Wednesday, October 10, 2012

It's Only Rock and Roles: "Rock Hudson's Home Movies" (1992)



This pseudo-documentary takes clips from the films of Rock Hudson to show how the actor was very subtle about coming out gay through his work.

Actor Eric Farr, who bears only a slight resemblance to Hudson, plays Rock. He pops onscreen here and there, making pithy comments about what characters and situations in the fictional films are really saying about being a closeted homosexual in the 1950's. Hudson was swooning at actor John Hall in "Hurricane," wanting to be the athletic actor. Hudson was a perfect handsome leading man, and became a quick success in films. He married once, in a studio-arranged situation that ended badly.

Director Mark Rappaport's entire film is made up of grainy clips of Rock Hudson's films. Lines are taken out of context to "prove" Hudson was trying to come out, or was being forced out, as gay. His homosexuality was no secret in Hollywood, and Rappaport suggests that while your Brandos, Grants, and Clifts (all gay or bisexual) were getting meaty film roles, Hudson was being held hostage in light romantic comedies costarring Doris Day and Tony Randall.

While the hypothesis is interesting and may have some merit, Rappaport's flippant approach sinks the experiment. The director's treatment of Hudson comes off as unsympathetic and sometimes angry. The montages of some running themes in the films do make their points. Hudson constantly getting interrupted when kissing an actress, flirting with male characters that borders on gay cruising, and all those movies that needed him to be shirtless in key scenes. His romantic comedies of the 1950's and 1960's, like "Pillow Talk," "Lover Come Back," and "Man's Favorite Sport?" are picked apart as Hudson's characters would sometimes act queer in order to get the girl.

Rappaport finds less success with the foreshadowing of Hudson's death from AIDS than with the feminization of the actor. In another instance, Rappaport gets Hudson's only film with John Wayne completely wrong.

Hudson and Wayne teamed for the Civil War western "The Undefeated," and Rappaport gives us more edited clips that make it look like the actors were cruising each other through their dialogue. Later, Hudson knocks Wayne "on his ass" in the film, winning one for the gays against the rigid conservatism of the studio system and the Duke. However, in Pilar Wayne's biography of John Wayne (she was one of his ex-wives), she wrote Wayne had no qualms with Hudson's sexuality. Everyone on set knew about Hudson, his NFL player boyfriend was more than obvious, so one wonders how many more liberties Rappaport took with the movie clips.

Technically, the film is messy. The clips look like second generation VHS copies, and none of the films are credited until a crawl at the very end, so the viewer has no timeline to follow concerning a possible conspiracy to keep Hudson in his place. Rappaport is known for his sometimes strange film making style, as the short "Blue Streak" and his similar documentary about Jean Seberg will attest, but here a more traditional approach might have helped the work.

Even the title, "Rock Hudson's Home Movies," misleads. I had high hopes for this one, but even after the film ends, I know very little about AIDS' first famous casualty. (* *) out of five stars. Get this movie now!: Rock Hudson's Home Movies