Outrage 

Closet Cases: If Outrage can change the world, should we forgive its cinematic shortcomings?

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Thanks to Kirby Dick’s Outrage, we’re faced with the return of an awkward question: If a documentary is “important,” how much should it matter whether or not it’s, you know, any good?

That’s not as simple a question as you might think. And it’s different from the question of whether or not the “important” documentary in question is fair and/or meticulously accurate. Michael Moore has spent a decade making politically charged movies like Fahrenheit 9/11 and Sicko that have been less than rigorous in their journalism and often smugly self-righteous. But they might—just might—have made a tremendous difference in their impact on the national debate. It ain’t great art, but it achieves something—and shouldn’t we value the latter more?

Outrage has already become something of a lightning rod due to its controversial subject matter: Dick wants to “out” closeted gay politicians, most of them avowed conservative Republicans, who pursue an actively anti-gay rights agenda in either their voting records or their public statements. Launching from the high-profile 2007 incident in which Idaho Sen. Larry Craig was accused of “lewd conduct” in a Minneapolis airport bathroom stall, Dick opens the door of bathroom stalls and closets all over Washington, D.C., and various state governments. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, Calif. Rep. David Dreier and ex-Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman are among those named. It’s pretty incendiary stuff, if not exactly breaking news to those who pay attention to such things.

Indeed, some of Outrage’s most compelling material deals with exactly who is paying attention to such things, at least publicly. Dick casts almost as harsh a light on the mainstream media as he does on the two-faced politicians, arguing that newspapers and other corporate media have refused to treat the sexual orientation of politicians as fair game for investigation. While he allows at least token representation of the idea that such “outings” are inappropriate or unfair, he also suggests that at least part of the reason for the lack of coverage has less to do with “fairness” than with gay journalists and their colleagues who don’t want their own sexuality to become newsworthy. With activist blogger Michael Rogers as his crusading on-screen protagonist, Dick makes the case that forcing hypocritical politicians into the light of day isn’t just about schadenfreude. It’s about chipping away at the idea that gay sexuality is a shameful secret that should be hidden.

If you’re a progressive-minded person, that’s probably a noble, worthy idea. But it’s also part of a movie, and Outrage simply doesn’t always succeed as a piece of filmmaking. Understandably, because they need to have every one of their evidentiary ducks in a row, Dick and Rogers spend a lot of time tracking down sources, providing documentation, showing hang-yourself-with-your-own-words interview footage and otherwise backing up their claims. That’s good journalism. It’s just not necessarily good cinema. Nor is it particularly enlightening hearing the same basic idea— these politicians are doing a bad thing— stated and re-stated several dozen times by different people. As the director of informative and cinematically satisfying documentaries like Sick, Derrida and This Film is Not Yet Rated, Dick clearly understands that it’s possible for the two goals to co-exist. Here, it appears that he has approximately 45 minutes’ worth of material supporting a 90-minute film.

Yes, there are many powerful, affecting—and, occasionally, amusing—moments spread throughout Outrage. Dick conveys the stories of politicians who did decide to make their sexuality public, including former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey, and mines humor from the idea that gay staffers on Capitol Hill virtually keep the wheels of government turning. But Outrage also spends time re-hashing scandals and allegations involving politicians who are no longer in office, like resigned Virginia congressman Ed Schrock and retired Lousiana congressman Jim McCrery. Such content doesn’t seem in line with the project’s stated purpose of making clear the potentially hidden hypocrisies of those still in a position to make policy; it feels more like self-congratulation for the success of Rogers’ previous efforts.

Maybe Rogers’ current efforts—and those of Outrage—will make a world of difference. In a perfect world, they’d also make a better movie.

OUTRAGE

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Documentary
Directed by Kirby Dick
Not Rated


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