My friend Roger, after I recommended to him recently that he try to get hold of a DVD copy of the documentary Word is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives, did just that, and at Roger’s house last night I watched this extraordinary film again for the first time since it was released in 1978.
When I saw the film for the first time, shortly after it was released, it was one of the most moving films I had ever watched. It, and the gay conference where I first saw it, were foundational moments in my adult life. So I knew I’d want to watch it again at some point…although I was half afraid that a documentary this old might not hold up well after so many years and after so many, mostly positive, developments in the worldwide gay rights movement.
Was I ever wrong about the movie being “dated.” I found myself repeatedly gasping with long-buried recognition and excitement as each of the over two dozen people interviewed first appeared on the screen. Even more amazing (and at times somewhat alarming) was watching one of the DVD’s “bonus features”: the set of recent re-interviews with these now-30-years-older interviewees. (Alas, far too many of the people featured in the original film could not be re-interviewed: they died in the interim – many of them, as well as the film’s director, Peter Adair – victims of the AIDS epidemic.)
If you’ve seen this film, you owe it to yourself to find it and watch it again – either by borrowing it from a public library, obtaining it via your NetFlix subscription, or by buying it from Amazon.com, like Roger did. If you’ve never seen the film, you’ve missed one of the most astonishing documentaries ever made. As one of the people in the film says in his re-interview, this is a film that steadily and completely draws you to itself. It is amazing to me that any film can create the sort of intimacy you feel toward these twenty-six ordinary Americans as you listen to their stories. Treat or re-treat yourself yourself to this amazing experience. Its impact has never left me, and likely never will.