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Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Harold's Home Movies
Sunday began down at the glorious Cinerama for a special film festival treat: Harold's Home Movies. Hal O'Neal is a 92-year-old man who has been making 16 mm films since he was a young strippling. Several years ago he donated his copious film archives to what the programmers always referred to as "the San Francisco LGBT Historical Society." The historical society, in turn, got a grant to transfer one hour of the footage into a more accessible format (I think it was video, though I'm not sure), then that hour was shown at this year's San Francisco International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, where my vanpoolie Sean happened to see it. When he found out that Harold and his partner of 50 years lived in the Puget Sound, he talked to them and started the courtship that eventually got Harold's Home Movies and Hal and George into the Cinerama.

The hour that the historical society selected was pretty San Francisco-centric, beginning with an almost touristy "This is San Francisco" documentary of SF in the early 1940s. Even this generic stuff was great, though, giving a sense, for example, of how "exotic" Chinatown must have seemed at the time, even for the West Coast. Hal was clearly a great cameraman who was technically very competent—indoor scenes were well-lit and well-composed, the subjects were grouped together in interesting ways, and the camera was always focused. God knows I have enough trouble with those things even in these days of automatic point-and-shoot jobbies.

After the generic mini-documentary, we got to the really incredible stuff: images of Japanese-Americans on their way to internment camps (it was shocking to see them smiling and waving); groups of well-dressed, well-coiffed young men in dashing suits knocking back cocktails and eventually dancing together; house parties on the Russian River with the men in tiny bathing suits cavorting and flirting or performing in impromptu drag shows. Everyone was so young and beautiful and nicely turned out, and although the films themselves were silent, you could tell from their expressions that each and every one of them was a wit worthy of the Algonquin Round Table.

Then the action jumped to the San Francisco Pride parades of the mid-to-late '70s. I've been going to U.S. Pride parades since around 1983, but it was still shocking to me to be reminded just how radical we used to be. It was the gay and lesbian liberation movement, and it was radical and revolutionary and wild. Dykes were decked out in ill-fitting jeans and chamois shirts (and disco shorts and every other kind of outfit), everyone carried signs and yelled and took huge risks just being there, even in San Francisco.

Now we're all assimilated and march with our dogs and our Nasdaq-listed companies and fight for pension plans instead of jobs. It was saddening to be frank. I don't want to go back into hiding, but there's something to be said about the hunger of those times. (In the big, hellish 2000 March on Washington, the only person who got rapturous applause when she took to the stage was Ellen DeGeneres. I don't begrudge her the cheers, but I wish some of the badly paid or unpaid political and social activists had gotten a fraction of the attention she garnered.)

After the screening, Harold and George took questions. Harold didn't always answer directly, and it's hard to know if he was hiding something from his past (he just said he had worked for the government and had "top secret" clearance) or if he is just a bit vague, which is to be expected in someone of his age. George was a cut up, though, entertaining the audience with the story of how he and Hal met (Harold cruised down Market Street, rolled down his car window, and said to George and his buddy, "Hey, sailors, want a ride?").

If the National Lesbian and Gay Task Force had been outside when the movie let out, I swear they would have doubled their Seattle membership in a matter of minutes.