Badpuppy Gay Today

Monday, 14 July, 1997

STONEWALL

A Film By Nigel Finch

Video Review by Jack Nichols


 

I'd be astonished to discover that Stonewall's filmmaker/director, Nigel Finch, is gay. His product, what he calls a "fictionalization based on the book by Martin Duberman," is so fraught with a know-nothing's approach to gay male culture, that it ends being both a drag, in a negative sense and, in a very positive sense, a film about the problems of drag queens, though not one that the Duberman book's drag star appreciated.

Is it about history? About Stonewall? No. Its a silly British parody on Duberman's wanna-be history, a travesty which ought to make the author of Stonewall ashamed at having sold so cheaply his botched story of homosexuality's Boston Tea Party--our gay history-- into the care of dizzy nitwits. To his credit, at least, Duberman seems to agree the film is awful. At New York's Gay Community center he announced he got only "three cents" for selling rights to his book title, a figure that elsewhere rumors placed at $3,000 and up.

Perhaps the video version (BMG Independents Film and Arena New York) of Stonewall is worth renting if only to demonstrate to yourself and to others that history stories can badly mislead filmland audiences as well as readers. As for historian Duberman, his situation is best described by H.L. Mencken who says: "Few historians, great or small, have shown any capacity for the affairs they presume to describe and interpret...the usual historians have to depend on deductions, rumors, guesses." This is equally true of Nigel Finch's 1990s crude attempt to return viewers to New York in 1969. Go back to London, Nigel.

The film, Stonewall, is rife with corny guesses, wrong guesses. It is especially wrong about the flavor of the times. But worst, the filmmaker/ director has created a bad movie, badly composed, bad dramatically, poorly acted, and thematically impaired. The theme--fictional--begins with its main character, an unattractive boyish-looking New York-accented drag queen--saying, "Well this is my legend, honey, my Stonewall legend." The legend, sadly, portrayed as it is, is not worth remembering.

As for the Stonewall Inn, it is a set. The interior set is authentic enough, but the exterior, unfortunately, has been put in a locale--the warehouse district near the Hudson River's docks--quite removed from the original Stonewall in Greenwich Village which, I understand, wisely nixed the film project.

I was tickled at seeing GayToday's cloning champion Randy Wicker represented by name in this movie, both in reality (as a talking head prior to the story's start) and in fictional guise, represented by a short Italian-looking fellow--introduced as "Randolfe Wicker" but who bore no resemblance to the real-life WASPish Wicker. Bob Kohler, a Gay Liberation Front Stonewall Era veteran, also enjoyed talking-head status, though I can't imagine his being happy at the completed film's outcome.

Other reviewers have noted that several figures in Stonewall were composites of characters showcased in Duberman's book, characters who, to their annoyance, were not mentioned. These included Jim Fouratt who, it appears, may have been an unlikely composite with Craig Rodwell, though neither of them would have been likely to strike up a romance, as a hunky lead character does, with a drag queen. I liked the lead hunk, but only as a visual, not as an actor.

The Stonewall riot scene itself, an afterthought at the film's end, is short and poorly staged. From what is told by survivors of that first night, it is not even particularly accurate. Much of semi-real earlier "history" gets shoved into a 1969 format, confusing things that happened in 1965 with what supposedly happened a half-decade later.

The meeting place of the New York Mattachine Society is inauthentic as are the characters portrayed. Two of the Mattachine activists behave (for New York during the late 60s counterculture revolution) in a coquettish manner than is not only off track, but is unbelievable. The gay activist president, dancing with another male, explains that he's never danced in this manner before.

The hunky hero (of whom, at least, there are a couple of blink-and-you'll-miss-him nude shots) lies on a Fire Island beach with another handsome fellow--a Mattachine activist--and gets turned down by the activist when he moves forward for a kiss. The activist--because of Nigel Finch's script--says he's too accustomed to hiding to allow an ocean side kiss so openly. Please, this was '69! On Fire Island?

There is also a somewhat unlikely romance between a short, balding straight-identified Mafia bar manager and a tall black drag queen. The manager wants his male lover to get "the" operation so that they can pass as a hetero duo. At one point they attempt to do so in a fancy restaurant, but are clocked by the headwaiter and, unceremoniously, asked to leave at the earliest possible moment.

Unable to bear such cruel social scorn, the Mafia manager turns the dinner table upside down, the drag queen throws paper money about as if that will help and when the two losers are finally alone at home, the manager, for the first time, tells his drag-love that he loves him and then blows his own brains out. "I Love You" in blood, I assume, if not lipstick, is written on a nearby mirror while the drag queen cries out in bitterness and horror.

Truly, if Stonewall is meant to convey something about everyday homosexuality to a larger public, it misses the boat by light years. If it is meant as a drag friendly movie, all that can be said is that it is rear-ends and feet below Australia's Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Head-and-shoulders above it as a gay movie that's not really gay is New Zealand's Heavenly Creatures, which is a story about a passionate, youthful girlish friendship gone awry, one in which both characters are accused of being homosexually involved.

Even Sylvia Rivera, the singular drag star reputed to have been at the Stonewall Inn on the night of the rebellion, and showcased in Duberman's wayward book as such, opposed the film Stonewall at its opening. In fact she initiated a demonstration against it on the night of its New York premiere.

There's no reason to boycott the film, however, especially if you like bad B movies.

1997 BEI; All Rights Reserved.
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