review for The Celluloid Closet on AllMovie

The Celluloid Closet (1995)
by Tom Wiener review

In transferring the important work of the late Vito Russo to the screen, the question was whether filmmakers Rob Epstein (The Times of Harvey Milk) and Jeffrey Friedman would be able to obtain the proper clips to illustrate Russo's points about the portrayal of homosexuality in Hollywood films. The Celluloid Closet, happy to say, delivers the key illustrative material and adds commentary and reminiscences from a number of film personnel (actors, writers, directors, producers) to give even more perspective to a long-neglected subject. This is not an exposé of who's out of and who's still in the closet in Hollywood, but a more serious discussion of the clever ways that filmmakers of the so-called Golden Age were able to suggest the sexual orientation of certain characters, and how the transition to a more explicit and honest portrayal was made. The film is free of cant and preaching; it recognizes the difficult circumstances under which artists were laboring for many years. And there are moments of playfulness, too, as when Gore Vidal remembers his little conspiracy with actor Stephen Boyd and director William Wyler to suggest an extra dimension to the relationship between the male leads in Ben-Hur.