Saturday, June 16, 2012


Vito, dir. Jeffrey Schwarz, 2011, USA, 93 min. 
Thursday 6/14, 7:00pm @ Castro

Vito Russo at the Castro Theatre, 1981
photo from the collection of Sean Strub/HBO
Vito Russo was, first and foremost, the quintessential film queen. Working at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, Vito scoured mountains of old films going back to the invention of the medium, looking for subtle and not-so-subtle portrayals of gay characters. He assembled them into a clip show that he presented to audiences around the world, and later compiled his work into the must-read The Celluloid Closet, a best-seller that almost didn’t get published, but that was made into a film by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman in 1995.

Although he lived and breathed queer film, there was also far more to Vito Russo’s passionate life. He was one of the founders of the Gay Activist Alliance, right after Stonewall. He campaigned against homophobic city officials, newspapers, and magazines. When the AIDS epidemic began devastating our community as our government and most of society stood disinterestedly silent, Vito Russo and 11 others started ACT-UP to force the media to pay attention and to force drug companies and government agencies to take our lives seriously.

Vito tells the story of this remarkable life, from childhood in New York City, to teenage exile in New Jersey, to bicoastal romance with somebody he met at the Castro Theatre, with the threads of queer film and queer activism woven throughout. For those of us who have been steeped in queer culture for most of our adult lives, Vito is already a familiar figure who led a very public life, and this documentary doesn’t have any “stop the presses!” moments, but it is an engaging story worth telling and re-telling, in a deeply moving way. For younger audiences, though, including some who may not have been born yet when Vito passed away in 1990, this documentary is essential viewing, to learn about a figure who deserves to be right up there alongside Harvey Milk in our pantheon of community leaders. Absolutely a must-see.

Vito will be presented on HBO, beginning July 23, 2012.

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