After Stonewall takes on a whole lot of "LGBT" history in an hour and a half, but despite being a whirlwind collage, it is still an effective and important look at gay lives at the end of the 20th century.
As the title suggests, this documentary begins with LGBT history right after the Stonewall riots changed the face of gay rights forever. Melissa Etheridge narrates the history (she's heard but never seen), and the wonderfully organized documentary is filled with talks and interviews by people like Rita Mae Brown, Barney Frank, Susan Moir, Larry Kramer, Dorothy Allison, Armistead Maupin, and Barbara Smith—all major names in the gay rights movement. If you don't recognize them, that's all the more reason to watch this film. It covers it all. Gay militant groups in the early 1970s, including clashes with the American Psychiatric Association, early attempts at gay marriage, and the division between gay men and lesbians that led the groups in two very different directions. Men took to the bathhouses and discos, women joined ranks with the feminist movement. And here, we see how these two worlds worked for and against each group. The positives and negatives of religion (including establishing gay churches) and politics (including out politicians) through the years is touched upon, as well as the response by presidents from Reagan to Clinton to the gay community and the AIDS crisis. The AIDS crisis is covered in depth, and how it actually strengthened our community and brought the men and the women back together. There's a hint of a look at minority gays, including African-Americans and Native-Americans. It's a rich history to take on, and the film manages to squeeze most of it in.
The real focus here is on the worlds of gay men and lesbians (not particularly the bi- and trans- set). When the division comes in the movie to cover gay men and lesbians separately, it could be very easy for one or the other group to get bored. Gay men might not want to hear about the women, and vice-versa. But I'd urge you to watch through it, because it's when the two halves eventually merge back into one whole that make this such a remarkable piece. It's also funny at times, and will most assuredly bring a tear to your eyes at other times. It's heartbreaking to listen to some of the interviewees as they recall the struggle they went through, often getting choked up at the memory. While it could have been longer and even more in depth, this is a great starting point for younger gay audiences to really understand where they got their pride from. Growing up in the 80s, as oppressive as it may have seemed to gays, I actually had, to some extent, positive gay portrayals to keep me sane. From 1970s sitcoms that dared to delve into gay themes, to gender-bending pop stars of the 80s, it was the generation before mine that was making it all possible. Watching them in the incredible vintage footage of marches and civil disobedience, anyone should be ashamed to be in the closet today. There's no excuse for it. These people risked everything they had to fight to get us to where we are now. Seeing them fighting with everything they had in these photos, I see how incredibly beautiful—radiant—these people were (many of them may not be with us anymore). We're dangerously complacent today. Things started going good for us—and it's almost as if we just called it a day. But as the film covers the Anita Bryant years and the Christian right years, it seems hauntingly familiar…like the world we live in right now. This movie was made in 1999. And it's clear how much things have already changed in the past 5 years. Watch this movie. It's a wake up call to EVERY generation of the gay community. And don't miss the final statement made by the last aging lesbian woman interviewed. She hits the nail on the head—with humor and hope.
Don't expect miracles here. While the new footage, mostly interviews, looks pretty sharp and clear, most if this film is comprised of old video and news coverage, so it runs the gamut of picture issues. The film is a full frame 1:33:1 aspect ratio, While the print is clean in terms of the new material, naturally, the old source material suffers from degrading quality. On the whole, the film also shows signs of pixelation.
Described as 2.0 stereo, this track sounds mostly mono. It's really irrelevant considering the material. The sound quality is clear and the volume levels are fine.
Aside from 16 chapter breaks, previews for 3 more LGBT DVD releases, and info on the studio, First Run Features, the extras are plenty:
INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR JOHN SCAGLIOTTI—he discusses how things have changed since he made Before Stonewall in 1985. So, believe it or not, this film is actually a sequel! (7 minutes)
DOROTHY ALLISON & JEWELLE GOMEZ on VITO RUSSO—two prolific and passionate speakers discuss their old friend Vito Russo, a civil rights pioneer. This is a moving tribute. (5 minutes).
ARMISTEAD MAUPIN ON PBS & THE CHRISTIAN RIGHT—the author briefly discusses how the movie sequel to Tales of the City was rejected by PBS. (3 minutes)
CONGRESSMAN BARNEY FRANK ON POST-STONEWALLIAN STORIES OF TRAVEL—less than two minutes, there isn't much substance here.
JEWELLE GOMEZ ON POETRY AS A GALVANIZING FORCE—the poet discusses poetry, and her friendship with author Audre Lorde. (4 minutes).
AUTHOR DOROTHY ALLISON ON MAKING AN ALTERNATIVE FAMILY—this is the most personal tale, and a moving one at that. (5 minutes)
AFTER STONEWALL may be a refresher course for those who have lived LGBT history since 1969, but it's also a crucial documenting for younger generations of where the gay community has been, and a reminder that any progress can be squashed within a moment if the fight for recognition as human beings doesn't continue.