DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEW of Serving in Silence, Matlovich v.

 The Air Force, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell: Killers from Space; Attack of the Gay Space Invaders , Ask Not, Tell, Remember I'm Here; A Marine Story; Out of Annapolis


Title:  Serving in Silence

Release Date:  1995

Nationality and Language: USA, English

Running time: about about 96 minutes

MPAA Rating:  R (“hard R”)

Distributor and Production Company: NBC films

Director; Writer:  (based on Col. Cammermeyer’s book by the same name, published by Viking Press)


Cast:  Ed Norton, Ed Furlong

Technical:   TV

Relevance to doaskdotell site: gays in the military

Review: Glenn Close plays Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer, the female Army nurse expelled from the Washington State National Guard after 28 years of service for "admitting" to a direct question during a security interview in 1989, that she is a lesbian. The interviewed had been prompted by plans for her to attend the Army War College.

            The film goes out of its way to present the moral dilemmas of the ban in a fashion easily comprehended by the public. Even at her administrative discharge hearing, the inquisitor admits she is a "great American" but that the rules require her discharge. Earlier passages show her combat service treating horribly wounded soldiers in Vietnam.

            The film also shows her family life with her children and lover (Judy Davis). The build up to the "kiss" at the end seems a bit silly. This subject matter deserves a theatrical, not just netork or even cableTV, presentation. Steffan's story Honor Bound would be a good place to look. Of course, Randy Shilts's Conduct Unbecoming (St. Martin's, 1993) would provide an enormous fount of material.

            This is a good place to name the first (I believe) TV movie dealing with gays in the military, NBC's 1977 film Matlovich v. the Air Force, about Tech Sergeant Leonard Matlovich.  The film presented him warmly, as a race relations instructor in the Air Force (ironically).  He was discharged, and then reinstated by Judge Gerhard Gesell, who criticized the Air Force's policy for being capricious and self-contradictory.  It was all these "exceptions" that would lead to the Pentagon's adopting the uniform "Old Ban" (based on the infamous sentence, "homosexuality is incompatible with military service") in 1981, just as Reagan took office. Matlovich would eventually take a cash settlement, and ultimately died of AIDS (long after the film was made).

            Again, we ask ourselves, why weren't these TV films more effective?  They needed a bigger, Spielberg-like treatment that requires many characters and cases, not just one.  


Finally, a film with the “obvious” title: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: Killers from Space; Attack of the Gay Space Invaders. (The first subtitle appears on the DVD; the second is attributed on Netflix), dir. Doug Miles, from Refried Pictures (2002). NR, but would probably be R for brief nudity, 74 min. Actually the film starts with the RKO Radio Pictures trademark (see note below), and then moves on with something that looks like Dr. Strangelove: wonderful 16mm black-and-white, grainy—and it gradually moves to the early 50s genre of paranoia sci-fi in black and white. The plot is obvious from the title: Doug Farth (Peter Graves—the start from the early sci-fi—is it really him?) is hired by the Air Force to “straighten out” the military with witch-hunts (so no SLDN dinners, please) and, well, obviously, he gets abducted by rather robot-like and clown-like aliens and converted into homosexuality. In the language of the paranoic McCarthy era, he is “ruined,” perhaps. Now this movie, in its satire, really does play on male fears of emasculation. The aliens subject Farth to bodily humiliation: they start by feathering his nipples, but soon they are burning a scar into his chest with an acetylene torch (it will not be temporary, like Clark Kent’s in Smallville) and they probably and permanently burn off whatever chest hair he used to have. Later his wife comments about his hairless body as she licks it. He is so embarrassed. Now, it seems like the aliens have a plan to convert the whole world to homosexuality so it cannot continue to replace its population and will die out (another right wing fear). What if, because of some virus, all women (or all men) became infertile? Great premise. Well, the answer is, of course, Dr. Strangelove, Duck and Cover, Fat Boy, the Enola Gay: The Bomb, which will reverse everyone’s “polarities” (a la Rosenfels). Time for the Atomic Café. Also starring Lloyd Floyd. The end credits say where to send all the lawsuit subpoenas (bypass the cease and desist letters, I guess), so process servers don’t need to do any skip traces.


Of course, this whole problem needs a bigger, more comprehensive, and serious treatment. But I’ve always thought that the DADT phrases invite comedy writing.


The DVD contains (indexed from the main film with a drop-down) scenes from the original Killers from Space (1954, RKO Radio, dir. W. Lee Wilder, 71 min) starring Peter Graves. Here a scientist is killed in a plane crash but is revived by aliens for purposes of espionage and eventual world conquest. The “lost giant insects” remind me of “Them.”  The DVD also contains a scene from Hitler—Dead or Alive (1942, dir. Nick Grunde, Charles House, 70 min).


The DVD offers the option to play the entire film assembly with commentary.


Ask Not (2008, Persistent Visions, dir. Johnny Simons, 73  min) is a new documentary tracing the history of the military "don't ask don't tell" policy and showing current case histories of several gay soldiers. Then there is a tour of ex-soldiers who go on a "right to serve" tour. This film will show on Oct. 18, 2008 at the DC Reel Affirmations Film Festival. There is a link with a 2 minute video trailer and pictures here. It will be followed by an SLDN panel discussion.


The Youtube link for the trailer is here.


There is a nine-minute associated short film on YouTube, "Gay Soldiers from Ask Not" including a Harvard Divinity Student who notes that there is no repeal bill yet in the Senate, link here. This mentions "The Right to Serve" campaign, link here.


Persistent Visions now has a website for the movie here.  There are additional trailers, including some live footage from Iraq (through Army green night vision) and a radio interview from Columbia, SC, where a caller says that that the military "is for men who are men and protect women and children." The first trailer shows a poll by Sam Nunn's 1993 hearings of various JCS generals, on whether "homosexuality is compatible or incompatible with military service". Only Colin Powell will qualify the "incompatible" with "open" homosexuality. One of the trailers talks about being excluded because of the way one is born. 


Blogger discussion.


Tell (dir. Tom Murray, 83 min) is a new documentary available here by DVD. The blogger review is here. It is accompanied by a 13 minute short "Remember I'm Here."

 A Marine Story (2010, Frameline, dir. Ned Farr, 100 min, R) A lesbian forced out of the Marie Corps trains a younger delinquent for military duty and tells her backstory. Blogger.

 Out of Annapolis (2010, (self), dir. Steve Clark Hall, 100 min, R) Documentary about gay alumni of Naval Academy backstory. Blogger.

Related reviews:  Any Mother’s Son  Gays in the Military Soldier’s Girl   Coming Out Under Fire


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