"Small Town Gay Bar" DVD Review
July 19, 2007 by James Harvey
I honestly think anything I write here will not do this documentary justice. I know Iím not the best writer out there, or the worst, but you canít help but examine own work when you see something truly moving, truly emotional. I experienced the whole range of emotions while watching Small Town Gay Bar, a slightly flawed documentary about a handful of gay bars in Americaís Bible Belt. Not only does the movie hit close to home, but it also paints the gay bar scene in a way nobody could expect. Throw out whatever expectations you may have, because there is no way it can come close to what youíll experience watching this documentary. If we had a Pick of the Week feature here at WF DVD Report, this would be my selection Ė no question!
Director Malcolm Ingram delves into the Deep South to examine the importance and history of rural gay bars Ė including one with a shockingly bawdy reputation Ė in this critically acclaimed documentary. Focusing primarily on two bars in Mississippi, Rumors and Crossroads, the film introduces us to their proprietors as they struggle to stand their ground in hostile terrain. Shockingly honest and brutal, this is a story that sheds new light on every small town in North America.
I had no prior notions about this movie, only hearing that it was really well received. I had no clue what to expect when I placed the disc in my DVD player. Within minutes, I was hooked. I found this to be such a touching and poignant look at the oppression the gay community experiences in the Deep South, and just how horrible it can be. In fact, some of it was downright shocking to learn about. I found myself angry at the violence and ignorance heaped onto such an undeserving population, who only wanted to express themselves. The fight for equal rights is clearly far from over, and nowhere is this more evident than in small towns in the Deep South. However, it wasnít all doom and gloom.
Ingram structures his film around two events, the change of ownership of one gay bar and the resurrection of another. What we experience throughout the film is the appreciation the patrons feel for these bars. Through this we find out that there is simply more to these bars than a place to drink, dance, and hook-up. These bars create families, life-long friends and partnership. They create, more importantly, security. I realize this documentary does not relate to every gay bar, or the patrons who go, but it does provide a new outlook to these establishments. Ingram is able to skillfully balance both the joy and hatred of these small town gay bars. He shows the importance of being strong, finding love in others, how crucial acceptance can be, and how the human spirit is a strong, strong thing. I actually cried a bit while watching this.
That sounds sappy, I know, but thatís what this movie invoked in me. Despite all the horrible things against the gay community that was documented here, I couldnít help but feel hopeful. That things will get better. As the movie follows two bars going under new management, and the hopes and fears of those who attend, I was there, hoping for the best. That they would have a sanctuary from the oppression they suffer day to day. I seriously donít want to reveal how the documentary will unfold, because itís a joy to discover as something new, as unspoiled as possible.
Whatís astonishes me is how people who go to these bars, constantly berated with cruelty, ridicule, and even violence, manage to live day to day. On top of that, they are so open about their story, be it when they first came out, how some of their friends and family reacted, or their first night at a gay bar. These gay bars are their only social outlets in a fairly closeted community, and we get to see how these bars serve another, more important, purpose. Itís quite amazing, the story Small Town Gay Bar is able to tell, all at the hands of the very talented Malcolm Ingram. I could write for hours on how moving, poignant, and important this documentary is, but Iíd end up repeating myself, more so than I already have here. While the documentary could be organized a little better and probe a bit deeper, this is still a movie everyone should see.
Now, onto the DVD itself! Even if this DVD was bare, Iíd still fully recommend it. Thankfully, the DVD comes with a nice commentary, an introduction to the documentary featuring Ingram and Kevin Smith, a short ďChatting with KevĒ feature, deleted scenes, and a featurette on some of the people who inhabit these small towns. Overall, itís a great package providing additional information and content to an already stunning documentary. And if youíre wondering why Kevin Smith is featured on the DVD, well, he helped finance this documentary to get it off the ground. On top of that, he also a friend of the director. Itís great additional material to watch once youíve been able to fully absorb Small Town Gay Bar.
If I had to recommend one documentary to see this year, it would be this one. Small Town Gay Bar had me completely enthralled, absorbed in the story of these two gay bars and how significant they are. This documentary has so much going for it, and deserves a large audience. People need to see this to understand just what itís like to be gay in Americaís Bible Best. While reality there may be stark, itís amazing to see how people find light, comfort, and hope in a gay bar, and with each other. These are truly amazing people, and Iím thankful that Ingram was able to let me into their lives. While he has a few kinks to work out, Ingram has a great gift as a storyteller. He presents both sides of the story to the audience, making the reality of their situation even more startling. While my experiences growing up may not be the same as theirs, I also came from a small town with similar (though not as intense) discrimination. This is a story that resonates throughout North America, which is why I believe that while it's not perfect, it is still an important piece of work.
Small Town Gay Bar comes Highly Recommended. Itís an inherently moving and painfully truthful experience, about real people in a real place, struggling in a world where they are demonized. These two gay bars, and the people who inhabit them, fight for their right to just exist, and it is . . . unbelievable to watch. Itís an experience that you wonít forget, both brutal and uplifting. It will definitely make you think about your own experiences in life. In short, and as well as my shoddy writing skills can illustrate, Small Town Gay Bar is a must-see. Plain and simple.