DVD Review - Uncle Bob

Robert Opel become famous in 1974 when he ran completely naked on live television at the 46th Academy Awards. It was more shocking than the Bob Dylan performance at the Grammys with "Soy Bomb" or even the wardrobe malfunction for Janet Jackson at the Super Bowl in 2004. The reason it was more shocking was because Opel dared to show the world a penis, the most taboo thing you can ever show.

In the years following, Opel hoped to break that taboo, and one way was through the advocacy of art in San Francisco that appealed to gay culture. Opel was himself gay and really wanted to support art and even do art that challenged sexuality and that was provocative. Because of what was happening at that time Opel also got involved in politics. He met the legendary Harvey Milk, but, not that long after Milk's assassination and almost as a consequence of it, Opel was too murdered in 1979.

Years later, Opel's nephew, similarly named Robert Oppel, discovers this and tries to learn the details about his uncle's life as well as the truth about his uncle's death. For the most part, Oppel explores the gay art scene of the 1970s, from Robert Mapplethorpe to John Waters to Tom of Finland.

In exploring and even re-creating his uncle's works, Oppel was required to be nude himself, something he doesn't seem to mind too much. Through this, you get a sense of not only who the uncle was but also who the nephew is. I think it's a very strong and powerful sense, but ultimately it's not a complete one. We see all the things Opel did, which is mostly find ways to show off his genitals. Yet, we don't get much of who he was as a person. For example, we hear audio that Opel identified as a homosexual, but, in this documentary, his nephew interviews a woman who is referred to as Opel's girlfriend. This contradiction isn't discussed or even mentioned.

During the back half when Opel is looking into the murder of his uncle, a theory is tossed out that the murder was drug related. Yet, Opel puts more weight on a theory that his uncle's murder was orchestrated by the police. Oppel's argument for the latter theory is purely circumstantial and non-conclusive, and is more or less a frustrating conspiracy, wanting to see more that isn't there.

Instead of giving us more information about who his uncle was when alive, Oppel focuses on futile attempts to communicate with a prisoner in a maximum security facility. Yes, the prisoner is the one who shot and killed his uncle, but it's obvious that it's also a dead end. Oppel eventually concludes with a perfect clip from The Mike Douglas Show, and nice soundbites from friends giving generalities but not much in the way of solid, specific anecdotes, or context to the man who died.

I feel like by the end of this movie I knew what Opel's skin looked like but I didn't know what his soul looked like. Nevertheless, this movie gives a great look at the gay art scene of the time in a way that no other documentary or really feature film has done thus far.

Three Stars out of Five.
Not Rated But Full Frontal Nudity Throughout.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 28 mins.


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