We were planning to watch the HBO production Behind The Candelabra (2013), the film about Liberace’s love affair that stars Michael Douglas & Matt Damon. It’s not just a coincidence that it’s Pride Weekend. I was so captivated by the Pride-themed display at Bay St Video (such a good store!), I grabbed Another Country from the same display where I saw (and seized) the Liberace DVD too.
But they’ll both have to wait because tonight I happened upon Rock Hudson: Dark and Handsome Stranger a 2010 documentary by Andrew Davies and André Schäfer (thank you TVO!: here’s a link to the video via TVOntario).
It’s poignant in so many ways. We’re watching the tale of Hudson’s life, which is to say, the biography of a fellow named Roy Fitzgerald who became a Hollywood star named Rock Hudson. I couldn’t help thinking that it was all meta-dramatic, a performance within a performance. Whatever you might think of his work in Giant or Pillow Talk, alongside James Dean, Liz Taylor and Doris Day, the whole time he’s playing his role (in the film), he’s doing it while strait-jacketed into that other role (as the star).
It was all a role within a role.
Of course there’s this other person that we weren’t able to know: ha, as if anyone in Hollywood is ever known. But we get a really good look at him via the devotion of those around him, not just Liz Taylor, whose advocacy on behalf of gays is known, but so many others who played a smaller part in his life.
You can’t help liking Hudson, and noticing how difficult his life must have been. And yes, my eyes popped out of my head when we see him being brought back to the USA from Paris on a 747 that he had to charter –for $250,000– because at the time a person with AIDS wasn’t permitted on a commercial plane.
It’s a bit of a shock to be reminded how far we’ve come in such a short time. I was watching the news just now on Global –one of our more conservative outlets surely– showing footage from the Dyke March. And it’s been wonderful seeing pictures from the big wedding at Casa Loma Thursday night via Facebook.
I remember reading an article in Body Politic in 1981 or perhaps ’82. It was a rather odd back-page piece of whimsy. The piece largely went over my head, because I read the paper not as a gay man but simply as a loyal ally and one who loved good writing wherever I found it (and yeah, to be honest I was working in a bookstore so I could read it for free, which i did every issue). The piece asked us to imagine waking up one morning, unable to get a good haircut or a decent salad. What if suddenly certain people had vanished in the night…? I recall smiling and yet being chilled reading it. And of course this played out in a city that was deeply conflicted about the newspaper & its gay community. I didn’t realize there was a plague underway, although I would find out, would lose a few friends and hear of the deaths of many more acquaintances.
Watching the making-of featurette that goes with that HBO feature, Damon & Douglas make me eager to see their film, but when I’m alert and not when I’m sleepy (it was too late to start so I‘ll watch them tomorrow). Damon, whose impressive body of work, and place near or at the top of the list of box office draws makes this casting rather unexpected, spoke of his desire to take on the role, one that surely will show us his acting chops in a new light. It’s a film about the past, but one that shows again that the world has changed.
Both films –the one I saw, and the one about which I am merely speculating– seem very apt for this celebration. As we’re often reminded, Pride began out of oppression, an attempt to assert rights that hadn’t been granted.
How else can we see how far we’ve come unless we look back, and properly understand where we were such a short time ago..?