Top critical review
Bring back short-shorts
on 15 April 2010
This 70 minute documentary covers the period from 1969 (the Stonewall Riots) to 1981 (AIDS), regarded (with no shortage of hyperbole) as 'the most libertine era the Western world has known since Rome'. The film focuses its attention on the importance of openly-expressed physicality for homophile males, against the context of pre-Stonewall 'closeted' behaviours. (It is notable that the documentary refers exclusively to New York, regrettably avoiding the scenes then unfolding in other parts of the country such as San Francisco.)
Visually, the documentary employs many photographs from the era, interspersed with occasional video footage. (Facial hair, tight jeans, and short-shorts aplenty!). Structurally, it comprises interviews with those who were present at the time, including such figures as photographer Tom Bianchi and writer Larry Kramer. Interviewees discuss not only their physical encounters, but also the proliferation of erotica, bathhouses, disco and drugs in the New York of the 1970s. What is particularly striking is the pride felt by the participants (for many of them, for the first time in their lives).
Inevitably(?), the documentary closes with the onset of AIDS. While not explicitly attributing 'causal' lines, this organisation of the material unfortunately narrows any possible analysis of the diverse practices that resulted in the reactionary regressions of the late-70s and '80s. For example, there is no mention of socio-economic context, such as the economic individualism ushered in by the Regan-era, the impact of feminism, or the rise of the Religious Right. Consequently, the viewer is left with the impression that it was the outbreak of AIDS that brought an end to this 'golden era' - obfuscating the fact that the various fascisms had set in well *before* the arrival of AIDS: the activism of Bryant/Densen-Gerber, feminists such as Dworkin and MacKinnon, and the "Take Back the Night" marches of the late-70s - none of which receive any mention.
Provided the film is taken at face value - as a purely nostalgic celebration of an era, rather than as critical analysis - then it serves entertainment purposes, and as such will likely reach its target audience. The strength of the documentary can be situated here: a highly-stylised re-creation of a sense of openness, freedom - briefly discovered and then lost - during the iconic "70s".