Friday, June 3, 2011

One A Week Reviews #22: American Experience: Stonewall Uprising

Perfect for June, let's kick off "Pride Month" with this documentary on the Stonewall Riots I wrote for dvdsnapshot. Check it out!

American Experience: Stonewall Uprising

Official Synopsis:

Veteran filmmakers Kate Davis and David Heilbroner (Adolescent Addict, Jockey) explore the dramatic event that launched a world-wide rights movement. Told by those who took part, from drag queens and street hustlers to police detectives, journalists, and a former mayor of New York, and featuring a rich trove of archival footage, this American Experience film revisits a time when homosexual acts were illegal throughout America, and homosexuality itself was seen as a form of mental illness. Hunted and often entrapped by undercover police in their hometowns, gays from around the U.S. began fleeing to New York in search of a sanctuary in a Mafia-run gay bar in Greenwich Village, the Stonewall Inn. When police raided Stonewall on June 28, 1969, gay men and women did something they had not done before: they fought back. As the streets of New York erupted into violent protests and street demonstrations, the collective anger announced that the gay 
rights movement had arrived.

Our Take:

Stonewall Uprising chronicles the moment a group of long bullied, oppressed, and put-upon gay bar patrons decided to stand up to institutionalized abuse and sparked the explosion of the gay rights movement.

Up until the early sixties, homosexuality was treated as a mental illness and violently suppressed by society through social pressures and punishment. There were only small groups (the "homophile movement") working for acceptance through conformity and the main options available to homosexuals up through the sixties was a secretive, "twilight" life. Slowly, small enclaves were carved out, the "Gay ghettos," and this documentary does a great job of establishing the tenor of the times before introducing you to the Stonewall Inn, the very heart of gay life in New York.

You can only marginalize someone for so long before they fight back, and through a variety of interviews with participants (police, reporters, the drag queens whose thrown pennies became a "shot heard 'round the world."), the films shows how events simmered up to become the Stonewall riots. Having finally had enough, the gay community fought back. Years of oppressive arrests lead to one night when the usual police round-up wound up with them barricading themselves in the bar for fear of the crowd. (An anecdote about the deputy addressing each officer to keep it from becoming a shoot out illustrates just what a powder keg this situation was. )

Glorious sixties footage of Times Square gives a "you are there" immediacy to the interviews. (The most awkward, complicated inclusion, for many reasons, might be Ed Koch, but his story and involvement with the AIDS crisis of the 80s is a whole other story...) What happened during the Stonewall riots wound up changing American culture. To this day, Gay Pride parades traditionally happen in June to commemorate these events. Stonewall Uprising is one of the most engaging films the American Experience series has produced to date. A concise, absorbing telling of how it all got started.

Special Features:

This bare-bones disc features English Subtitles and an option for 5.1 Surround Sound Audio. The visual are a full-frame widescreen.


The American Experience series does it again with Stonewall Uprising, their documentary of the Stonewall Inn Riots that sparked the gay rights movement.  A balanced, beautiful reminder of how far the world has come in accepting the realities of our fellow human beings. This is also required viewing for anyone coming out in the forty-plus years since Stonewall who may not know what they owe their elders.

Overall Picture:
Movie: A 
Extras: C

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