Last night, Outfest screened their newly restored version of Word is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives, a documentary originally released in 1977. The restoration took a year or more and is the second film in festival's ambitious project to preserve key films of the GLTB canon, such that it is. Word is Out was directed by The Mariposa Film Group, a team of filmmakers led by the late Peter Adair. The viewing at the Director's Guild of America on Sunset was packed, and the emotional response to the film (an intimate mix of humor, detachment, identification, and pathos) was palpable.
Clearly, of over 128 applicants, a handful of the most articulate were chosen, and the impression created by this particular group of interviews wasn't just a sense of lost life (some of these people, like Adair, succumbed to AIDS) but of lost intelligence and awareness, too. The subjects in Word is Out knew themselves in unexpected ways. They understood society and social dynamics in general. They understood themselves and the contexts they transacted in. They were achingly aware: smart, literate, complicated. For all our bluster about growing up early now and being in touch with our feelings, most of us are deeply, maybe perversely emotionally stunted by comparison. The humor was sharp, sparkling bright; the wit often literary in its savvy interplay between serious and silly, context and subtext, overstatement and artful indirection. The editing highlights these conversations in a way that understands their wit, extending it through smart associative strategies.
The stories were so poignant at times, the camera so intently studious of its subjects, that the names escape. Isolated moments and overall tone remain. The awareness of the subjects made their stories even more heartbreaking. To be subjected to shock treatment as a teenager or to lose your children due to a lesbian relationship which made you feel happy and necessary and needed for the first time in your life is bad enough. To understand what's happening to you without being able to stop it is unbearable. These were engaged people who knew themselves and the people who hated them with a kind of empathic discernment which is practically extinct in contemporary discourse. Much was made last night of the kitsch value of various outfits and song numbers, but the intelligence was more dated than anything else. And sorely missed.