As the public debate over homosexuality pivots from generalized tolerance and more toward the issue of marriage equality, it’s becoming harder for many under 30 or so to remember a time when the idea of a public homosexual identity was actually such a big deal. Word Is Out, which debuted in 1977 as the first feature-length documentary about lesbian
and gay identity made by gay filmmakers, and now three-plus decades later makes it DVD debut, takes viewers back in time to that era.
Formed in the mid-1970s, the Mariposa Film Group consisted of Peter Adair, his sister Nancy Adair, Andrew Brown, Rob Epstein (The Times of Harvey Milk), Lucy Massie Phenix (Winter Soldier) and Veronica Selver. They were a group that sought to create a simple and straightforward film free of political didactics — a movie that would reflect the complex experience of both growing up gay and coming out of the closet in America. After conducting 140 interviews, the filmmakers narrowed their focus to a couple more than two dozen people encompassing various races, ages and regional backgrounds. They then simply let the cameras roll, and recorded their stories.
Both through a theatrical release and prime-time television broadcasts, Word Is
Out quickly became a sociocultural landmark in socially-minded independent cinema, helping untold numbers of people accept themselves, and also introducing to friends and
families the notion that gay people weren’t somehow radically different than them. As a film, Word Is Out holds up because of its inherent emotional honesty; one senses the almost subterranean electrical charge coming off of some of these subjects, as they verbalize feelings for the first time in their lives. (On that front, it’s tangentially interesting to observe how many interviewees
enjoy the crutch of a smoke or beer while they recount feelings of isolation, desperation and the like.) The stories crackle with energy, and run the full gamut of human emotion.
The Outfest Legacy Project and UCLA Film & Television Archive worked
in painstaking fashion to restore the film, and this DVD release is pegged to the 40th anniversary of the first Gay Pride marches. That this stirring nonfiction work, a prima facie document of considerable humanistic import, can now move, charm, engage and perhaps further galvanize future generations is a good thing.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, Word Is Out comes to DVD with English SDH subtitles, and a wealth of fairly engaging bonus material that properly contextualizes the film. A 25-minute, then-and-now retrospective includes interview material with the filmmakers and many of the film’s participants, as well as David Bohnett, whose generous contribution helped make the high-definition video restoration of this DVD premiere possible. Another featurette, quoting liberally from an article penned by Peter Adair, entitled “So You Wanna Be a Collective,” assays the collaborative nature of the movie’s production, and a separate tidbit also provides a more detailed breakdown of the Mariposa Film Group’s history. A trailer for the movie, afterthoughts by participants, a standalone chat with the aforementioned Bohnett and an Outfest Legacy Project PSA round out the supplemental material. To purchase the DVD directly, phone (800) 603-1104, or click here. Or if Amazon is totally your thing, click here. B+ (Movie) B+ (Disc)