Title: Out of the Past

Release Date:  1997

Nationality and Language: USA, English

Running time: about 65 Minutes

MPAA Rating: 

Distributor and Production Company:  (Independent)  Minneapolis St Paul film festival

Director; Writer:



Technical:  16mm

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Review: Movie Review: Out of the Past (1997); 16 mm, Independent film, 65 minutes; Suggested Rating: PG-13.; Score: 9.5/10

This documentary comes up with an interesting concept as to how to present and teach history.

In 1996, a group of about fifteen Salt Lake City high school students, led by senior Kelli Peterson, try to form the "Gay-Straight Alliance" as a school-sponsored extracurricular activity. A firestorm ensues. Live tapes of the school board hearings show the conundrum Kelli has created (to her self-proclaimed surprise) just by wanting to express who she is (a lesbian). One the one hand, the students claim they just want to foster acceptance and counter hate. On the other hand, some parents and school board members (this is Mormon Utah, remember) talk from real fear. It's as if their whole way of life were going to be replaced by an untried social system in which people's psychic lives get put on the stock market for some kind of meritocratic barter.

The school board suspends all extracurricular activities, since federal law (equal protection and free speech) apparently prohibits it from banning a group just because it is gay. From my libertarian perspective, this might be the correct solution since public monies and parents' wishes are involved. Later, however, the school board finally allows the group to rent public space (just as it would probably allow the Boy Scouts to do so).

What is interesting about this film, however, is that the G-S-Alliance incident becomes a frame upon which to present several other incidents from the past. Author and Harvard Preacher Peter Gomes (The Good Book) relates a Puritan preacher's coming to terms with his homosexuality in 17th Century Massachusetts by writing part of a personal diary in home-encrypted code. A thirty year lesbian 19th Century "Boston Marriage" is presented, with the explanation that intense friendships between women were permitted until technology and the industrial revolution gradually brought women into the workplace. In the 1920's, an ex-GI from World War I has experienced Germany's growing homosexual liberation movement (later to be squashed by Hitler) and tries to start the same in Chicago. He has started printing a tiny homophile newsletter. One day the cops burst into his house and cart away him (plus typewriter - no personal computers or laser printers in those days) and many of his friends to jail and hold them for three days without charge (against the Fifth Amendment). But they all get fired and their little movement stops. Later, in the 1950's and early 1960's a black civil rights activist moves in and out of the black civil rights movement because of the controversy over his sexual orientation. Barbara Gittings and Frank Kameny describe what it was like to be a government worker and homosexual even later, until things started to improve after Stonewall.

Indeed, gay liberation has been attempted many times before, but it never quite took hold for good until after Stonewall.

It strikes me that the same technique could be used to make a film about gays and the military and the Don't Ask, Don't Tell debacle. Perhaps a sequel to Berube's Coming Out Under Fire?

The impact of this film is quite strong. The use of black-and-white newsclips from a century ago was extremely effective. I think this is a stronger film that what would have resulted from a "made-for-TV" treatment of the G-S incident presented by itself.

This film has no relation to the 1947 thriller by the same name (see tidbits file).  

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