Monday, January 28, 2013

DVD Review - Out in the Open

Matthew Smith is an actor and movie producer living in Burbank, California, with his boyfriend Solly Hemus. Smith has produced and directed this documentary about himself and various others on what it is to be gay. The majority of the interviews center on coming out and being identified as gay or lesbian or transgendered to one's family and friends.

The interviews include well-known people in the entertainment industry like Carson Kressley, a TV personality who hosted his own series and who appeared on other talk shows. There's also Josh Strickland, a Broadway star, and Greg Louganis, the diver and Olympic gold medalist whose life story was adapted into a movie.

Louganis is a highly recognizable face on an international level, so he needs no introduction and there are some things about him, which most audiences will already be aware. Because Kressley has been on Oprah several times, as well as other mainstream places, the same could be said about him.

With someone like Strickland who is a beautiful and amazing singer and actor, unless you live in Las Vegas, or you're someone who goes online and studies who's been on Broadway, Strickland might not be a recognizable face. It's not that the movie needed Strickland to read off his resumé, but he doesn't mention at all that he was on Broadway or that he's headlining a show in Las Vegas. Given what the movie is about, talking about how this young gay man achieved success and where he is now would have been important.

You get a sense of who Strickland is, but it makes you wonder what was left on the cutting room floor. This isn't bothersome because the movie isn't about Strickland or Kressley. They can speak to the issues, but empirically this documentary is about Smith and Hemus' relationship with the movie leaning more toward being an autobiography for Smith.

The wonder as to what was left on the cutting room floor becomes increasingly problematic because there are things about Smith and Hemus that remain as curiousities or as questions. Some are basic things. Others are more in-depth things. The movie allows for a diversity of voices like those from the Fireworks Youth Program or even a politician like James Healey, a Democratic state representative in Nevada whose constituency includes Las Vegas, but if there were some kind of time limit to the movie, then the inclusion of these voices at the sacrifice of further addressing the lives of Smith and Hemus makes for an uneasy balance.

For example, Smith is obviously running his own company, but besides this documentary, it's never made clear what projects his company has previously done or is currently doing. The vague sense comes across that Hemus might also work at, for or with Smith's company, but Hemus' exact position is unknown. I'm not even sure I know how old each of the two are, or if they've studied filmmaking in school or how long they've been living together.

These questions might have been asked and answered in interviews and Smith probably deemed them not relevant to the message that he's advocating, which is nothing new. He's advocating that there's nothing wrong or different with being gay. He's also advocating love, acceptance and equality for all.

Where Smith does advocate something different is actually in his method of advocacy, particularly when it comes to gay rights issues. Smith says that he is essentially an accidental activist, and he says that activism today needs to change from being a fight to being a talk and that it shouldn't be in-your-face and militaristic.

He refers to the activists of the 1960s, which I assume he means protestors like the ones portrayed in Stonewall Uprising, the documentary aired on PBS' The American Experience, or even the activists portrayed in the Oscar-nominated How to Survive a Plague (2012). A lot of that kind of protesting and activism still persists today. Some of it is captured in the recent Charles Gage documentary Inspired: The Voices Against Prop 8. Yet, Smith implies this kind of activism repels him.

Smith brings up other tactics that he classifies as smarter and more mature, using social media to foster conversations or to show the normalization of homosexuality. He does raise some interesting points that seem so off-the-cuff here but are legitimate questions that I had while watching Gage's movie and wondering about the actual effectiveness of what those protestors and activists were doing.

But then, towards the end, Smith drops a bomb that rather destroys the momentum of this movie. First off, Hemus reveals that while he was bullied when he was in school, his coming out was not as horrendous as it could have been. 47 minutes into it though, Hemus is talking about how he felt about staying in the closet for as long as he did, and this overly sad and dramatic music plays underneath, which is just too much and felt like a blatant manipulative moment. Yet, that's not the bomb that Smith drops.

Spoiler alert!

Smith reveals that he was molested, not once but twice. Smith makes this confession as part of this 4-minute passage about a hour into the movie. Smith just sits in a chair by himself and tells what happened and how it affected him. Underneath is the same music that started playing 15 minutes prior when Hemus was speaking.

I understand what Smith was going for and I can imagine that speaking about it at all in this movie was difficult. I'm sure he probably wanted to make his point and not belabor it, but this issue is never brought up again. Smith's mother and Hemus, his boyfriend, never mention it either. Smith never even says what happens to his molester.

I assume the molester got away with what he did. I don't know because Smith never says anything more after that 4-minute passage. I get that that's not what he wants his movie to be about, but you can't just drop a bomb like that and then just walk away.

At one point, prior to this, Smith shows on screen the proverbial pink slip of someone who was fired from his or her job because his or her sexual orientation. Smith doesn't show who this person is or what job it is or any context at all. Again, it's another bomb Smith drops from which he just walks away.

I'm not saying that he shouldn't have had these things in the movie because they're powerful, but if they're only going to be given such short shrift, then I would've preferred not knowing about them at all.

Three Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains a few curse words.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 29 mins.

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