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“Word Is Out” and “The Disappeared” on DVD

“Word Is Out” and “The Disappeared” on DVD (photo)

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Movies are Saturday night-wasting entertainment and they’re transcendent mega-art, but they’re also history, living tissues of the past that overpower any other medium we have for preserving experience and retaining cultural memory. This is no small matter, despite the relatively slight influence that film’s historical potential has in the consumer marketplace, which is virtually defined by its amnesia. “Word Is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives” (1977), then, is a gift, not just a film preserved and sold as product, but a piece of the 20th century that will now never quite fade completely from view.

Shot and assembled by a six-person collective (including Rob Epstein, later director of “The Times of Harvey Milk” and “Common Threads”), this film is as simple as it is expansive: amidst the definitive stirrings of the gay rights movement, the filmmakers sat down with 26 gay men and women — young and old, fat and skinny, urban and rural, educated and not, of a variety of ethnicities — and just let them tell their stories.

Such a film made in 1997 or 1987 might have been an interesting cultural footnote or at best an AIDS-era testament, but filmed and released during the Ford Administration, “Word Is Out” pioneered the territory, and captures the overlapping moment when gay life transitioned from a secret and shameful underground into an indelible social force, where it’s been ever since.

06082010_WordisOut2.jpgIt’s a ’70s doc, so it’s rough and slapdash and shot on actual film, itself a kind of time capsule of activist-filmmaking innocence. But it’s the people that matter, and it matters that some are remarkable while others are not, and yet all have snapshots to add to our understanding of life as it was constructed for us and by us not so long ago.

From elderly couples to college students, the stories often (but not always) entail a self-discovery flashpoint when the Eisenhower-era institutional ideas didn’t work anymore, and husbands and wives walked out of their marriages (with and without their children) in order to reinvent themselves as they should’ve been to begin with.

There are subversive disclosures — some forgotten (several witnesses testify to years wasted committed to mental hospitals, complete with electroshock) and others still not acknowledged (several men have blissfully fond memories of being children involved in sexual relationships with adults). Since the movement was still building and hadn’t yet freeze-dried into a jargonized militancy as so many movements do, there’s a refreshing lack of self-aggrandizement and flaunted eccentricity, amid the copious beer and cigarettes, and a well-articulated sense that being gay in the ’50s and ’60s was a kind of espionage, belonging to a massive sleeper cell from which you couldn’t wait to awake.

Inevitably, “Word Is Out” is a club movie, an anthem for gays, but it’s also a full-frontal contextualizer for the rest of us, at the time (it circled the globe, and played on PBS) and right now, standing in its new restored form as one of maybe eight non-fiction films high schoolers should be required to see before graduating.

06082010_TheDisappeared.jpgThe Brit horror indie “The Disappeared” is more likely what the high schoolers will pull off the Blockbuster shelves or VOD or whatever, thinking it’s a stay-up-late creep-out among far too many. What they’ll get, though, is a moody meditation on grief — which is what modern J-horror-inflected horror films all are, walking-talking metaphors in which ghosts et al. aren’t merely bugaboos or even Robin Wood’s “surplus aggression,” but symbols of personal trauma.

Director Johnny Kevorkian (his real name, apparently) has studied his Asian genre films, and “The Disappeared” is so richly subjective and gritty, with a working-class London vibe so acutely evoked, that it’s as if Ken Loach had decided to make a horror movie.

The story is maybe too simple: Matthew (Harry Treadaway) is a teenager just released from a mental hospital after his little brother vanished in a nearby park. The disappearance upsets the city, the absent lad’s face still shows up on missing children PSAs, and Matthew’s father still boils with rage, blaming the older brother. Of course, Matthew begins to hear his brother’s voice on video and audio tapes, begins to see the boy lurking around the tenements, and so tentatively searches for clues to his whereabouts.

Soon enough, Matthew realizes half the people he meets and speaks to turn out to be ghosts — busy Nigerian actress Nikki Amuka-Bird leaves a thumbprint on your forehead in a three-minute performance. (As Matthew’s buddy, Tom “Draco Malfoy” Felton is almost unrecognizable.) The convenient denouement, tightly scripted as it is, isn’t important, but the film’s subtextual thrust is — it’s not the first film to use horror movie staples as a way to see social tragedy and the traces it leaves behind, but it’s a good one.

“Word Is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives” (Oscilloscope Laboratories) and “The Disappeared” (MPI Home Video) are now available on DVD.

[Additional photo: Ros Leeming and Harry Treadway in “The Disappeared,” IFC Films, 2009]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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