We're Coming Out 

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Word Is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives (1977)
Directed by the Mariposa Film Group

More than thirty years after Word Is Out premiered at San Francisco's Castro Theater, one of the most intriguing things about it is how clearly and drastically it has aged. Watching this pioneering gay documentary now, it's easy to view it as a barometer of how much has changed for the public perception of homosexuality in America, since the film predates the AIDS activism that galvanized the gay community in the Eighties, the post-structuralist queer theory that became academic vogue in the Nineties, and the mainstreaming of gay experience that continues to reach new heights (or lows—depending on your perspective) in the new millennium. Formally, Word Is Out is also something of a relic. Intercutting the direct-to-camera reminiscences of twenty-six gays and lesbians, it combines two modes of self-exposure—the act of coming out and the interview-based documentary—that trace their appeal to the psychoanalytic notion of a "talking cure," which has since fallen out of favor as a model for truth-telling. Understandably, the contemporary audience wants more from its queer cinema than an expression of what now seems obvious; aesthetic subversion and politically astute critique have taken precedence over earnest, tear-stained testimonies.

Perhaps it's the fate of all topical films to become old-fashioned, but Word Is Out nevertheless remains invaluable as one of the most skillfully constructed time capsules from the post-Stonewall, pre-AIDS era of the gay movement. The film sets aside ideology to let a wide range of multiracial, multigenerational voices speak for themselves—hence the politically correct subtitle "Stories of Some of Our Lives." A few interviewees posit gayness as the source of their creative style and self-expression; others choose to highlight their first experiences of same-sex love; while still others see homosexuality as secondary to their racial or artistic identities. What unifies these disparate oral histories is the casual stoicism with which they are delivered, and the emphasis of humorous, self-deprecating banter over sensationalized victimhood. While there's plenty of courage on display here, Word Is Out is perhaps most compelling for the relationship it suggests between these onscreen subjects and the straight audience they seek to educate. It's a glimpse at a minority crafting its own image, and a revealing look at the challenges of articulating all of our most authentic selves.

January 29-February 4 at Anthology Film Archives

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