Sunday, 17 May 2015

TAB HUNTER CONFIDENTIAL: 25th Anniversary Inside Out Toronto LGBT Film Festival 2015 - Review By Greg Klymkiw

Tab Hunter Confidential (2015)
Dir. Jeffrey Schwarz

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Jeffrey Schwarz is one of America's stellar documentary filmmakers. He's contributed an important body of work on cinema as well as gay pop culture. With a solid career generating superb specialty product for television and added value materials for home entertainment releases, he's become especially notable for his slickly produced feature documentaries Vito (a profoundly moving portrait of gay cinema historian Vito Russo) and I Am Divine (the lovely, entertaining biographical portrait of everyone's favourite 300 lb. transvestite and John Waters muse).

Based on the hugely successful and insightful autobiographical book Tab Hunter Confidential, Schwarz has another winner to add to his canon of essential work.

Tab Hunter was one of the biggest movie heartthrobs of the 50s, a huge music recording star and a damn fine actor to boot who was groomed by Warner Bros. to make them a lot of money, but seldom allowing him the opportunity to grow as an actor. Gorgeous, blonde, kind-hearted and affable in real life as he appeared on screen, Hunter was, like so many gay actors, forced to keep his sexuality deep in the closet in order to maintain his spot at the top of the box-office.

When he eventually changed agents to assist him with getting more challenging roles, his first talent rep released information to the scandal press about Hunter's brief brush with the law (which had been repressed quite ably) wherein he'd been found in the (gasp!) company of homosexuals. Hunter was so beloved by his studio - Jack Warner in particular - because of the oodles of substantial grosses he pulled in, that even this was reasonably covered over by the powerful studio so he could keep making them money.

Unfortunately, Hunter extricated himself from his Warner's contract to become independent so he could more ably dictate better roles for himself. Without the protection and regular cheques from the studio, he quickly became persona non grata in the industry and was relegated to working in even more slight product than ever before. He eventually stopped working altogether in the movies and became a stalwart on the dinner theatre circuit. It brought in steady money, but was also drudgery in terms of both the travel and non-stop demand of daily live performance in front of thousands of audiences slurping back globs of grotesque comestibles at the all-you-can-eat troughs of this horrendous circuit used to capitalize on actors who were "past their prime".

Eventually, Hunter was back on top as a film cult personality thanks to his great work in John Waters's Polyester and the gay-tinged spaghetti western spoof Lust in the Dust. Again though, he faced obscurity after this brief resurgence and Hunter turned to his first love, horses, and became a master of equestrian competition - something he continues with to this very day.

It's a great story and Schwarz juggles all the balls (as it were) at his disposal to create a significant document of the studio period in Hollywood and the burgeoning years of independent cinema. Perhaps even more meaningful is the frank look at what it meant to be gay in America and Hollywood when homosexuality was not merely frowned upon, but considered criminal deviant activity.

Using a star studded cast of interviewees and the best selection of film clips and archival materials money can buy, Schwarz is also granted unfettered access to Hunter himself. In a series of penetrating interviews, we learn about Hunter's abusive father, loving mother, his devotion to God and the Church, his heartbreaking experience with the nasty repression of Catholicism and, of course, his often scintillating, but secret love life.

On the surface, he was paired up by the studio with the gorgeous Natalie Wood and the two of them were "lovers" in the eyes of the world, accompanying each other to a myriad of events, parties, premieres and pretty much anywhere paparazzi were present to grab fodder for fan magazines. Hunter's recollection of these dates with Wood and other female stars provide deeply loving relationships, albeit of the purely platonic kind (though there is one "straight" story that offers us much in the way of genuine tears).

As for the fellas, we're privy to Hunter's secret relationships with other gay men in the industry, most notably Anthony Perkins; as intense and deep a love relationship one could imagine twixt anyone and yet one which crashed and burned when Hunter was betrayed professionally by Perkins.

Tab Hunter Confidential has anything any movie lover could want, but at the end of the day, it also offers an extremely crucial history of gay life from the 1950s and beyond. It's also worth noting that all the interviews with the celebrity experts are beautifully rendered by Schwarz and deliver a lineup of people who are both entertaining and magnanimous.

The one exception, however, is an interview with Clint Eastwood. I've always admired him as an actor and director, but frankly, he comes across as a complete asshole - at least that was my feeling. Schwarz only keeps this one bit with Eastwood in the film which, suggests to me that Eastwood must have been an even bigger asshole in material that found its way to the cutting room floor.

Then again, some might find Eastwood's remarks funny and the real reason he's represented as such. I don't know. You can be the judge. The movie was so moving, that Eastwood's bit just stuck out like a sore thumb to me.


Tab Hunter Confidential is playing at the Inside Out 2015 Toronto LGBT Film Festival. For further info, please visit the festival's website by clicking HERE.