Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5. USA, 2011. Automat Pictures, Making it Big. Cinematography by David Quantic. Produced by Jeffrey Schwarz. Music by Miriam Cutler. Film Editing by Philip Harrison. Dorian Awards 2011.
Sixteen years after the excellent documentary The Celluloid Closet, based on the book by Vito Russo, comes this superb documentary about the life of the man himself. It’s a riveting exploration of the inspiring and impressive use he made of his tragically short time on this earth: the beginnings of his activism for gay rights (which he never stopped fighting for), his Celluloid Closet lectures in which he illuminated for countless audiences the marginalization of gays and lesbians that was supported by Hollywood (and which became the basis of his book), and on to his final days and death from AIDS at 44. Director Jeffrey Schwarz takes the traditional documentary approach, combining found footage with talking head interviews, but the assembly is airtight and the content is riveting; Russo was there during all the most important events in gay activism of the sixties, seventies and eighties, in many cases because he contributed to making them happen, and from the looks of it his efforts for progress and change during these times were invaluable. Not wanting to be too strident, however, Schwarz also makes sure we understand that both his desire to live his life openly and his interest in exposing the limits of poor media representation in Hollywood (which led to him being one of the founding members of GLAAD) stemmed from a love for life, men and movies…he simply couldn’t help but put his passions to work. Watch it, especially if you’re a fan of Friedman and Epstein’s documentary (they appear in interviews here), it makes a wonderful companion piece, and is a moving and inspiring account of a man who never failed to make the most of his opportunities.