Part of a surprisingly robust summer for LGBTQ films, two new movies are now on tap: one a gossipy documentary based on a tell-all novel, the other a faithful adaptation of a popular book.
Still alive today, Scotty Bowers is the fascinating epicenter of “Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood.” It’s based on Bowers’ book “Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars” which came out in 2012 and revealed some of Bowers’ run-ins ranging from the 1940s to the 1980s. Discharged from the Army after World War II, Bowers winds up in Hollywood and immediately causes a stir. He meets Walter Pidgeon at a gas station that he runs, winds up at a pool party, and is soon working at arranging clients for gay and closeted men, many of them high on the movie-making rungs. (Bowers’ own sexuality seems to be fluid).
Although some of these famous men were open with each other, their secrets could not leak out. The film studios, in particular, were nervous about some of their stars. During his heyday, Bowers claims to have been involved with the likes of George Cukor, Vivien Leigh, Spencer Tracey, even the abdicated Edward VIII. Getting more serious, “Scotty” also covers the advent of the AIDS crisis and Rock Hudson.
It has to be said: Some people may choose not to believe anything that Bowers says, but plenty of others will eat this up. (Gore Vidal himself did back him up, however.) Although is he 95 now, Bowers is still charismatic and can spin a story.
That said, the film isn’t quite as much fun as it thinks it is. This becomes a talking head movie at times. Director Matt Tyrnauer has made a decent documentary but one not nearly as zippy as some of his other work (“Valentino: The Last Emperor”) or even his other doc of the season, the upcoming “Studio 54.” Nonetheless, though, this is juicy stuff.
“We the Animals” — which premiered at Sundance this year — is based on Justin Torres’s semi-autobiographical 2011 book. Now it’s a film by Jeremiah Zagar that has its own vibe and emotional heft. The central character Jonah (played by Evan Rosado) is a pre-teen growing up with his brothers Manny and Joel in upstate New York during the 1980s. His parents (Ma, played by Sheila Vand, and Paps, played by Raul Castillo of “Looking”) are struggling to make ends meet. Paps is dealing with depression and has an abusive side.
Trying to deal with all that’s going on around — including his own awareness of his attraction to men — Jonah keeps a journal full of his thought and pictures. One night, he runs off to spend time with a friend. There are some major changes in the film adaptation, yet it’s all diverting, told in a dreamy style. In a tricky role, Rosado is often heartbreaking as a kid ready with a sense of who he is and what he wants — and doesn’t want — in life. The book (which I have not read) might make for an easier, more linear journey, yet this is a confident debut by Zagar and a subtle one that should resonate with a lot of gay and noon-gay audiences. Its final passages are moving and empowering.