By Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 8, 2009
The maybe-not-so-new news: Congress is peppered with toe-tapping closet cases who have sex with men but champion anti-gay legislation in the light of day. Our source goes by the name of "Outrage," a crisp, efficient, sometimes petty but often damning documentary about allegedly gay politicians who actively campaign and vote against gay rights.
Depending on your sensibilities, the film is either a rallying cry for truth or a pitiable bit of muckraking. Or both. Yes, much of its artillery is rumor and innuendo that have circulated for years inside the Beltway, but the mission is respectable. "Outrage" tries to expose harmful hypocrisy in American government by laying all the evidence on the table. During the film's brisk 86 minutes -- as it connects the dots of deceit to indict a whole generation of white, middle-aged Republican males in power -- a levelheaded, fair-minded viewer will respond with contempt, skepticism, empathy and uncertainty. But never boredom.
"Outrage" caters to our desire to see powerful people stripped of their righteousness. Despite the explosive subject matter, it's a very classical documentary. Talking heads are mixed with news footage, buttressed with some basic reporting and assembled to address one politician at a time. Through a series of corroborated anecdotes, the film proves, at least to itself, that a certain politician is gay, and then follows each outing (or re-outing) with an itemization of the politician's "no" votes on gay rights. It is a methodical public shaming.
Do these men deserve their privacy? No, the film says. They "have a right to privacy but not a right to hypocrisy," as openly gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) puts it on camera. Other interviewees include former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey, Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), D.C. Council member David Catania and a host of other media figures, activists and current and former politicians from both sides of the aisle.
The film's targets are recognizable, high-profile politicians at the city, state and federal levels. The long, sordid saga of former Idaho senator Larry Craig is the axis on which the movie spins, but "Outrage" comes down hardest on another prominent politician whose name we won't print here. Why? He has denied repeatedly that he is gay, and there has been no substantiated reports in mainstream media about any homosexual relationships or transgressions. (Director Kirby Dick would hate this last sentence, since his movie also targets the media for their laziness and bias.) Dick has structured "Outrage" around this particular politician, gathering compelling evidence and interviews to support his case and suggesting that this man's hypocrisy is all the more dangerous because he may be bound for a 2012 presidential run.
But in the absence of an admission, or irrefutable evidence, "Outrage" does not arrive at many truths. It is, rather, a desperate plea for truth.
Dick has zeroed in on abuses of power in previous documentaries like "Twist of Faith," in which he went after the Catholic Church, and "This Film Is Not Yet Rated," in which his target was the Motion Picture Association of America. With "Outrage," he outs Capitol Hill as one giant glass closet that has perpetuated discrimination for too long. While he convincingly indicts some of his targets, others do not receive a thoughtful, thorough treatment, and are therefore as good as slandered. At one point in the film, the blogger Michael Rogers, who's made a career of outing closeted politicians, calls them "horrible traitors," and walks the hallways of a House office building, pointing to nameplates of congressmen he says are closeted gays. It's a teensy bit Michael Moore-ish.
The film, however, is mostly without venom. It's sad and serious. It synthesizes and sources decades of supposition. It bemoans missed opportunities wrought by deceptive politics. It laments the violence faced by gay teens because an older, more powerful generation refuses to relinquish righteousness for rightness. And it has a dreadful logic to it: If our leaders aren't true to themselves, how can they possibly be true to us?
Outrage (86 minutes, at Landmark's E Street Cinema) is not rated. Contains sexual themes.