Reviews

Outrage

Kirby Dick's documentary argues that it's long past time that the many stories that shape closeted gay politicians' lives and careers be sorted out.


Outrage

Director: Kirby Dick
Cast: Barney Frank, Jim McGreevey, David Catania, Larry Kramer, Michelangelo Signorile, Andrew Sullivan, Elizabeth Birch, Hilary Rosen
MPAA rating: N/A
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
First date: 2009
US Release Date: 2008-05-08 (Limited release)
Website
Trailer

"This town is full of gay people," says David Catania, at-large member of the DC City Council. Indeed, seconds Michael Rogers, self-designated outer and founder of BlogActive.com, the business of politics is much like a Broadway show.

The trouble is, much of that the show is fearful and small-minded. Too many politicians are afraid to be out. And the closet, according to Outrage, is "profoundly unhealthy," according to Jim McGreevey, not only for those caught inside it, but also for the culture that constructs and sustains it. "To thine own self be true," quotes McGreevey, the former New Jersey governor whose self-declaration in 2004 ("And so, my truth is that I am a gay American") led to the loss of his job, a sensational divorce case, and, as he suggests here, an eventual sense of peace and self-confidence. At least until the release of this film, which has apparently reignited the public dispute with his ex-wife Dina, interviewed here separately, still proclaiming her absolute ignorance concerning his gayness during their marriage ("I dated Jim for four years, there was nothing to indicate that there was a problem"). McGreevey, meantime, describes his closeting as "like being in a bad Star Trek episode," where he was left wondering "which foot was in which universe at any given time." Like Rogers says, a Broadway show.

The processes of closeting and outing appear to constitute an ongoing series of performances, with the roles of victims and villains shifting. As representatives of government and media trade accusations and assumptions, they also collude in maintaining an underlying dread with spurts of hysteria. One such moment serves as the movie's primary touchstone, the outing of Idaho's Senator Larry Craig. His much-mocked statement for the press -- "Let me be clear: I am not gay. I never have been gay" -- is replayed here as a kind of refrain, an emblem of the many ways that queers deny their desires and identities in order to stay in office. If, as Outrage submits, the primary damage done by homophobia in U.S. politics is the overwhelming tendency of closeted officials to vote against gay rights legislation, any number of lesser injuries are also inflicted, in repressive and sometimes frantic responses to rumors. "Living in the closet makes you do crazy things," observes Kevin Naff, editor of the Washington Blade.

Like, for instance, soliciting sex in an airport bathroom in Minneapolis.

No matter whether Craig identifies as gay, sees his sexual liaisons with men as separate from his identity, or lies to his wife. Even as he provides Outrage with a modicum of comedy, Craig is also something of a nasty, bad, naughty" poster boy for the sorts of contortions practiced by closeted politicians. He's certainly not the only such emblem, as Outrage also considers the cases of Ken Mehlman, Ed Koch, and Charlie Crist, all still insisting on their straightness. They can do this, submits this decidedly unsensational documentary, because media go along -- sustaining an atmosphere of gossip, self-hate, cover-ups, and revenge that distorts lives and ruin careers.

The irony is that the "Broadway show" is simultaneously evident and secret. Most often, it has to do with men -- the movie includes interviews with lesbian politicians and media reps (former director of the Human Rights Campaign Elizabeth Birch, Wisconsin congressperson Tammy Baldwin, and CNN contributor Hilary Rosen, who criticizes Mary Cheney working as gay and lesbian liaison for Coors Beer, while the Coors family remained openly homophobic) -- but even if such figures are few in number, they are not among those Outrage accuses of actively seeking to keep their queerness secret. The film doesn’t take up why this might be so -- how lesbians and gay men are treated differently in politics or in media. Neither does it address the overwhelming whiteness of its interviewees or targets, though it does feature an interview with the Washington Post's Jose Antonio Vargas, whose reporting on video games and HIV/AIDS suggests that he keeps his feet in multiple universes.

