Word Is Out

Time Out New York Project: Issue #748, January 28–February 3, 2010


Dirs. Nancy Adair, Andrew Brown and Rob Epstein. 1977. 133mins. N/R. Documentary.

This landmark American documentary is bracing to experience in light of the foggy discourse, both pro and con, that accompanies a good many films with queer subject matter. Much of this can be chalked up to the period in which these 26 gay and lesbian talking-head subjects — ranging in age from 18 to 77 — were interviewed. AIDS was several years away from being identified; Harvey Milk was making progressive waves as the out politician of note. Terrible problems existed, of course, not all of them named Anita Bryant. Yet as the film implicitly expresses through its overall placidity, there was a lulling predictability to these obstacles. The worst was on the ebb: constant teasing and berating; the threat of incarceration or death. Enlightenment and acceptance seemed possible. How could anyone know they were standing atop a rapidly crumbling precipice? 

Strangely enough, our knowledge of what’s to come makes Word Is Out that much more affecting, because it shows that there were — and are — pockets of peace amid the brutality of an ongoing civil-rights struggle. All the interviewees have been profoundly marked by their experiences, and the directorial collective gives them the necessary space to express themselves. One out of many: Young David Gillon, bearded and braces-bedecked, speaks smilingly of the moment when he first realized he could love a man. For those of us in the choir, his song is nothing new. Yet the directness of the account, unadorned by flimflammy aesthetic cues, feels even now as if it could crack the stoniest heart. Onward and upward.—Keith Uhlich