Outfest Opens With Documentary About Gay Porn Shops Circus of Books

James Patrick Herman

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Granted, the red carpet at the opening night of Outfest in DTLA may not have been the most star-studded but it was without a doubt the most diverse, inclusive and, yes, fabulous.

“I’ve never been here before,” admitted “RuPaul’s Drag Race” vet Trixie Mattel, who stars in the documentary “Moving Parts.” “It’s supposed to be the greatest film festival for LGBTQ+ content, but in my opinion, all the best films feature LGBTQ+ artists, directors, cameramen. I work on ‘Drag Race,’ where everybody behind the camera is a person of color or a queer person and it feels more like that tonight. It feels more like home.”

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The opening night film was a documentary about the elderly suburban couple and their three kids who owned and operated the now-shuttered Circus of Books, two gay porn shops in West Hollywood and Silverlake. “We’re both Jewish, so when we grew up, we’d hear things about Jewish people that we didn’t like and we had to kind of be quiet about it,” said Barry Mason, the star of “Circus of Books.” “I felt that I was in their shoes. Different, different shoes, but same kind of shoes.”

The film’s director, their daughter Rachel Mason, explored the AIDS epidemic through the eyes of her mother and father: “A population was wiped out, as we all know,” she said. “And you don’t hear the stories of those people that were actually there at that moment. My parents were like the people who hid Anne Frank when the Holocaust happened. I can say that — I’m Jewish.”

This being the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, Outfest shined a light on the community’s history and provided a platform for its most marginalized members. Such as filmmaker Elegance Bratton, who was homeless for ten years after his mother kicked him out for being gay, which is how he — and countless others like him — ended up at the famed Christopher Street Piers: “For the first time in my life I figured out what ‘home’ means because I was in the community where I was understood and I was welcomed with open arms,” said Bratton, whose experiences at the historically significant location inspired his documentary “Pier Kids.” “In 1969, two homeless trans women of color, Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, who had nothing to lose and everything to gain, decided to fight police brutality at Stonewall on Christopher Street — they were from the community on the piers. And that community gave them the political courage to create a movement. So when you ask: What is the importance of the piers? It’s ground zero for the contemporary gay rights movement.”

While Bratton has been hailed as an important new voice by Outfest, he hasn’t always felt like he was being heard. “I felt excluded within the gay community because of the color of my skin,” he said. “My film is about is about saying to the gay community: ‘OK, we’ve gotten gay marriage, we’ve gotten gays in the military, HIV is a longer a deadly disease. What’s left on the list to do for this thing that we call equality to be achieved?’ I say it’s dealing with homeless queer youth.”

And queer cinema as a genre still has a long way to go, according to actress Rachel Paulson. “As far as female films go, I’m going to be honest, I would say the majority of lesbian films are bad,” said the star of “Good Kisser.” “In fact, I can name on my hand the lesbian films that are decent enough to even watch — hopefully I’m now in one of them.”

One obvious problem is the lack of lesbian directors: “A lot of them are directed by straight men, and when a straight man directs a lesbian film, he has an idea of lesbian sex that isn’t exactly accurate,” Paulson said. “The second issue is people are afraid to show that. So having the view of someone who actually lives in that world — that’s why this movie was so appealing to me,” Paulson said of her director, Wendy Jo Carlton. “I knew all the characterizations and relationships and sex scenes were going to be seen from a lesbian perspective.”

A related problem is Hollywood homophobia, according to Paulson. Even though she is the younger sister of arguably the most famous lesbian actress in Hollywood, Sarah Paulson, she doesn’t share the same comfort level with her sexuality. “There is a huge stigma. Huge,” she said. “I feel this pressure to like not be as gay as I want to be because I’m going out for roles. I’m not at a level yet where I can be be like, ‘Fuck you, I’m gay. I don’t care — I’m going to play the leading woman, anyway’ It shouldn’t be that way but it still is. My private life should have nothing to do with the roles I play — and being queer should have nothing to do with who I am as an actor — and that’s the problem with queer cinema.”

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