THIS IS THE FULL REVIEW
Jim Fouratt’s Reel Deal Movies that Matter
The Stonewall Rebellion took place in Greenwich Village in 1969. Hollywood director Roland Emmerich and Broadway PlaywrightJon Robin Baitz have released Stonewall the movie.
Because it happened in the WestView News neighborhood and the event changed history world-wide, I have decided to change my normal format and just review one film in this print issue. Please look at Westviewnews.org for my New York Film Festival reviews and current releases.
I have to give you some of my own background first. I was a witness and participant in the four nights of the Stonewall Rebellion. On the night of June 28th 1969, I was coming home from working late at CBS/Columbia Records. At , I turned the corner onto Christopher St. I saw a police car pulled up in front of the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar that I did not often frequent. It was dirty, dark, seedy and usually full of closeted married men looking for young men to buy or to get pills to calm their nerves as they ventured out of the shadows. I was a 60s radical and one of the few out gay men in the anti-war movement and one of the founders of the Yippies.
I walked to the front door of the bar to see why the police car was there, and twenty people were gathered outside. I was there no longer that ten minutes when the front door opened and a police officer led out a very masculine-looking and dressed woman who was handcuffed and placed into the police car. He went back inside. She started rocking the car with her bulky body, much to the appreciation of the about sixty people now gathered outside and spilling into the street.
Much to her surprise and to the crowd one of the doors popped opened. She climbed out. Despite her size, she slipped her female wrists out of the cuffs. She began to throw her bulky body against the police car. It began to rock each time until it almost tipped over—it did not, but at its highest point the crowd, now nearing one hundred, started to cheer. The bar door opened. A cop put his head out to see what the noise was about and quickly closed the door. She freaked at the sight of the cop and fled. The cop apparently went inside and called for reinforcements. In
In Christopher St Park across the street underage gender non-conforming mostly run away kids did gather .A very few were of color .One must know that i 1969 the Northern racism as subtle as it is, was at play in the bar life of Greenwich Village. The mob did not normally let blacks in with few exceptions based on physical beauty. Black gays had their own bars in Harlem and times Square. There was one bar on the Village waterfront that was know as a black gay bar , It was called Kellers. The few authentic pictures of that first night wil show the majority of people were young, white gay men. The politically correct and language police must understand that the world drag queen was not a negative term and was used as identification by people like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. Transvestite was the respectable language used as in Street Transvestite Action Revolution for gay men who dressed in women'x clothes. I knew of no transexuals. While drag queens did come to GLF, no transexuals that I was aware of did. I am using the language of 1969.
Meanwhile as the crowd grew outside awaiting the arrival of more police, it took on the tone of a street party. People were having a good time mulling around. The police arrived and cleared the sidewalk and went inside the bar. The bar employees were arrested, brought out and placed in police vehicles. The crowd outside became more animated, but not violent. Yes, a trash can may have been dumped over, and yes, some queens stood outside on the street and threw pennies and small change at the cops and matches at the building. Yes, there was pushback. But it had more the flavor of gay camp than 60s radical fight back.
The person who gave the most angry lip to the police was a straight folk singer (Dave Van Ronk) coming out of the Lions Head bar next door who asked “what is going on here” and got arrested. The cops started clearing the street. The crowd disbursed. Some simply went over to West 10th and some to Washington Square.
A group of about seven of us gathered at Waverly and Waverly and talked about how we could keep the energy and people coming back. This was all before cell phones and twitter, Facebook etc. A couple of us had been in the Mattachine youth group, and some of us had experience in the Anti-war movement.
Christopher Street was calm by . We set about organizing for the next three nights. Yes, it became more aggressive when some straight radicals joined in and were agitating to pick a fight with the cops. I saw this all with my own eyes. It is basically what I told Martin Duberman for his book Stonewall. Note there was never a Cadillac parked in front of the Stonewall any of the four nights.Sylvia Rivera and Bob Kohler were not there the first night but were there the following three nights. Now, the review:
Stonewall director Roland Emmerich
Whoever did the research for this movie talked to the wrong people (Or they read Stonewall: The Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution by David Carter, which tells a mostly fabricated story of what happened the first night.) To me his is a dangerous story because he puts a straight template on gay history. He used as his principal authority Police Inspector Seymour Pine—who did everything he could to draw attention away from the mob payoff to the cops, because it was against the law to serve liquor to homosexuals. Pine’s people fed the Daily News a story of three cops getting injured and having to be taken to St Vincent’s Hospital and released. The hospital had little record of any injuries directly related to the Christopher Street incident.
The film is set in the days before the rebellion and focuses on street kids and queens and a new white boy Danny Winters (Jeremy Irvine) in town with a scholarship to Columbia. Danny has been thrown out of his family home in Kansas. He is taken in by a group of street kids he encounters, led by a character based on Sylvia “Ray” Rivera named Ray/Ramona (Jonny Beauchamp) more myth than reality.
Later he sees the handsome Trevor (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) in the Stonewall Inn handing out fliers. Trevor is the political hero of the film. He appears to be based on an ex-boyfriend of mine Marty Robinson. Trevor takes him home and for the Danny it is love at first sight. Later he sees Trevor kiss another boy and gets his heart broken. The film is populated with stereotypes and sentimentality.
When Danny runs out of money. Ramona suggests he turn a trick to buy food. He says they all do it to survive. Danny goes to local gay pimp Ed Murphy (Ron Perlman) who sends him to an uptown apartment to meet a mysterious fat, old man in a dress (this shouts J.Edgar Hoover to me.) We go to a Mattachine meeting in a flashback and see Frank Kameny calling for equal treatment for gays in the workforce. He is dressed in straight male drag, a suit and tie. Emmerich tries to put everything in but the kitchen sink—including a reference to the street queens mourning the death of Judy Garland inside the Stonewall Inn.
These constructed facts simply are not true.
All of this is building towards night . Two cops arrive at the Stonewall in the early evening for their pay off. I do not know what went wrong in the bar. The action on the screen focuses on the street where I was and it presents a full stage riot with crowds of angry young men assaulting the bar and threatening the police. Reinforcements are called in, including the notorious NYC riot police the Tactical Police Force (TPF) with their stanchions and shields clearing the streets. Fire engines rush to out a raging fire apparently set by people on the street.
Exciting on the screen? Yes. But it simply did not happen that way. Emmerich compresses four very different nights into one and creates a lie of what actually happened. There are so many historical errors—including the focus on the Mattachine Society—that it almost becomes a cliché version of William Burroughs’ The Wild Boys. Emmerich has the right to tell a story and is skilled at film making. I know Stonewall is not a documentary. But his distortion of actual history makes him vulnerable to people like myself who were actually there.
To me the significance of Stonewall is not what happened in the bar—payoffs happened all the time—but what happened on the street those four nights. The rejection of Mattachine and the birth of the modern Gay Liberation Front with its multi-issue politics much more in sync with the radical politics of the late 60s was important. As was the courage of the people godsmacked by the events—they had the courage to come out to create a safer world for all lesbians and gay people.
Not, “Gay is Good,” the Mattachine slogan but “Come Out” was the GLF chant. Coming out and being visible is what changed history. Stonewall birthed the modern gay and lesbian movement initiated by the Gay Liberation Front and groups that grew out of it like Radical Lesbians and The Gay Activist Alliance. (GAA).