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Film / The Celluloid Closet

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Based on the book by Vito Russo, this 1995 Documentary explores the history of Hollywood's portrayal of gay characters through the ages.


This film contains/discusses examples of the following tropes:

  • Adaptation Distillation: The documentary is a worthy adaptation of the Vito Russo book, managing to include and expand on many of the ideas from the book. The film also benefits from the new medium, being able to show scenes that Russo could only describe.
  • Ambiguously Gay: This was the most common kind of portrayal starting out in films, as people discuss. Usually they would just display some "camp" and otherwise stereotypical behaviors (almost always men, although some women too), with nothing explicit (what's now called "queer coding").
  • Bury Your Gays: Discussed at some length, culminating in a montage of homosexual character deaths in classic movies.
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  • But Not Too Gay: Discussed, especially in the case of Philadelphia, where Tom Hanks defends the use of this trope by explaining that they had to edit out more explicitly intimate scenes between the main couple because the studio refused to release it otherwise.
  • Camp Gay: The film shows many gay characters of the type, along with his less explicit brother, The Sissy. It's discussed in depth, with several talking heads having different opinions of the worth of such characters. (Harvey Fierstein likes them: "Visibility at all costs!" and admits he can't hate expressions of "sissies" on the screen since he himself is a "sissy".)
  • Creepy Crossdresser: One scene from Freebie and the Bean is pointed out where a depraved crossdresser is murdered in cold blood, and how audiences in the theater cheered it loudly.note 
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  • Depraved Homosexual: A number of gay murderers (serial killers included) are showcased, with the view that gays shifted from being victims to victimizers as explicit portrayals were increased.
  • Gayngst-Induced Suicide: It discusses the typical presentation of the homosexual: miserable, perverted, and prime for killing himself.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: One of the central themes of the movie is how creators got crap past the radar and introduced homoerotic and Ambiguously Gay gay content past censors. One of the most jaw-dropping examples is Jane Russell's "Ain't There Anyone Here for Love" number from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, a whole sequence in which muscular dudes wearing nothing but swim trunks dance and twirl and do backflips, while Russell's character sings about how she can't get any of them to pay her any attention. The homoeroticism couldn't be much more overt, but because none of the men actually touch each other, it got past 1953 Hays Code censors. Some clear gay bars are depicted too, including drag king acts, but as nothing's explicit it went through censorship.
  • Hide Your Lesbians: A number of movie characters are displayed that were heavily implied to be a gay or lesbian couple (sometimes even kissing or embracing passionately), yet never explicit nor resolved.
  • Lesbian Vampire: Dracula's Daughter gets a detailed examination, as likely the first cinematic example, though it's only implied.
  • No Bisexuals: The film never once mentions bisexuality, even while discussing Crassus from Spartacus who (through a metaphor) indicates he's bisexual (as part of a deleted scene the commentators discuss). Brian and Max (Cabaret) are also bisexual, given their relationship with Sally plus each other, but were just described as homosexual. Susie Bright, whose commentary is a part of the film and who's bisexual herself, never brings this up oddly enough.
  • N-Word Privileges: It is mentioned how the N-word in film is usually only used between black characters or to set a character up as a villain, but "faggot" is quite often used in a relaxed way by straight characters, often to deny being gay.
  • Queer Flowers: An example from a 60's film is discussed, when along with some camp behavior a male character gets coded as gay by mentioning that he's placed violets in his kitchen (usually it's been used for lesbians, but it still fits).
  • Psycho Lesbian: It's shown that any women strongly implied to be or explicitly lesbians were almost invariably villains and bent on seducing/assaulting other female characters until the 1960s (not that it stopped then, but some more positive examples started to occur).
  • Sissy Villain: A lot of movie villains were portrayed as having camp and implied gay stereotypes, though not crossing into explicitly Depraved Homosexual territory before the 70s or so.

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