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Straight Acting

Other // Unrated // December 1, 2005
List Price: $9.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by David Cornelius | posted April 20, 2006 | E-mail the Author
Right off the bat, "Straight Acting" reveals the problems it has with its own title. The term refers to gay men who, well, "act straight" - and that's two stereotypes the movie sets out to bust. As one interviewee states early on: "I know so many straight men that are nelly as hell, so when I hear that term, 'straight acting,' my brain fries." Meanwhile, the film presents gay man after gay man who pack on the ruggedness; most of them go so far against the grain of the sissy-boy stereotype that most folks would never think them to be homosexual. By tilting the film the way he does, filmmaker (and gay rugby player) Spencer Windes brings a bit of irony - a wink to one side - that seems to say, "We all know what this phrase is supposed to mean, but we also know this phrase is a crock."

The documentary plays out in four parts. Part one introduces us to Windes, who grew up Mormon, whose stress from a closeted life led him to balloon to some 400 pounds, and whose salvation came in the discovery of a gay rugby league; unlike the queens he'd seen in the media, these guys were like him, sports-loving, beer-drinking "average" guys. Part two takes us to Oklahoma and the Gay Rodeo, which, aside from a few intentionally kitschy moments, is pretty much like any other rodeo. Part three heads off to the East Coast, where we find the New York City Gay Hockey Association, including a squad that boasts the city's first transgender player. Part four returns us to Windes, whose rugby team has headed to London to play in the Bingham Cup - a tournament named for Mark Bingham, who was on United Flight 93 on September 11, and whose being both gay and a rugby fanatic led many gay men, including the filmmaker, to come out of the closet.

Bingham's story is the inspiration here, and Windes hopes that such inspiration can blossom, with interviews with several men who fit this other kind of gay lifestyle helping others come out as well. The problem, Windes reports, is that for some gay men, what they see in the movies and on TV doesn't fit them. Messages get confused. Windes uses old news reports (including a shockingly ignorant one, a decades-old feature from Mike Wallace and CBS News) to emphasize this problem. To the straight world, being gay means loving show tunes and leather chaps. Regarding the stereotype played up by the Jack character on TV's "Will & Grace," one interviewee gripes: "That's really not anybody that I know."

What Windes does, then, is reveal another side of homosexual society, one that might provide comfort to some confused young man wondering why he's gay but still prefers to kick ass and toss back a few beers.

All of this is both engaging and refreshing. Yet it's obvious that Windes is not an experienced filmmaker. (This marks his only feature to date.) I'll forgive the film's cheap look that often makes the feature look like we're watching somebody's home movies (in one scene, it's just him shakily holding the camera above the crowd in hopes of getting whatever he needs us to see), as the on-the-fly feel of the piece is allowed in an indie docu world.

No, his movie's main glitch is that it's filled up almost entirely with interviews; instead of meeting these guys where they work and play, for the most part he simply sits them down on a couch or in a trailer and asks them to talk about their lives. Fortunately, these stories are fascinating enough to pick up the slack, and Windes and co-editor Matt Martin keep things moving enough to get us through - and at just under an hour, Windes knows when to wrap things up before they begin to feel tiresome. Still, the constant use of talking heads threatens to bog down the project.

It's not by any means a great film, but "Straight Acting" is a great document and a terrific public service. Here is a chance to remind people that stereotypes still need to be busted, and that just because you don't fit into a mold you might see on television, that doesn't mean you won't fit in anywhere. Windes, like all the men he interviews, found happiness, and he's hoping he might be able to help someone out there find it, too.

The DVD

Video


As stated, "Straight Acting" was shot on video, but the film never looks as cheap as it could have. The archive footage comes across crisply, while the new video footage works just fine. Presented in its original full frame (1.33:1) format.

Audio

The mono soundtrack isn't much, but it does its job well enough. There are never any problems balancing the interviews and the music; the only issue comes when the microphone gets too close to screaming rugby guys - buries the needle for sure, although this is an issue with the source material, not the transfer. No subtitles or alternate audio tracks are provided.

Extras

None.

Final Thoughts

The lack of extras and total no-frills presentation has me telling most of you to Rent It, although it's a solid enough effort that for fans of independent documentaries and/or gay cinema, I'll say this is certainly Recommended.
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