Filmmaker Mark Rappaport’s Controversial Revisionism of Closeted Rock Hudson’s Career
DIRECTED BY MARK RAPPAPORT/1992
DVD STREET DATE: MARCH 22, 2022/KINO CLASSICS
Part journalistic fact finding, part dishy presupposition, the 1992 quasi-documentary Rock Hudson’s Home Movies is an uncomfortably mixed bag of unmixed lamenting messaging. Filmmaker and obvious film historian Mark Rappaport has made a career of giving new voice to dead cinema personalities. The problem many have with his projects is, said “new voice” is his own- albeit filtered through a plastic Melitta cone of rich, ground-up research. The results are always intended to be hot. It certainly can’t be certified as “organic” or “fair trade”- his subjects are almost invariably dead.
Rock Hudson was an actor. He was never an activist, nor did he seek to bolster any particular representation on screen. (If anything, his roles as anything other than the white male he was, such as his title role in Douglas Sirk’s Taza, Son of Cochise, are now considered problematic.) Hudson was tremendously famous, having settled into an unlikely niche as a romantic leading man. He was often the caffeine and crème to the bitter sustainability of Doris Day, Gina Lollobrigida, Paula Prentiss, or whomever.
His cozy success in late-1950s/early-1960s rom-coms was unlikely not because Hudson was gay (closeted… even if the closet door was never quite latched shut), but because he’d been groomed by his contractual studio, Universal, to be a “serious leading man”. Hudson certainly did plenty of those roles, as well as Westerns and later, TV dramas. But comedy proved to be his shining forte. It was also in these roles that mischievous screenwriters and directors opted to tease and poke thinly veiled fun at Hudson’s not-so-secret sexual preferences and practices.
Hudson himself, late in his AIDS-shortened life, would casually say that the truth of his homosexuality was always right up there on screen, in plain sight for the entire world to see. Reportedly, he’d have choice “gay” moments from his many films edited into highlight reels, and then run the footage for his guests, always netting big laughs. Rappaport, springboarding from this Hollywood lore, presents his own version of “Rock Hudson’s home movies”, a barely-feature-length assemblage that is hosted by actor Eric Farr as Hudson.
There’s an unavoidable unease inherent in Rappaport’s own often pointed observations on the actor’s life and reputation presented as the beyond-the-grave recollections of Hudson himself. This unease is surpassed only by Farr’s complete and total dissimilarity to Rock Hudson. Like Rappaport’s later, very similar effort, 1995’s From the Journals of Jean Seberg, the dead celebrity’s surrogate direct-address the camera from what appears to be some sort of museum kiosk in a black void. To say that this unintentionally dorky approach hasn’t aged well would be an understatement, but it must be stated that Rappaport’s very “out” attitude that’s on display here was particularly ahead of the mainstream curve in 1992.
Kino Classics, having recently released Rock Hudson’s Home Movies to DVD, is unable to do much to salvage the shoddy audio/visual quality of the many movie clips utilized for this project. Rappaport appears to have leaned heavily on pan-and-scan videotape releases of Hudson’s films, having had a lab convert them back over to film. The many moments from the likes of Giant, Pillow Talk, Send Me No Flowers, Man’s Favorite Sport?, Magnificent Obsession, Strange Bedfellows, Ice Station Zebra, Come September, Seconds, and more, look murky to say the least. Like Hudson in his final months, they sadly resemble but a hint of their former selves.
Those critical of Rappaport’s approach often accuse him of applying the auteur theory to actors. They’re not altogether wrong in that, though it also seems wrong to discredit the filmmaker’s own humanistic messages, which stem from solidly researched places of truth and a voracious hunger for justice. Even still, though, being made to have to detect where the deceased subject’s “voice” ends and Rappaport’s begins is disruptive guesswork at best.
Like Kino’s DVD release of From the Journals of Jean Seberg, there is a healthy smattering of Rappaport’s many short films that make up the “Special Features” section. Two of the four are about actors from the golden age of cinema, John Garfield (2003) and Conrad Veidt- My Life (2019). Another is about a director, the great Sergei Eisenstein, entitled Sergei/Sir Gay (2016). All three of these shorts utilize a fictionalized first-person narration claiming to be the subject. Somehow, this approach feels more palatable than cutting back to an actor unconvincingly taking on the role of a deceased subject and host. The newer the film, the longer its running time. Conrad Veidt, clocking in at one hour, is just minutes shorter than the DVD’s main attraction.
Finally to be mentioned here, we have Rappaport’s very first film, 1971’s experimental Blue Streak. Consisting of fuzzy (poorly aged) black and white footage of naked men and women lounging around a fancy room while classical music plays. Superimposed over them, all manner of sexual slurs and slang words rhythmically appear and disappear. These sequences are intercut with long singular color shots of nature while explicit pornographic writings are read. A man recites female-narrated passages; a woman reads male-narrated passages. It’s an interesting if ham-fisted rumination on sexuality in “high art” and “low art”, running headlong to both extremes.
If Rock Hudson’s Home Movies has a core failing, it’s in its ultimate lack of respect to what Hudson was doing as an actor. Particularly when he fell into his run of comedies, his leading man status suddenly clicked. The amount of his success that can be attributed to smuggled-in gay gags is negligible at best. One would hope that even today, this would be true. The entendres were there, but they were the froth on whatever drink was being served. Hudson, ever devoted to whatever he was doing, was the coffee. Undeniably cold brew.