Picking up where 1995 docu "The Celluloid Closet" left off, "Fabulous! The Story of Queer Cinema" shows the leap in out-and-proud filmmaking in the U.S., from Kenneth Anger's "Fireworks" (1947) right up to "Brokeback Mountain." Backed by coin from cabler IFC and rental outfit Netflix, Lisa Ades and Lesli Klainberg's digitally-shot pic feels too made-for-TV to satisfy completely in a theatrical setting. Even so, onscreen interviewees and subject alone should get gay-themed fests out in droves to book pic.
Over the course of its lean 81-minute running time, docu methodically ticks off queer cinema landmarks from the mid-20th century to the present, using quotes from assorted talking heads instead of voiceover narration to connect the dots. Where "The Celluloid Closet" focused more on the behind-the-screen stories of gay talent and the hidden homosexual subtexts in Hollywood's golden years, "Fabulous!" celebrates the films featuring unequivocally gay characters or those made by out directors on homosexual themes.
This means mention is made not just of obvious landmarks such as John Waters' early movies and early coming-out stories like "Making Love" (1982) and "Desert Hearts" (1985), but also of '60s-produced "dykesploitation" soft porn, originally made for a straight male auds, but now embraced as kitsch fun by lesbian and gay viewers. These less-well-known pics would make a fascinating docu subject in themselves, but helmers stick a little dully to a Queer Cinema 101 curriculum.
Inevitably, the 1990s and the explosion of New Queer Cinema, as defined by critic and onscreen participant B. Ruby Rich, dominate the pic. Coverage is made of the early '90s kerfuffle over the National Endowment for the Arts support for Todd Haynes' "Poison," Tom Kalin's "Swoon" and other pics that got the straight moralists in a lather but delighted gay and lesbian viewers jonesing for representations of themselves. Pic touches very gingerly on controversies within the fracturing gay community over negative images of gay people, but doesn't go into too much detail.
Last 20 minutes takes the story up to the "Will & Grace" present, featuring gay characters on television, and straight actors who regularly win awards for playing gay, lesbian or transgender characters. Always welcome quote-machine Waters quips that it would be radical to see a gay actor playing a gay character these days.
Tech package is nothing special.
Camera (color, DigiBeta), Ruben O'Malley, John Pirozzi; additional camera, Henry Adebonojo, Sophie Constantinou, Tammie Price, Lesli Kleinberg; editor, Rachel Reichman; music, Ari Gold, Billy Porter; sound, Caleb A. Mose, Steve Boves, William Hansen, Tim Stubelek, Claudia Kataynagi, Andre French; graphic designer, Elizabeth Dagger; associate producer, Jessica Wolfson. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama), Feb. 15, 2006. Running time: 81 MIN.