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Tattling on Outrage

Rita Valencia

Rita Valencia

I am married to filmmaker Kirby Dick. The Washington Post identified me as a Mexican actress because that is the information available on IMdB, and it has never been corrected. I am not her, I’m a writer and a Sr. Art Director/Creative Director at an advertising firm in L.A.

As a person who never felt “American” even though I was born here, I see, and admire a certain ethical and moral advancement, uniquely American, based on a deeply held belief in rationalism. Because I share neither this belief in rationalism nor the ethical advancement it engenders, I have always been amused by my husband’s selection of subject matter for his documentaries, and have always noticed that he was drawn to ethical/moral/sexual scenarios which raised many questions and inflamed both inter-personal and public controversy. There was the fearless invasion of privacy (and partnering with my ex-husband) in PRIVATE PRACTICES (1986), the equally cheeky elbowing in on a relationship between a dominatrix and her sub in SICK (1997), and the dragging into the light of the evils of a religion to which he was an utter outsider in TWIST OF FAITH (2004). Kirby’s work is always a kind of invasion, which would be arrogant if it were not grounded in the rational-ethical. I always cringe when my husband asks if I’m ready to hear what he’s thinking about going after next…which is a good thing.

0utflagoutrage_l200904231522At the beginning of this project, OUTRAGE, the first people to question its premise were sitting around the dinner table: my son and Kirby’s mother. Our son felt the subject matter was the equivalent of ratting people out. No moral relativism here, this was, to his 17-year old sensibilities, wrong. People can admit wrongdoing when they choose. That is an absolute right. You have no right to tell on them EVER. Of course, I raised both my children to nevertattle! Kirby’s mother, another anti-tattler, felt that it was wrong to shine the light on very personal secrets. I was on the fence, but I had a queasy feeling about the whole thing. Closeted public officials represented a morass of bad karma: already they are dishonest on so many levels, already they have blood on their hands for supporting government policies that harm or kill citizens, always with compromised reasons for doing so. The closet was certainly not the worst of it when it came to official disingenuousness. Wading right into this karmic sinkhole was going to bring conflict and damage. This was only the beginning of months of debate and discussion between Kirby, his crew and friends and about the whole issue of outing people who were in the closet and in public life. Who was fair game? Who was off limits? Once again the issue of hypocrisy became the standard. Hypocrisy is, after all, the ultimate crime against the rational-ethical, because it adds inconsistency to simple dishonesty. Was the film to be about outing people? Was the film to be about the closet?

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Kirby Dick

The greatest challenge in making the film was in no way, however, the moral argumentation that framed it; it was that Kirby is by training and sensibility a verite filmmaker. Therefore, he needs to stories to follow, people engaged in activities, experiencing drama, living out conflicts. His initial concept, to both follow activists who were engaged in outing as well as to oversee his own investigations into a rather long list of government officials, was a gamble, based on a delicate structure of hypotheticals. By the law of averages, at least one prominent-enough person should show up at a bar with a same sex partner, or one of the guys in an escort service would talk on camera, or a former aide would agree to go on record.

One by one the hypotheticals crumbled. None of the “outers” ever outed anyone. The all-night stakeouts outside a certain Senator’s home netted one mysterious male guest who spent the night…but it was impossible to prove that they had had sex. Another investigation was supposed to turn up decades-old documents to prove a sex crime, but the search done by an professional expert in historical investigation, also a deeply interested party in the case of the particular official under investigation, concluded that the documents were “missing”. A subject who claimed to have an incriminating photograph strung the crew along for several months until it became apparent that he was lying. A rumor, which seemed to be substantiated by eight people turned out to have one source, who was unreliable. The most ambitious, nerviest and cleverest of Kirby’s interns had exhaustively searched the gay bar scene, dated D.C. escorts, discovered the secret showers in the basement of the Capital building–but nobody would go on record to talk about any of it. One hoped-for breakthrough after another went down ingloriously, until all that was left of the plan for this film was utter disappointment and a shattered budget.

It became grimly clear that there was no verite to be had, and possibly no veracity, from which to make a film. A deadly “essay” film was all that was left, something that would die after one bleak week at a festival somewhere, excluded by the blogosphere because there were no juicy new outings, ignored by the gay press and abandoned by funders and distributors. Into the wreckage walked Doug Blush, who had edited ‘Wordplay’ and ‘I.O.U.S.A.’.  Doug’s style was, as Kirby put it, more painterly and more intuitive than his previous, much beloved and respected editor, Matt Clarke. The energy began to build again, and the editing team regrouped and reworked. Crafting a story from interview footage and title cards, a new film began to emerge, and the subject matter slowly crystallized from being a failing attempt at sensationalism to a careful and balanced analysis of the closet and its psychological, political and social effects–a very different film than would have been made if all the hypotheticals had fallen into place. This was both ironic and fortuitous.

There had been a hope that OUTRAGE would open before the 2008 election. It was now December 2009. The election deadline had passed, but Obama had won, and the body politic was no longer so desperately angry. A new and impossible deadline for a cut was set for mid-January, to submit to Tribeca. Charlie Crist (Governor of Florida) was the slightly disappointing “star” as the outed politician-on-the-rise. To some bloggers this was not particularly news, but to the great majority of people interested in this film, it was. The evidence of his hypocrisy was plentiful but again, lovers of powerful men do not tend to want to rat them out. Crist, a deeply boring man, deserves as much if not more opprobrium for using possibly the emptiest, stupidest rhetoric since Ronald Reagan, as he does for being a closeted homosexual. [Of course in the day of brouhaha over his announcement that he would run for Senate, not one of the mainstream news outlets said anything about the flourishing stories of his secret life with male sex partners, or his opportunistic marriage.] Other great moments emerged in the film: Jim McGreevey’s tears, and his beautiful ex-wife’s heart-wrenching testimony; Dan Gurley’s transformation; Michelangelo Signorile’s story of how the media deliberately ignores this issue time and again. Check out the story about NPR censoring a review by Nathan Lee (http://blogs.villagevoice.com/music/archives/2009/05/npr_censors_its.php) and listen to Terry Gross get EXTREMELY uptight in her interview. Kirby realized that she had not watched the film after being baffled by her off-putting manner. (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=103832005) Indeed, in her interview in The Advocate, she admits to only being “briefed”. The blind eye of mainstream media might just blink, if enough people persist in supporting what this film is trying to do, which is to say that the Closet is a deeply destructive place to live and work, for those who take up residence there, and for the rest of us who accept the fear and loathing that supports it.

Terry Gross’ Advocate interview: http://www.advocate.com/print_article_ektid84096.asp

 



Comments

  1. Megan Williams says:

    Rita Valencia’s inside view of the work of Kirby Dick is truly insightful and an entertaining read. She is ,no doubt, a great sounding board for this adventurous documentarian. I always look forward to reading Valencia’s writings.

  2. Great writing from Rita as always; elegant, insightful, and brave. Though I know both Kirby and Rita, I think I am able to say without prejudice that the work of both (Rita is a fine playwright) is valuable, honest and – in a very special way – daring and unique.

  3. Maria Radford says:

    Well, I’m her sister so I know everyone too and I haven’t seen the film but if anyone has the courage to distribute it in Canada, maybe I will. Personally, I’m humbled by both Rita and Kirby’s talent. I’ve seen most of Kirby’s films and the thread that runs through them is a deep sense of empathy as well as playfulness even in ‘outrageously’ serious situations. Would we all view the world with such optimism.

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