A 2021 Film Journey: Days 158 – 160

It is catchup weekend for me. I have been keeping up with my movie watching, but writing has been a bit too much for my brain to handle lately but I am hopeful that this weekend I will be able to work through my backlog and get back on schedule. In service of that my viewings for these days were preplanned such that I could write a single post instead of three individual posts.

The Documentaries of Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman

The Criterion Channel has a large subsection of their LGBT films dedicated to the documentaries of Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. The titles included intrigued me enough that I decided to dedicate a few days to watching them. While they are predominantly composed of talking head narratives, each has its own niche.

The Times of Harvey Milk (1984, Dir. Rob Epstein)

Remembering Harvey Milk on His Ninetieth Birthday | The Current | The  Criterion Collection

While Jeffrey Friedman was not a part of this film, the Oscar winning documentary by Epstein felt like an important place to start when looking at these films. Made six years after the assassination of first openly gay man elected to public office, The Times of Harvey Milk is a documentary created by people who were still grieving the man they admired and loved. This passion is what elevates the documentary beyond the standard story telling techniques into something special.

Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt (1989, Dir. Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman)

Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt (1989) review by The Documentalist

The second consecutive film to win the Oscar for documentary feature is a film very much of its time. Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt had an extremely important purpose in 1989. Eight years into AIDS epidemic, due to malpractice from the Reagan administration tens of thousands of people are dying of the disease annually. Puritanical values of the country at the time earned the victims of the disease little respect. Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt attempted to address the later issue by humanizing the victims by having the loved ones eulogize them. This goal leaves the film to feel dated despite having some moving moments.

The Celluloid Closet (1995, Dir. Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman)

The Celluloid Closet | OUTtvGo

The final film from this collection that I watched is easily the most niche of the lot. Fortunately, I – as a queer lover of classic cinema – am the exact target for the film’s topic. The Celluloid Closet is an exploration of Hollywood’s depiction of queer people through the eras of the studio. Narrated by Lily Tomlin, the documentary becomes a who’s who of openly queer actors discussing the snippets of film that gave them hope when searching for representation. The film wont be for everyone, but for people like me who are the target market, it is a wonderful watch.

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