When Vito Russo died from AIDS-related illness in 1990, he left behind an enormous legacy, not only as a pioneering gay and AIDS activist, but also as the author of the seminal book The Celluloid Closet, about the history of gays and lesbians in cinema, which was later turned into a movie itself.
Jeffrey Schwarz’s impressive doc touches on all of this, as well as Russo’s personal life, which included a family that provided unconditional support after he came out early and unashamedly, and his lover Jeffrey Sevcik, who was as shy as Vito was outgoing.
The film’s impressive archival footage gives a front-line perspective on pre-Stonewall bathhouse raids, homophobic journalism in publications like Harper’s and how New York City’s queer community fractured in the 70s – once their fights for sexual freedom and expression were won – and then banded together when the terrifying and mysterious AIDS epidemic hit urban centres.
Besides the articulate and impassioned Russo, the interviews and footage include friends like Larry Kramer, Armistead Maupin, Lily Tomlin (one story about her run-in with Time Magazine is worth the price of admission) and Bette Midler, who once unified an out-of-control queer rally with style and chutzpah befitting the Divine Miss M.
Essential viewing for LGBT and other activists.