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The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies Revised Edition

16 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 860-1300043234
ISBN-10: 0060961325
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Editorial Reviews Review

When Vito Russo published the first edition of The Celluloid Closet in 1981, there was little question that it was a groundbreaking book. Today it is still one of the most informative and provocative books written about gay people and popular culture. By examining the images of homosexuality and gender variance in Hollywood films from the 1920s to the present, Russo traced a history not only of how gay men and lesbians had been erased or demonized in movies but in all of American culture as well. Chronicling the depictions of gay people such as the "sissy" roles of Edward Everett Horton and Franklin Pangborn in 1930s comedies or predatory lesbians in 1950s dramas (see Lauren Bacall in Young Man with a Horn and Barbara Stanwyck in Walk on the Wild Side), Russo details how homophobic stereotypes have both reflected and perpetrated the oppression of gay people. In the revised edition, published a year before his death in 1990, Russo added information on the new wave of independent and gay-produced films--The Times of Harvey Milk, Desert Hearts, Buddies--that emerged during the 1980s. --Michael Bronski

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harper & Row; Revised edition (September 20, 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060961325
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060961329
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #277,833 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Benjamin on December 13, 1999
Format: Paperback
The Celluloid Closet provides usefeul information about the presence of gay/lesbian imagery in film as a reference guide. What I find most useful is the discussion of what did not make it to the screen. Russo discusses scenes, such as that between Tony Curtis and Laurence Olivier in Spartacus, which were removed before release. These scenes may not have impacted society as much as final scenes, but they are important when conidering the internal politics that shaped Hollywood. Russo is careful to acknowledge both the negative and positive aspects of visability, and to distinguish between visability and comic stereotyping. Probably more useful as a reference book than an enjoyable read, this book is packed with useful information from which people can start their own research/opinion making
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Nysocboy on July 13, 2001
Format: Paperback
Russo, now deceased, published the first edition of this book in 1981, in the dark ages before queer independent cinema, and before mainstream cinema began the tradition of giving every female lead a gay man for a best buddy -- back when gay men appeared only as swishy queens or psychotic killers, and lesbians appeared only as psychotic killers, period. He exhumed hundreds of long-forgotten films, from moody German expressionism through the fluffy bedroom farces of the 1950's, and created an invaluable survey of the way movies look at gay people, comparable in scope to Donald Bogle's survey of African-Americans in film, "Toms, Coons, Mulattos, Mammies, and Bucks." We desperately need an update, but for everything from Laurel and Hardy shorts to "Personal Best," this is the place to go.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Gary F. Taylor HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 9, 2004
Format: Paperback
Although Vito Russo (1946-1985) was well known as a gay activist and was extremely influential in the creation of such AIDS-activist organizations as ACT UP, today his reputation rests almost exclusively on THE CELLULOID CLOSET, a powerful commentary on the way Hollywood portrayed homosexuality on film from the silent era to the early 1980s. The book received considerable attention when first published in 1981, and it continues to receive considerable attention to this day--and justly so, for Russo's examination of the various gay characters created by Hollywood explores not only how such images were created by Hollywood, but how they shaped "straight" America's ideas about homosexuals and often altered the gay community's own self image as well.
The position Russo takes and the interpretations he offers are nothing short of fascinating, and THE CELLULOID CLOSET holds up extremely well to re-reading. Even so, it is essentially an excellent work by an amateur writer. For all the power of its interpretations and arguments, the text is badly structured, and too often the tone of the prose seems less about the films under consideration than about the personality that considers them. And there are frequent factual errors in the text, with Russo's comments on the cult favorite The Rocky Horror Show perhaps the most glaring case in point.
Although Russo's omnipresent personality tends to undercut his prose at times, it is an engaging personality, and in a certain sense it drives the narrative--and indeed does a great deal to make the book's shifting structure seem more acceptable than it would have otherwise been.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By M. D. Hellegers on January 17, 2006
Format: Paperback
This is one of the very few books that has useful information on gays in cinema from the beginning of the film industry to (somewhat) present day. I used it as research for a writing project on homosexuals in film and it was probably the most useful source as a stepping stone of information. By current standards, some academics may say that this book is outdated and "overdone" however I consider it to be the best single source of information on gays in film to date. I question why there are so few other "popular" publications that branch out from the wonderful points and concepts that Vito Russo makes.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jamie Jamison on November 7, 2005
Format: Paperback
The movie "The Celluloid Closet" is great, but you

occasionally get the feeling that the directors

are straining to make a point about homosexuality

in old movies. But you never feel this way reading

Russo's book. Russo is not a gifted prose stylist,

the writing of the book is wel, it's prosaic, but

he's a good writer with a keen eye and an excellent

memory. If you've seen the movie and enjoyed it get this

book to complete the experience.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Valley Gay Press Book Review on September 29, 2008
Format: Paperback
Valley Gay Press Book Reviewer: Liz Bradbury (Author of Angel Food and Devil Dogs - A Maggie Gale Mystery)
This was a ground breaking book in 1985, and it still is a fascinating, information filled read that is essential to any student of GLBT history. Film historian Vito Russo offers dozens of stories and photos that show how our community has been portrayed on film since the silent era. A significant amount of Russo's research focuses on gay and lesbian portrayals as both sex objects and seductive villains, before the advent of the Hayes office in 1934. The Hayes office effectively "outlawed" the presence of any gay character on film unless they were shown as despicable villains who were ultimately punished, usually dying by the end of the movie.

By the time Russo's book was published in the mid 80s, Hayes office restrictions against sex, crime, and violence had generally faded away, however, Russo shows how film depictions of GLBT people were still showing the intolerant views of pre-war conservative attitudes.

In 1995, Lily Tomlin helped to finance a documentary film version of Russo's research. It not only features dozens of classic movie clips, but contains a series of interviews by Hollywood stars, writers and historians, including openly GLBT people like Farley Granger and Gore Vidal, and supportive allies like Tom Hanks and Susan Sarandon. (It's worth seeing just for Sarandon's take on sex scenes with Catherine Deneve).

The documentary presents a great deal of information that is not in the book. But readers should note that the book contains a vast amount of material not in the movie. Don't miss either. They are both funny, sexy and thought provoking.
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