Word Is Out (Review)

Oscilloscope Laboratories, 1977, Unrated

Jul 14, 2010 at 2:06 pm

When it was released in 1977, the documentary Word Is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives was touted as one of the first films about gay life made by gay filmmakers. This wasn’t entirely true, of course. Jean Genet, Kenneth Anger, Andy Warhol, Rosa von Praunheim, Curt McDowell and many others had been dealing with such subjects for decades. Their works ranged from the beautiful, poetic and avant-garde to the provocative, campy and hilarious, but often didn’t present a straight (no pun intended), unfiltered look at the multi-faceted realities of gay life. Word Is Out filled that gap.

Directed by San Francisco-based filmmaking collaborative The Mariposa Group (whose members went on to produce Absolutely Positive, The Times of Harvey Milk, Winter Soldier and more), Word Is Out showcases the stories of 26 gay men and women of varying ages, races and backgrounds. Talking directly to the camera, they relate childhoods spent confused by their orientation; struggles towards personal acceptance; coming out to families both hostile and loving; living, loving and working in a predominantly hetero world; and dreams for equal rights. Their words are inspiring, often humorous and many times heartbreaking. They also proved revolutionary.

Word Is Out allowed late-’70s gay filmgoers to see themselves on the screen not as caricatures or idealizations, but as real people with unifying experiences. It was a powerful moment. The film also functioned beyond affirmation to impact the mainstream, showing a world beyond stereotypes where gay men and women lived lives the same as any straight person — a universality that moved Word Is Out beyond gay cinema to become human cinema.

This restored 30th anniversary DVD release is exquisite with several bonuses that truly complement the film, especially a then-and-now documentary that brings the interviewees into the present. Revelations that many succumbed to AIDS are absolutely devastating, hanging a haunting specter over the film’s hopeful histories. Grade: A