Word is Out (1977) – By James L. Neibaur

Those of us who are not gay couldn’t possibly appreciate first-hand the experience of going through life as a gay person.  We may try to understand, to appreciate, to respect, and to refrain from judging.

Word Is Out is a 1977 documentary from the Mariposa Film Group that examines the gay experience based on the accounts of 26 different people — a myriad of diverse individuals whose only common link is that each happens to be gay.  Because it was shot 33 years ago, each individual’s recollections are often from another time entirely — childhoods spent during the suppressive 1950s, etc. — adding insight to those of us who never had to experience this struggle.

Word is Out was filmed at a time when the contribution of gay people in music and the arts was achieving some sort of recognition, when stars like David Bowie and Elton John were emerging from the closet, when a straight actor like Billy Crystal could play a sympathetic gay role on prime time network TV.  The feature was shown, and res-hown, so extensively over the past three decades that the 16mm pre-print material was becoming withered and in dire need of restoration.

Restoration took place through the Outfest Lagacy Project and the UCLA Film and Television Archive with contribution from the David Bohnett foundation.

Milestone Film and Video have now released the restoration on DVD.  The film’s cultural and historical significance as the first documentary to chronicle an emerging gay rights movement makes it a landmark, indicating how far gay people have come, and how much further they still must go.  Even today, in the current news, the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy in the military, and state-approved gay marriage, are among the struggles that could only have been dreams back when Word Is Out was first produced.

Along with the complete documentary, the Milestone DVD contains several extras.  Perhaps the most interesting is the Then and Now short film that allows us to see the principle contributors today.  Sadly, not all of them are still living, including Peter Adair, the filmmaker who was instrumental in the making of the original feature.

Word Is Out is an enlightening and informative look at a struggle for rights that continues today.  It is highly recommended for any comprehensive library or center where the socio-cultural areas of American history are represented.

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