Friday, June 22, 2007

The Fall of '55

Wait -- could there be anything worse than sitting in a packed, sweltering theater with no ventilation at all? Oh, I know, watching a boring movie in a packed, sweltering theater with no ventilation at all -- that's worse. This movie has potential -- it's about a sex panic in Boise, Idaho in 1955 with headlines like "Male Pervert Rings Seduces 1000 Boys," "Harbored Homosexuals to Ravage Our Youth," and "This Sordid Mess Must Be Removed." This sordid mess is sex between closeted men and boys between the ages of 15 and 20, the whole town erupts in scandal about this "infamous crime against nature."

The filmmakers have done a lot of work to unearth newspaper clippings from the time and find surviving relatives and acquaintances of some of the men who were charged, but the whole thing is presented in such an incredibly dull, non-confrontational, talking-heads style with barely any insight at all. The only avowed gay person to be interviewed in the entire movie is already dead -- the interview is from the ‘70s, and it's with a theater director who was pursued all the way to San Francisco -- that's right, the police chief of Boise drove 650 miles to serve this guy with an arrest warrant, then he was prosecuted as the alleged ringleader. His interview, recorded by the historian Jonathan Ned Katz and presented in snapshots to the audience with an image of two reels spinning (don’t we love that visual?), is fascinating because it actually presents a snapshot of someone with a personality (and a queen, at that!), unlike many of the still-living-yet-unemotive creatures telling us things like "it turns out that my father was living a homosexual life." Or, the best, the son of the guy who "investigated" the whole thing, who still thinks his father was a great guy fighting the good fight against the homosexuals or pedophiles or something -- too bad he came up against the powers-that-be, and they snapped the whole thing shut after wealthy powerbrokers were exposed -- the good guy only had the chance to directly ruin a dozen or so lives (and who knows how many more indirectly), dammit!

The movie does ask questions about whether these “youth” were in fact ravaged by these older men or -- gasp -- participating in consensual sex, then just blackmailing the older guys to avoid self-exposure. But the movie still fails to indict the larger culture in any meaningful way, or if it does then it's presented in such a sanitized, straight-friendly, library with-the-books-you-don't-want-to-read snoozy way that all I can really think about is getting out of this stiflingly hot room and away from all these sweating people.

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