one of those people who have no problem getting my information in an entertaining way. The Celluloid Closet pays off with a punch by weaving history into a story. Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman prove once again that they are unqualified storytellers. The juxtaposing of ideas and images is superb. Editing is concise and direct, taking full advantage of over a hundred film clips of Hollywood classics (obtaining them for this film was no easy feat). Lily Tomlin’s narration is no fuss and top-notch, providing a focus for interviews with Hollywood’s own, including priceless anecdotes by those who have been there, including Tom Hanks, Shirley MacLaine, Susan Sarandon, Whoopi Goldberg, Tony Curtis, and Gore Vidal.

The deeper edge of The Celluloid Closet’s message is a subtle indictment of the Hollywood system, yet it does not accomplish this by hitting you over the head. But this film does tell the truth. Seeing is still believing. A long time in the making but well worth the wait, The Celluloid Closet is sure to be a classic as it explodes sexual myths and explores the way our attitudes about homosexuality and sex roles have evolved through the century.

— John Cooper

Screening Details

Sundance Film Festival Awards

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