Mark Rappaport's ROCK HUDSON'S HOME MOVIES debunks Hollywood's macho star creation, exposing the homoerotic subtext of his life on film. Rappaport's Rock stand-in, played by Eric Farr, asks, "Who can look at my movies the same way ever again?"
Armed with two VCRs, a deft hand for editing and a sly script, Rappaport opens the floodgates of revisionist, deconstructed film history. HOME MOVIES presents a parade of clips from Rock Hudson films, supplying evidence of Hudson's gayness smuggled into the mainstream. How revelatory this is
depends on how trained the viewer is; gay audiences have been watching films in this manner for decades. Attend any revival show of, say, ALL ABOUT EVE or TORCH SONG, and a whole world of audience reaction and participation based on camp sensibility, gallows humor, and extreme sensitivity to
sublimated intention becomes apparent.
HOME MOVIES gives us most of Hudson's star faces: the sinewy Indian brave, the dashing swashbuckler, the reluctant and passive leading man, the stymied sex comic, etc., all restrospectively re-contextualized by the knowledge of his gayness. Some of these are lulus, especially when Hudson is
twice confronted by men of equal attractiveness--the sexual tension scorches the screen. A series of fight scenes are all unconvincing save one: when Hudson slugs James Dean (an admitted bisexual who treated Hudson condescendingly) it looks like the real thing. And Dorothy Malone, not Doris Day,
emerges as Hudson's most suitable leading lady. Provocative but predatory, her sexuality makes her a worthy stand-in for another homosexual man. But Rappaport doesn't seem capable of/interested in analyzing these finer points, and lingers longest--too long--on Hudson's tame sex comedies with Day
(and, once, Paula Prentiss). Buoyed, Rappaport points out, by comic eunuchs like Tony Randall (who can't control his curiosity about Hudson's towel-clad physique) and Paul Lynde, Hudson was even safe to "play gay." This is one of HOME MOVIES strongest moments: the dilemma of "a gay man pretending
to be straight, portraying a straight man pretending to be gay." Hudson and colleagues may have started out relishing the irony. But it's doubtful this carefree attitude lasted. Rappaport pulls one gem of a clip from PILLOW TALK. As Hudson says, "I'm afraid I can never get married," he looks over
Day's head to make contact with someone off-screen, his expression one of comic nausea before he settles back into sad-eyed faux sincerity. Comedy is far harder for actors to play than drama; perhaps Hudson's gayness gave him access to a delicacy that made his fluffy films work. Yet Rappaport
doesn't remark on this--instead he is content to find the gay reference and move on.
The problem of all revisionist history is its single-mindedness, in this case the drive to reveal the secret beneath the mainstream facade. The same kind of history could easily be applied to Montgomery Clift, or Joan Crawford (child abuser) or Marilyn Monroe (drug addict); art and life do
mirror each other. The camera catches everything if you know how to look--it's all there. But in the context of their times, actors like Rock Hudson didn't have much choice about how they lived their lives. There is a danger in HOME MOVIES' judging of actors as people in the one-dimensional
context of their work. HOME MOVIES presents Hudson from a single perspective, and his best work--in John Frankenheimer's chilling SECONDS--is reduced to AIDS metaphor. It's too bad, because Hudson's own story mirrors that of SECONDS, a transformed man at odds with his new self. Though Hudson is
best remembered as a gorgeous young icon, Rappaport doesn't work very hard at finding more obscure footage that could have documented his slide--a scene with Elizabeth Taylor from THE MIRROR CRACK'D would have contrasted poignantly with one from GIANT. And Hudson, the man behind the matinee idol,
is entirely absent.
In the final analysis, ROCK HUDSON'S HOME MOVIES does not deepen any understanding of its subject. Although entertaining, it presents him as an eternal pretty boy who sold out his gayness and rightfully paid for it. Hudson was no Olivier, but he was smart enough to consistently underplay,
possessing a surprisingly light hand--perhaps a reaction to having an emotional inability or a fear of cutting loose enough to really act. When he did, in SECONDS, he wasn't rewarded or even acknowledged. (Adult situations.)
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