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Review: ‘Before Stonewall: The Making of a Gay and Lesbian Community’

(L-R)- A photograph of Audre Lorde (right) and friend, New York City, circa 1950s in a scene from “B
A photograph of writer Audre Lorde, right, and a friend in 1950s New York City, from the 1984 documentary “Before Stonewall: The Making of a Gay and Lesbian Community.”
(First Run Features)

The newly restored 1984 documentary “Before Stonewall: The Making of a Gay and Lesbian Community,” re-released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the seminal Stonewall riots, remains a vital, well-told, if slightly rough-around-the-edges chronicle of LGBTQ history from the early 20th century to 1969’s birth of the modern gay rights movement.

Directors Greta Schiller and Robert Rosenberg blend a superb trove of personal and archival film clips, cleverly used period music, and narration by “Rubyfruit Jungle” author Rita Mae Brown with candid “we were there” interviews with pioneering LGBTQ activists, writers and historians such as Harry Hay, Allen Ginsberg, Frank Kameny, Audre Lorde, Barbara Gittings, Martin Duberman, Mabel Hampton, Ann Bannon and West Hollywood icon Ivy Bottini.

Many everyday gay folks also weigh in with eclectic tales of life lived on the fringes as they eluded and powered through decades of oppressive laws, mores and biases. A stirring sense of pride, self-possession and resolve is evident in the film’s wealth of interview subjects.

How the Great Depression, the World War II era, McCarthyism and the Lavender Scare, the Kinsey Reports, America’s rising bohemian subculture, the 1960s civil rights movement and more all affected the fraught evolution of gay and lesbian existence is chronologically examined here in lucid and enlightening ways.

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‘Before Stonewall: The Making of a Gay and Lesbian Community’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes

Playing: Starts Friday, Ahrya Fine Arts, Beverly Hills

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