Small Town Gay Bar

Reviewed By brianorndorf
Posted 08/02/07 03:09:02

"A place where ordering a blowjob could get you many different things"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

If it wasn’t hard enough to be gay in America, imagine trying to locate a safe haven for personal expression in Mississippi. “Small Town Gay Bar” takes a closer peek at the gay movement in this southern state and the ways rural discrimination rears its ugly head.

Directed by Malcolm “Paul Martin” Ingram, “Gay Bar” is a kindly, almost polite investigation into how gay nightclubs survive up against overwhelming community disapproval in the more excitable Bible Belt sections of our country. The documentary isn’t fueled by volcanic debate or head-shaking revelations; instead it’s more comfortable with patient observance of the lives changed by these glittery establishments that welcome the GLBT community with open arms.

The film’s focus is primarily locked on to the “Rumors” nightclub in Shannon, Mississippi. A prototypical small southern town, Shannon jolts awake once the sun goes down, encouraging hundreds of people from the surrounding communities to visit “Rumors” and celebrate their lifestyle with dancing, drinking, and an outpouring of unbridled affection.

Of course, “Rumors” has been the center of great controversy in the area, with locals heavily vocalizing their disapproval of the nightclub, and patrons feeling the pressure to bottle up their inner-queen once outside of the building. Through interviews with the exasperated owner of “Rumors” and the countless patrons who flock to the club any chance they get, Ingram evokes a potent feeling of unity, while also capturing a bizarre sense of danger to the bar, where everyone has to keep a close eye on the outside world for safety. Still, even in the middle of a hornet’s nest of intolerance, “Gay Bar” lifts the spirit a few inches off the ground in the lovely way it depicts souls temporarily free from oppression, spoiling themselves in the lone place they can entertain their desires.

“Gay Bar” darkens some when detailing the death of Scotty Weaver, a young local who was tortured and killed because of his sexual identity. Not much screen time is devoted to the case, but the inclusion of the murder is a chilling reminder of the danger the Mississippi locals face from their neighbors, heightening the importance of places like “Rumors.”

“Gay Bar’s” second half looks at the roller-coaster life of “Crossroads” in Meridian, Mississippi. A hedonistic nightclub catering to more eccentric tastes in entertainment, the bar became a target for local government agencies to uncover any sort of infraction to expand to a full shut down of the club. They succeeded, leaving Meridian temporarily in the hands of Fred Phelps and his posse of apocalyptic abhorrence.

The mastermind behind the bile-spitting “God Hates Fags” media whore movement of verbal warfare (perhaps his daughter, Shirley Phelps, is the most famous of these hucksters of hate), Fred comes to embody Ingram’s most infuriated, foaming opposition to the gay community, the irony being that he shared a hometown with one of the most aggressive lifestyle bars in the state and didn’t even know it.

Shot with an accomplished visual palette (by Jonathon Cliff), using both stark and affectionate film and HD sources, “Gay Bar” induces a strong feeling of location and welcoming personality, which Ingram uses as clay to create this lovely snapshot of people gathering to celebrate themselves and an infrequent feeling of freedom. It’s an accomplished documentary, thankfully showcasing Ingram’s growth as a filmmaker, and provides a hopeful encapsulation of muted struggle inside a larger, overwhelming portrait of intolerance.

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