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Before Stonewall [DVD] 
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On June 27, 1969, police raided The Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York. In a spontaneous show of support and frustration, the city's gay community rioted for three nights in the streets, an event that is considered the birth of the modern Gay Rights Movement.
Revealing and often humorous, the award winning Before Stonewall exposes the fascinating and unforgettable decade-by-decade history of homosexuality in America, from 1920's Harlem through to World War II and the witch hunt trials of the McCarthy era.
Before Stonewall is essential viewing for all those who have celebrated their sexuality, or have been persecuted because of it.
- Archive interview footage of Allen Ginsberg, Audre Lorde, Jose Sarria
- Q&A session with Ken Livingstone, Greta Schiller, Richard Kwietniowski (Love and Death on Long Island) hosted by Richard Newman (Big Brother), recorded April 2009 at the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival
- Short film 'Tiny and Ruby' (30mins, dir.Greta Schiller), an award-winning documentary about prominent black jazz trumpeter Tiny Davis and her drummer/pianist partner Ruby Lucas
Touching, warm and funny... a near-perfect balance between historical and political perspectives --Time Out
Truly unmissable stuff --Dazed and Confused
This is truly a landmark piece of queer history filmmaking that should never be relegated to the top shelf --The List
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Obviously there's a great deal of material to cover, and BEFORE STONEWALL does a decent job of presenting an overview of the main influences that brought about visibility and the emergence of an identity for gays and lesbians. That said, the documentary is quite localized in time and place, confining itself primarily to key US cities from the 1920s onwards, and largely ignoring the influence of other countries and figures, eg. Magnus Hirschfeld in Germany, and Oscar Wilde and the Uranian poets in the UK, all active from the late-1800s.
The DVD was issued for the 25th anniversary of the original documentary's release, hence inevitably many of the interviews will seem grainy and dated, but of course are no less interesting for that. There is much in the way of 'DVD extras', including a taped poetry reading by the late Allen Ginsberg and a panel discussion (including Ken Livingstone) that took place at the 23rd London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival. The latter is particularly instructive, as the makers of the documentary and those from the 'older generation' attempt to field questions about whether the spirit of Stonewall has been betrayed. I suspect that those legends Allen Ginsberg and Harry Hay would have much to say on this question, were they alive to serve witness.
BEFORE STONEWALL only covers U.S. Gay and Lesbian history from about the 1920's to the Stonewall Inn riots of 1969. It is a well-presented archive that informs us of the "coming out" of the U.S. Gay and Lesbian identity and community.
A good buy
"Before Stonewall" is hugely impressive in that the film clearly took an enormous amount of time to research, to source the literally hundreds of film clips used, and to cut them together into an informative, educational film. There are many poignant personal stories here, yet the film is also a celebration, and not without moments of joy and humour. A delightful clip features the entertainer Carroll Davis reciting a poem, and an early song called Lavender Cowboy, proves that Jake Gyllenhaal & Heath Ledger (as Jack Twist & Ennis Del Mar) were not the first two cowboys to fall in love. There are interviews with Allen Ginsberg, Martin Duberman, Dr Evelyn Hooker , author Anne Bannon, and many other people who were not famous, but lived through hardships and prejudice, to triumph, and to end up living happy and full lives. This documentary is an inspiration, and a tribute to the activists who risked so much to help bring freedoms that a lot of younger gay people take for granted now. Barbara Gittings & Craig Rodwell, both sadly no longer with us,are rightly considered to be icons of the gay liberation movement. Excitement and enthusiasm shine from Barbara Gittings's eyes as she talks of early meetings in the 50s. Those must have been thrilling times, to be at the front of the battle lines.
Extra features include a lengthy panel discussion held to mark the 25th anniversary of Before Stonewall, & a delightful half-hour documentary "Tiny & Ruby", about two lesbian musicians, and their interesting loves and lives. Wonderful.
Younger gay men should see the dvd and learn of the fight for their liberties! Older ones may like the pictorial record of earlier difficult times.
And the bar is still there. Visited in 2008. Now you should go, and think about what happened there!!
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