Out Of The Past

on November 13, 1947 by Ray Greene
   Stolid, well-intentioned and utterly professional in execution, "Out of the Past" is a welcome attempt to reclaim several key figures in the history of American gay liberation from the dustbin of history, where generations of social prejudice have unfairly consigned them. Director Jeff Dupre has assembled a representative sampling of key figures of the still-incomplete march toward inclusion which gays and lesbians have faced since the earliest days of American history. Using period photos and journal entries read by actors including Gwyneth Paltrow and Edward Norton, "Out of the Past" focuses on such seminal but unknown icons of gay struggle as Michael Wigglesworth, a Puritan cleric; lesbian novelist Sarah Orne Jewett; early 20th century gay activist Henry Gerber; and African American Civil Rights luminary Bayard Rustin.
   While each story is a study in perseverance against legislative and social bigotry, Rustin's story exerts a particular fascination. A key associate of Martin Luther King and the primary tactician behind King's famous March on Washington, Rustin was considered such a vital part of King's entourage that his own speech from the steps of the Capitol immediately preceded King's famous "I Have a Dream" oration. Yet entrenched as he was in this century's most successful equal rights movement, Rustin's sexuality was often humiliatingly rejected by his activist associates, including King, who allowed him to resign from the movement he had helped launch and nurture when a rival civil rights figure threatened to mount a false campaign claiming that King and Rustin were lovers.
   The gay rights struggle remains a difficult one, as Dupre demonstrates by intercutting his historical montage sequences with contemporary footage chronicling the story of Kelli Peterson, a 17-year-old resident of Utah whose attempt to found an association for Gay students at her high school was viewed as such a menace by Utah's state school board that it temporarily abolished all student run school organizations in order to avoid charges of bigotry. Both gay and straight high schoolers took to the streets, and the triumphal outcome of Peterson's actions ends "Out of the Past" on an upbeat and hopeful note.
   If there is any complaint to lodge against "Out of the Past," it is that it is perhaps a bit too dry and textbookish. But then again, that may be precisely the point. The official heroes of American history have had their lives and exploits chronicled in just such scholarly undertakings since the invention of the documentary form. What "Out of the Past" reminds us of is the ways that America, despite its declared belief in tolerance and equality, has frequently overlooked and ghettoized the immeasurable social and artistic contributions of millions of its citizens, based on sexual taboos and prejudices. It's a legacy of oppression which, as this detailed and quietly passionate movie assures us, we simply must, and therefore shall, overcome.    Directed and produced by Jeff Dupre. Written by Michelle Ferrari. A Zeitgeist release. Documentary. Running time: 65 min.
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