The Silver Screen: Color Me Lavender
1997, NR, 100 min. Directed by Mark Rappaport. Starring Dan Butler.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Aug. 21, 1998
Who would have thought that deconstructionism could be so much fun? Although on the surface similar to the more conventional documentary The Celluloid Closet, The Silver Screen: Color Me Lavender doesn't merely look at gay and lesbian imagery in film as seen in some kind of sociological mirror. Rather, it takes you through the looking glass to reveal a seemingly queer subtext in the movies produced by the Golden Age of Hollywood that will have you scratching your head in bewildered wonder. Using a sampling of film clips that span from the Thirties to the Sixties to explore his hypothesis of latent meaning, director and screenwriter Rappaport (Rock Hudson's Home Movies, From the Journals of Jean Seberg) slyly engages in acts of deconstruction for the purpose of showing that while homosexual love may not have dared speak its name directly, it might have done so in code. Usually, the context was a comic one, as in the perennial pairing of Hope and Crosby in the road movies (in which they kissed each other -- mistakenly, of course -- quite a few times), or in the grizzled old prospector syndrome, best typified by the crotchety and crusty Walter Brennan in films in which he “played” to the leading man. Was it a parody of heterosexuality or a bold depiction of gay flirtation? Did it push the proverbial envelope or merely aim for a laugh? Rappaport also dissects the careers of Danny Kaye, Cary Grant, Clifton Webb, and Randolph Scott -- all of whom were either full-time or part-time gay -- and demonstrates how otherwise innocent lines of dialogue take on a different meaning when placed in the context of the actor's private life. About the only fault you can find in The Silver Screen is that it goes on a little too long. And although some may fault Rappaport's hesitancy to draw any firm conclusions about what exactly was going on in these movies, he is rightly content in just making pointed observations about what might have been afoot. As narrated by Frasier regular Dan Butler, the tone here is neither smug nor accusing, but rather something this side of utter bemusement. No matter whether you think that a cigar is always a cigar or whether there are times when it means something else, there's a lot to be said for the entertainment and intellectual value of The Silver Screen.