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Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman
Lily Tomlin, Harvey Fierstein, Armistead Maupin
Writing Credits:
Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman

A documentary surveying the various Hollywood screen depictions of homosexuals and the attitudes behind them throughout the history of North American film.

Rated R.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Dolby Vision
English DTS-HD MA 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 102 min.
Price: $299.99
Release Date: 11/22/2022
Available Only As Part of 11-Film “Sony Pictures Classics 30th Anniversary” Set

• Audio Commentary with Writers/Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, Producer Howard Rosenman, Editor Arnold Glassman and Narrator Lily Tomlin
• Additional Commentary with Author Vito Russo
• “Interview with Vito Russo” Featurette
• “Rescued from the Closet” Featurette
• Trailer


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The Celluloid Closet [4K UHD] (1995)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 20, 2022)

Back in 1981, Vito Russo published The Celluloid Closet, a book that looked at the depiction of homosexuality in films. 14 years later, 1995’s The Celluloid Closet gave the text a cinematic exploration.

Much of the documentary consists of clips from a wide variety of movies. Some offer explicitly “gay content” whereas others come with subtext – sometimes debatable subtext.

In addition, we find a slew of interviews that relate to the topics at hand. Along with narration from Lily Tomlin, we hear from filmmakers Jan Oxenberg and John Schlesinger, film historian Richard Dyer, writers Armistead Maupin, Susie Bright and Quentin Crisp, screenwriters Ron Nyswaner, Jay Presson Allen, Arthur Laurents, Gore Vidal, Stewart Stern, Paul Rudnik, Barry Sandler and Mart Crowley, producer Daniel Melnick, and actors Tony Curtis, Whoopi Goldberg, Harvey Fierstein, Susan Sarandon, Farley Granger, Shirley MacLaine, Tom Hanks, Harry Hamlin, and Antonio Fargas.

As expected, Closet uses an array of movie snippets along with the narration and interviews to explore various domains. Going all the way back to the 1910s, we see different depictions of homosexuality in films – some comedic, some cruel, some serious, some superficial – as well as the impact of the Production Code and the evolution of views.

This becomes a highly intriguing topic. A look at the ways film has reflected how society views homosexuals seems like an appealing prospect.

And at times, Closet manages to spark to life. However, too much of it simply feels like a collection of film clips with only minor exploration.

Much of the problem stems from the film’s length. With decades of cinema to cover, Closet can’t possibly hope to explore these domains with real depth.

A mini-series approach would’ve fared much better. That could’ve allowed for real introspection, whereas the 102-minute film seen here needs to rush through the eras and topics too rapidly.

Not that Closet doesn’t offer a decent “Cliffs Notes” take on the material. With a slew of movie snippets and all those interview participants, we get a general glimpse of the subject matter.

In addition, the commentators occasionally manage some real insights – usually from homosexual speakers who can connect films to their own experiences. While folks like Tom Hanks, Tony Curtis and Susan Sarandon bring star power, they lack the same personal investment found with others like Harvey Fierstein, Susie Bright and Armistead Maupin.

Thus their remarks come with more utility than those from the straight participants. For instance, Fierstein tells us that he didn’t mind the “sissy” depiction of gays because he supported “visibility at any cost”, and insights like that bring value to the program.

Unfortunately, the mix of relatively brief length and multi-decade scope leaves Closet without much room for too much material such as that. With so much to cover in so little time, Closet winds up as a moderately engaging but superficial documentary.

The Disc Grades: Picture C/ Audio C/ Bonus B

The Celluloid Closet appears in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this 4K UHD Disc. Given the erratic nature of the source, this Dolby Vision presentation showed the expected ups and downs.

Honestly, Closet feels like a weird choice for the 4K treatment due to the fact it comes from so many old film clips. These largely lacked actual print flaws – outside of lines in some vintage newsreels – but they nonetheless clearly didn’t come from optimal sources.

This left the many movie snippets as watchable but not impressive. Though these remained adequate, they rarely – if ever seemed more appealing than passable.

As for the interviews shot specifically for Closet, these also lacked a lot of polish. Sharpness seemed acceptable but not great, so the “talking head” shots offered good but not great delineation.

No issues with jagged edges or moiré effects materialized, and I saw no edge haloes. Grain felt natural – and sometimes heavy, dependent on the source – and outside of the aforementioned newsreels, print flaws failed to become an issue.

