Out of the Past is a bit of a smorgasbord of gay and lesbian history, current affairs, and individual profiles that manages to bring to light some lesser known facts about LGBT history—but it is a rather melancholy experience.
I see a good deal of these documentaries on the gay past, and they can begin to weigh heavily on your conscious after a while, because you're going along living a happy and positive life, and then one of these films drudges up the horrors of the past. Sure, you get to see how much things have changed, but you're also reminded of how much hasn't—that your very existence is constantly being attacked by people you don't even know and who will never even cross paths with you in your life. It's plain exhausting…and downright obnoxious and annoying. But having said that, I'll admit, I did indeed learn something from this odd documentary. Odd because it jumps back and forth—giving us profiles of gay and lesbian individuals from the 1600s forward that we've probably never heard of, while interspersing a story of a young teenager named Kelli Peterson, who, in 1997, basically became an LGBT hero by leading a fight to create a gay/straight alliance in her Utah high school. I wasn't thrilled to hear an opening monologue in which she talked about her suicidal feelings (making a point about gay teen struggles, yes, but also setting us up for a downer tone). However, her story is the shining light in this program, and it's worth it to watch just for the footage of her struggle, in which, as a young teenager, she made some of the most clearheaded arguments for equality that you're likely to hear. She's definitely a hero, which is really the focus of this documentary. The in-between stories of past gays and lesbians include: a Puritan in the 1600s who struggled with his desires for other men; a female couple during the 1800s who had what's called a "Boston marriage" for years; a lesbian activist who took on psychiatrists to recognize that homosexuality was not a mental disease; a man who tried to bring the gay rights movement taking place in Germany to the US in the early 1900s; and Baird Rustin, the right-hand man to Martin Luther King, Jr. Rustin was a gay African-American who organized much of King's fight, and in essence, the film focuses heavily on this segment, which compares the gay rights movement to the civil rights movement. While this comparison has led to an excessive backlash against gays by African-Americans, it has also spiraled into numerous devastating internal problems within the community that chooses to ignore gay realities in an effort to stay separate. The ever effective "divide and conquer" is alive and well in our country—and we're falling for it, which is what makes this segment a must-see.
With that covered, the documentary wraps things up by returning to the story of Kelli Preston, and I come to my one problem with this short history of gay identities—it's maybe trying to do too much at once. It feels a bit disjointed when we jump from the past, to part of Kelli's story, then back to the past, although it is an interesting way to approach the topics, and does create anticipation for the outcome of Kelli's story. I might have preferre two SEPARATE documentaries, one called "Out of the Past" and one simply called "The Kelli Preston Story."
This is a full frame presentation. It is comprised of interview video clips, news footage and stills, but the image is still smooth (a bit soft) and clean. Colorwise, it's a bit bland, and the blacks are more gray than black. There is also vintage footage which looks like…well, vintage footage. Visually, the program FEELS like a PBS special. Not bad, not good. It just is what it is.
The mono sound is clear, if not very monotone, with no dynamic range whatsoever. It serves its purpose.
The only extra is chapter selection—10 thumbnail clips.
Out of the Past is not so much a summary of gay history as it is snippets of information about gay individuals through the course of history. While not the most uplifting documentary you'll watch on gay rights, it will probably teach you about a few gay men and lesbians of whom you'd never heard.