Movie Review: Word is Out

By Monica Sullivan
Movie Magazine International
The Summer of Love in the straight world occurred in 1967. For the San Francisco gay community, The Summer of Love took place in 1978. Harvey Milk was still alive and thriving on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and AIDS, the plague that would be an epidemic by the summer of 1981 and didn't even have a name yet, had only been detected in a few scattered cases. Disco was huge that summer, only the followers of Reverend Jim Jones suspected what a monster he might be, and George Moscone, the Mayor of San Francisco and an enthusiastic movie buff, was a rising political star. It seemed to be a time of endless possibilities, and for the patrons of the Gateway Cinema on Jackson and Battery Streets, 1977 and 1978 were the years that the Mariposa Film Group four-walled Jack Tillmany's revival theatre for an exclusive engagement of "Word Is Out."

Director Peter Adair, who had been a cameraman on "Gimme Shelter," had interviewed a large group of lesbians and gay men and then selected the most articulate 26 to speak on camera for the documentary. As the FIRST full-length documentary to study gay life in America, "Word Is Out" was and is a landmark film, designed to shatter stereotypes and clarify mysteries of misinformation. After the initial grumbling about why one film was playing at the Gateway instead of golden oldie double bills twice weekly, "Word Is Out" became a long-running phenomenon. Gay AND straight audiences were starved for the information supplied in this funny, deeply humanistic movie.

The speakers aren't all kids: They are as young as eighteen and as old as 77, they live across the country from San Francisco to Boston and their experiences reflect universal concerns shared by everyone. For the proverbial one brief shining moment, the gay community flowered in prestige and power and the resulting knowledge and understanding benefited everyone. And then the horrors of Jonestown dominated international headlines by November 1978, Milk and Moscone were assassinated ten days later, the infamous White Night Riots at San Francisco City Hall followed the light sentence received by the assassin and rumblings about a gay cancer were heard in the land. Harvey Milk would become the subject of a movie and an opera. AIDS would claim millions of victims, including director Peter Adair, who made another picture, 1991's "Absolutely Positive," about his & others experience with the virus before his death at 53 in 1996. But "Word Is Out" was the first to open many people's minds to what being gay meant in a world where the subject had rarely been addressed above a whisper.
More Information:
Word is Out
USA - 1978