The difficulty of maintaining such balance while closeted comes up repeatedly. "It's kind of hard to be public and closeted," quips Barney Frank -- though the film shows repeatedly that this is exactly what closeted politicians are. Pointing out the hypocrisies and bad policies engendered by homophobia (say, the U.S. military's "don't ask, don't tell" rule), the film enlists Rogers as a kind of crusading point man. "I am going to tell people," he asserts, "who these horrible traitors are." While Rogers outs public figures generally (including Calvin Klein, Shepard Smith, and Malcolm Forbes), he is especially focused on those closeted individuals who take homophobic positions on legislation and policy. As Chairman of the Republican Party, Mehlman, for instance, campaigned against gay marriage, and when Bill Maher named him for on Larry King, CNN deleted that portion of his interview.

"Journalists are in the business of reporting the truth," says Michelangelo Signorile. And so he resents those who collude in lies for the sake of continued access or seeming propriety. During the Republican National Convention last year, Signorile recalls, he invited Charlie Crist on his Sirius radio show, where "I asked him straight out" whether he was gay. Crist's response to this question has been more or less consistent (essentially, "I'm not going to talk about this issue"), though he has worked hard to look straight, dating models and even becoming engaged when he was plainly hoping to be selected as John McCain's running mate in 2008. The documentary follows this story in some detail, including an interview with one of Crist's female exes, Kelly Heyniger, who follows up her TV ad ("He's real, he wants to make a difference" with this tidbit for Dick's crew: "I think I should just keep my mouth shut. Call me in 10 years and I'll tell you a story."

Dick's film argues that it's long past time that the many stories that shape closeted politicians' lives and careers be sorted out.

8


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Music

Phil Elverum Sings His Memoir on 'Microphones in 2020'

On his first studio album under the Microphones moniker since 2003, Phil Elverum shows he has been recording the same song since he was a teenager in the mid-1990s. Microphones in 2020 might be his apex as a songwriter.

Music

Washed Out's 'Purple Noon' Supplies Reassurance and Comfort

Washed Out's Purple Noon makes an argument against cynicism simply by existing and sounding as good as it does.

Music

'Eight Gates' Is Jason Molina's Stark, Haunting, Posthumous Artistic Statement

The ten songs on Eight Gates from the late Jason Molina are fascinating, despite – or perhaps because of – their raw, unfinished feel.

Film

Apocalypse '45 Uses Gloriously Restored Footage to Reveal the Ugliest Side of Our Nature

Erik Nelson's gorgeously restored Pacific War color footage in Apocalypse '45 makes a dramatic backdrop for his revealing interviews with veterans who survived the brutality of "a war without mercy".

Music

12 Brilliant Recent Jazz Albums That Shouldn't Be Missed

There is so much wonderful creative music these days that even an apartment-bound critic misses too much of it. Here is jazz from the last 18 months that shouldn't be missed.

Film

Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.

Music

The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.

Music

Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.

Music

Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.

Music

Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.

Film

The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.

Music

Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.

Music

Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.

Music

Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.

Music

Songwriter Shelly Peiken Revisits "Bitch" for '2.0' Album (premiere)

A monster hit for Meredith Brooks in the late 1990s, "Bitch" gets a new lease on life from its co-creator, Shelly Peiken. "It's a bit moodier than the original but it touts the same universal message," she says.

Music

Leila Sunier Delivers Stunning Preface to New EP via "Sober/Without" (premiere)

With influences ranging from Angel Olsen to Joni Mitchell and Perfume Genius, Leila Sunier demonstrates her compositional prowess on the new single, "Sober/Without".

Music

Speed the Plough Members Team with Mayssa Jallad for "Rush Hour" (premiere)

Caught in a pandemic, Speed the Plough's Baumgartners turned to a faraway musical friend for a collaboration on "Rush Hour" that speaks to the strife and circumstance of our time.

Music

Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.