PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Reviews

Stonewall

Because director Nigel Finch seems content with the notion that you can hang any situation, theme, or idea on Stonewall, the film takes virtually every predictable route to the final showdown.


Stonewall

Director: Nigel Finch
MPAA rating: N/A
Subtitle: A Musical Extravaganza
First date: 2008

In June in cities around North America (including my hometown of Toronto), LGBT people from around the world will gather, celebrate, and march in recognition of the anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising of June, 1969. Indeed, in just a few days, the "gaybourhood" area of Toronto (at the intersection of Church and Wellesley Streets) will be transformed into a veritable gong show of joyful, unfettered, and riotous partying. Soon after I write this, people will pour into town from all over Canada, the United States, Europe, and elsewhere, all ready to get down, to revel in the strength of community, and to remind the world that, in the old 1960s activist phrase, "Gay is Good".

But, like most iconic 1960s moments, the Stonewall Uprising – a protracted series of street fights, protests, and demonstrations which arose following a raid at the Stonewall Inn in New York City – needs to be put back into some perspective. Too often cited as "the beginning of the gay rights movement", as if it were a sudden and unpredictable shock, Stonewall is more reasonably fitted into a long and complex history of gay activism.

While the spontaneity and disorganized passion of the Stonewall Uprising can't be overstated, the tendency to neglect the decades of activism that led to the conditions that made Stonewall possible is regrettable. On the one hand it is plainly ahistorical, while on the other it forces Stonewall to carry too heavy a burden. It, as a symbol, collapses under the weight. For, how can one event – localized as it was – be said to have started such a massive, powerful, and effective political movement? As we should do with the oversimplification that Rosa Parks started the Civil Rights movement, let us problematize the assertion that Stonewall was the beginning of the LGBT coming out party.

Taking as its starting point the notion that "everybody has their own Stonewall story" and that "this is just one of them ", Nigel Finch's 1996 fictionalization of the Uprising is a celebration of the mythology of the events. Employing just about the most ridiculously clichéd narrative imaginable – a corn-fed Iowa hunk moves to the big city with stars in his eyes, is shown the ropes by a click of fabulous Greenwich Village drag queens, falls into a relationship with a conflicted prostitute named La Miranda, and then they all participate in the riotous events of June, 1969 – Finch's film is not trying too hard for verisimilitude. Instead, characters talk to cameras, there are random musical numbers – the Ronettes were apparently big in the scene in those days – and there are more than a few preposterous moments designed for amusement, not historical accuracy.

In short, this is a Stonewall film which has as much to say about the legacy of the Uprising as a clotheshorse as it does about the characters and situations it presents. Because Finch seems content with the idea that you can hang any situation, theme, or account on Stonewall, the film takes virtually every obvious and predictable route to the final showdown. If you came up with a checklist of every LGBT chestnut in the book, odds are you'll find them all here.

Indeed, everyone in this film feels plastic and archetypal, every one of them a tired and superficial version of a real human being. Now, this may have been the point – that the Stonewall Riots have become so much a symbol that we cannot but remember them through the lens of such archetypal images, characters, and scenes – but, while this is interesting to discuss, it isn't much fun to watch. The shallowness of the dialogue, and the ultimate staginess of the action – from the generally unsubtle performances to the obvious soundstage sets – conspire to rob the film of any engaging realism. Instead, it all seems like so much pageantry; I found it tough to relate to anyone or anything that passed onscreen, which is a fairly weird response to have to a film about something as inherently compelling as the Stonewall Uprising.

On the plus side, Finch (who died during post-production) made sure to explore the reality of gay identity as a site of multiple and shifting oppressions. Race, class, and gender are all folded into the film, while the myth that gay scenes are dominated by white, middle class, and otherwise closeted homosexuals is exploded almost immediately. Diversity (of thought, expression, ethnicity, background) is everywhere on display, even if the conversations between these diverse folks tend not to express too many competing viewpoints. However, the lack of any strong female characters is a missed opportunity to discuss the complex relationships between gay and lesbian communities in those (and these) years, and serves to minimize the role of lesbians in this apparently formative moment in LGBT history.

5

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.

Music

20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Music

Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.

Music

Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.

Music

Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.

Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


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.