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25 August 2013

Book Review: "Celluloid Gaze" by Boze Hadleigh

celluloid gaze coverI won this book last year from my first ever blogathon, the Queer Film Blogathon 2012 hosted by Garbo Laughs and Pussy Goes Grrr. Not being terribly interested in queer theory myself, I was tempted to set this book aside. But flipping through I noticed a whole chapter devoted to George Cukor, Katharine Hepburn's best pal in Hollywood and her director for ten movies. My interest was also piqued by the forward by noted homosexual writer and raconteur Quentin Crisp, or THE NAKED CIVIL SERVANT (1975).

If you haven't heard of Boze Hadleigh (I hadn't), let me introduce you. Hadleigh is the authority on the homosexual scene in Hollywood. He has an MA in journalism and has used his talents for researching and writing about Hollywood's both closeted and outed gay communities. He's written more than 15 books, most of them centre on LGBT themes and Hollywood gossip. Two of his works, "Hollywood Gays" and "Hollywood Lesbians" are definitive exposés of the homosexual side of the Hollywood star system.

Boze Hadleigh, 1987
None of this information about the author primed me to enjoy this book. I find "gossip scholarship" repulsive and journalistic "snide, corkscrew English" makes me want to kick something really hard. The preface of "Celluloid Gaze" was difficult to follow. The thesis was only identifiable in the foreward when Quentin Crisp started posing counter claims. I was at least grateful that I could agree with Crisp that Hadleigh's argument that "for a journalist or a biographer to conceal that his subject is homosexual is a political act" lacks an understanding of the atmosphere of thought prevalent in Hollywood for most of the 20th century.

celluloid gaze tocLuckily, the majority of "Celluloid Gaze" is given over to the voices of the men Hadleigh is interviewing, so the reader doesn't have to endure too much sensationalist journalist-speak or too much sledgehammer thesising (my word). The interviews, as in conversation, wobble on and off topic. If you are reading this book for the purpose of hearing famous people make open claims about homosexuality, you may be disappointed. But you will hear these men talk on or around a subject considered greatly taboo for the times. 

There are six men featured in this 220-page paperback, and if you are interested in one of them in particular, this book is a great resource of some previously unpublished interviews. Though the talks Hadleigh had with these men touch on a number of subjects, the specific focus on sexuality offers a new lens through which we can view their lives and work. Hadleigh does a fantastic job navigating the social awkwardness of his topic, which is probably why he's so good at what he does.

"Celluloid Gaze" can be purchased on Amazon HERE. A 1987 interview of Hadliegh by Woody McBreairty on the subject of his piece "Conversation with my Elders," on which "Celluloid Gaze" is based, can be seen HERE.

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