Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

If there's one thing Kirby Dick hates, it is hypocrites - particularly those who are not held accountable for their actions. From abuse in the Catholic Church (Twist Of Faith) to the Motion Picture Academy of America classification board (This Film Is Not Yet Rated), he has singled out those he feels are 'getting away with it'.

Here, it is the turn of closeted US gay politicians - who consistently vote against improving gay rights - to be brought out into the full glare of publicity. As openly gay Democratic congressman Barney Frank Puts it: "They have a right to privacy, not to hypocrisy". Early on in the film, Dick makes it clear that he only feels it necessary to out those who are essentially leading double lives - repressing gays on the one hand, while living as one in secret on the other. That said, by the end of the runtime its pretty clear that the editorial stance of the film is that the world would be a much better place if all gay politicians had the guts to admit it.

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The big problem for an international audience is that the power of the film rests largely on being able to recognise the 'players'. While the past few months have brought the issue of homosexuality and politics to the cinematic forefront, courtesy of Gus Van Sant's Milk, Harvey Milk probably remains the only US homosexual politician who most people outside the US have heard of - although this is hardly surprising when you consider that, at the present time, there are only three openly gay members of congress.

Here, it is Repbulican Florida Governor Charlie Crist and Republican Idaho senator Larry Craig - whose public bathroom shenaningans resulted in his arrest - who are held up for inspection. Dick is on pretty safe ground with his attack on Craig, whose police interview/denial following his bathroom arrest is heard over the opening credits. He also, with the help of blogger Michael Rogers (who aims to out hypocritical homosexual politicians), makes a solid case that fomer New York mayor Ed Koch, while having an abysmal record on HIV/AIDS and gay rights, was in fact having an affair with a man and went so far as to drum him out of the city in order to keep it a secret.

But where American audiences will bring a level of political awareness to the film, those from outside the US may well find themselves reeling, not only from trying to keep up with who is who but also from attempting to understand where the higher end administrative positions that are highlighted feature in the overall framework of the US government. This isn't helped by the free-ranging nature of the doc, which would benefit from a tighter focus.

Dick also fails in his attempts to lay a conspiracy rap at the feet of the mainstream media. He wants us to believe there is a major conspiracy at the heart of large media establishments which holds them back from 'outing' polticians, and holds up some edited CNN footage as 'proof' of this. But this is a very naive stance. The whole point of mainstream media is that it must categorically make its argument, with a number of sources, so speculation about a politician's sex life is, pardoning the pun, out, unless you have cast-iron proof and can come up with a reason to put such private matters in the public arena. Idle speculation as to who and who is not gay would most probably - and quite rightly - result in a fairly hefty lawsuit, so CNN are to be congratulated rather than pilloried for their firm journalistic stance.

An attack on Mary Cheney, the lesbian daughter of former US vice president Dick, also feels weak. Since she is not a politician herself, there can be limited public interest in having a go at her for not lobbying daddy more. None of us get to choose our parents and who knows what pressure she may bring to bear in private?

There is also a sense that Dick never quite goes far enough when he is talking to politicians who have been outed, particularly James McCreevey, the former Democratic Governor of New Jersey - who was married at the time he found himself on the wrong side of the closet door. Dick speaks to both McCreevey and his ex, but although McCreevey talks of the relief of being able to stop living a lie, there is a reticence to fully explore the impact this had on this family - although this may well be because he has a daughter, whom he and his ex wish to protect. Plus, there is no 'right of reply' offered to the likes of Crist and Craig, which only serves to weaken Dick's argument - Dick says he feels they have enough of a platform to air their views if they wish. But this feels like a documentarian cop-out, even if they refused to comment, the opportunity should have been offered to them.

Away from the specific names in the frame, though, there is a strong argument being made. Dick shows, through a series of insightful interviews, aided by helpful graphics and archive footage, how many gay politicians in the past and present have been distinctly predatory as well as risible in their records. While never quite managing to be the fully successful onslaught he intends, there is enough here to spark a general debate about the way homosexuality is marginalised thanks to self-deluding and self-serving politicos and the sheer achievement of getting the issue out of the closet and into the mainstream consciousness can only be a good thing.

If you're American or bring a good knowledge of US politics to the cinema with you, you may want to add another half star to the rating.

Reviewed on: 29 Apr 2009
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Documentary focuses on the hypocritical voting records of closeted gay politicians.

Read more Outrage reviews:

Keith Hennessey Brown ***1/2

Director: Kirby Dick

Writer: Kirby Dick

Year: 2009

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: US


Tribeca 2009
EIFF 2009

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The Times Of Harvey Milk