Colors varied due to the mix of courses. In general, the old film clips looked fairly blah, whereas the then-new interviews showed reasonable range.

That said, the hues for the interviews felt acceptable and not much better. Because these shots came from subdued, dark settings, HDR didn’t add a lot to their depiction.

Again, blacks depended on the source and could be blah in the archival scenes. Then-new elements brought acceptable depth to blacks and decent shadows.

As with colors, HDR couldn’t bring much extra power to the presentation. This became a perfectly watchable image for a documentary but like I noted, it remained a curious choice for 4K given the severe limitations of the original film.

As for the DTS-HD MA 2.0 soundtrack of Closet, it became a low-key affair. Most of the film clips went with monaural material, but the documentary’s own snatches of score felt well-depicted.

Really, this soundscape lacked much ambition, partly due to the nature of those archival bits, but also because films with ample “talking head” interviews don’t lend themselves to broad soundfields.

This meant one should expect a largely monaural soundtrack. Although Closet widened at times – almost always due to its own score – a whole lot of the mix focused on the front center.

Inevitably, audio quality also varied, with most of the ups and downs from the archival clips. Those usually sounded fine, but they tended to lack much punch or power.

The sporadic bits of Closet-specific score showed lush tones, and speech felt reasonably natural. All of this added up to a wholly adequate but unremarkable soundtrack.

A few extras appear here, and we get an audio commentary from writers/directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, producer Howard Rosenman, editor Arnold Glassman and narrator Lily Tomlin. It appears all sit together for a running, screen-specific track, though it sounds like additional remarks get edited in as well.

Recorded in the late 1990s, the participants talk about the project's development, the interview subjects, the film clips, editing, the movie's construction, Tomlin's narration, and some historical perspective.

The commentary starts slowly, as the speakers seem to need time to get into the process. Eventually, however, the discussion becomes more engaging.

Tomlin offers some amusing remarks, and we also find good stories about the various interview subjects as well as the filmmakers' troubles getting certain people. Hang with the track and it becomes worthwhile.

Under Additional Commentary, we find a piece with author Vito Russo. After a short intro from author Rita Mae Brown, we go to a March 11, 1990 lecture from Russo. He shows film clips to illustrate his points but we don't see these.

That leads to some minor confusion at times, but Russo's lecture works well enough on its own that those gaps don't matter. Russo covers the history of gays in movies as well as a mix of social domains related to that. Expect an informative chat.

Note that Russo's lecture ends around the movie's 85-minute mark.

In addition, an Interview with Vito Russo runs four minutes, 20 seconds, as he looks at the origins and development of his book, research, and some basics about his work. We get a few decent notes but the program seems too short to tell us much.

Along with the movie’s trailer, we get Rescued from the Closet, a 55-minute, 59-second compilation of additional interviews conducted for the film. We hear from authors Susie Bright, Arthur Laurents, Mart Crowley, Quentin Crisp, Gore Vidal, Armistead Maupin and Rita Mae Brown, screenwriters Jay Presson Allen, Paul Rudnick, Barry Sandler and Stewart Stern, filmmakers Kenneth Anger, Robert Towne, Gus Van Sant, Gregg Araki and Jan Oxenberg, film scholars Robin Wood and Richard Dyer, author/performer Charles Busch, and actors Tony Curtis, Paul Richards, Harvey Fierstein, Tom Hanks, Shirley MacLaine, Farley Granger, Whoopi Goldberg, Chris Sarandon, Mariel Hemingway, and Harry Hamlin.

These clips look at homosexuality in society over the years, experiences growing up gay, aspects of homosexuality in films, specifics about various movies, homophobia and the impact of cinema on the gay community. They flesh out domains from the film well, especially since we hear from some folks who didn’t make the final cut.

.As an exploration of homosexuality in cinema, The Celluloid Closet seems moderately engaging. However, it simply lacks the running time to cover the subject matter well, so it feels fairly superficial. The 4K UHD comes with adequate picture and audio as well as a mix of bonus materials. I admire the intentions of the film but find the final product to lack great depth.

Note that as of November 2022, this 4K UHD disc of Celluloid Closet appears solely via an 11-film “Sony Picture Classics 30th Anniversary” box. It also includes Orlando, The City of Lost Children, Run Lola Run, SLC Punk, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Devil’s Backbone, Volver, Synecdoche, New York, Still Alice and Call Me By Your Name.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.5 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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