Based on Vito Russo’s groundbreaking 1981 work of film history, The Celluloid Closet gathers clips from dozens of mainstream Hollywood films to illustrate how the movies have dealt explicitly — and more importantly, implicitly — with gay and lesbian themes. Layered between the clips are interviews with filmmakers whose works have touched on that subject. The popular films of the Golden Age could only hint at homosexuality and often portrayed gays as simpering characters, objects of scorn or merriment, or insidious villains.
With the strictures of the old Production Code loosening, bolder presentations were possible, but often over the objections of studio executives who feared a public backlash against a film that dealt with a long taboo subject.
Among the films discussed are Philadelphia, The Children’s Hour, Making Love, Rope, and Spartacus. Gore Vidal, Tom Hanks, Susan Sarandon, and director John Schlesinger are among the film’s strongest interview subjects.