'Outrage': Out of the closet and on DVD

"Outrage," a film that showed in a limited number of theaters, may generate more conversation now that it's widely available on DVD. (Magnolia Pictures)
By Jen Chaney
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 19, 2010; 12:00 AM

"There exists a brilliantly orchestrated conspiracy to keep gay and lesbian politicians as closeted as possible."

That bold proclamation flashes onscreen a few minutes into "Outrage," a documentary that shines a light on elected officials whose policy decisions run contrary to the sexual orientations they allegedly keep shrouded in secrecy. The film, which arrives today on DVD ($26.98), may not prove that a massive plot is keeping members of Congress from coming out, but it does reveal the hypocrisy of politicians who, perhaps because of their own personal struggles, consistently vote against issues that would benefit the gay and lesbian community. Anyone with an interest in those issues, or even politics more generally, should see "Outrage," a provocative, often persuasive documentary that will likely find a wider audience on DVD than it did when it played in a handful of arthouse theaters last summer.

Kirby Dick, the filmmaker who dissected the absurdities of the Motion Picture Association's ratings system in "This Film is Not Yet Rated," isn't shy about naming names here. Some notable legislators -- all of them male Republicans, several of whom still serve in prominent positions -- are essentially outed in "Outrage." To some that might seem like a blatant invasion of privacy. But Dick, as well as many of the activists and political players he talks to during the film's extensive interviews, argues that a light has to be shined on these individuals because they have chosen to become public figures, figures who make choices -- from voting against gay marriage to failing to properly address the AIDS crisis -- that have significant repercussions for their constituents. As Rodger McFarlane, the former director of the non-profit Gay Men's Health Crisis, somewhat severely puts it: "That closet can kill people." (Post editorial policy only allows self-declared homosexuals to be identified in stories like this one. So readers will have to go to the DVD or do some Internet research to figure out exactly which politicians Kirby and co. single out.)

Whether you agree with this movie's message or its tactics, there is no question that all 86 minutes of "Outrage's" running time make for compelling viewing and will likely spark heated debate afterward. Heck, debate may even be sparked during the film, as it is between Dick and producer Amy Ziering during the DVD's informative commentary track. Their opinions diverge slightly on the issue of when it's appropriate to reveal someone else's sexuality, with Ziering expressing some lingering discomfort with the process of outing others as Dick taking a more detached, journalistic stance. "If there's a relationship between their psychology and the denial of civil rights, that's a legitimate thing to report on," he contends. Viewers may or may not agree, but they'll certainly be engaged by the conversation.

That audio commentary is one of several extras included on the disc, which also comes with a pair of Q&As -- one filmed at the Tribeca Film Festival, and another that followed an "Outrage" screening here in Washington -- as well as a trio of deleted scenes and a tribute to the aforementioned McFarlane, who committed suicide last year after a struggle with heart and back problems.

The deleted scenes, two of which focus on well-known, relentlessly aggressive D.C. blogger Mike Rogers, are the most worthwhile special features in the group. One catches Rogers as he confronts Sen. Chris Dodd at the 2008 YearlyKos Convention and demands that the senator introduce a bill to repeal the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. (Depending on your perspective, Rogers -- whose request is met with polite indecisiveness by Dodd -- will come across in these scenes as admirably tenacious or annoyingly reactionary.) Another excised sequence adds much-needed humor to the proceedings by asking interview subjects whether Democrats or Republicans make better sexual partners. ("My sense is that Republicans are way kinkier because repression can lead to better sex," offers author and blogger Andrew Sullivan.)

Make that saucy partisan issue yet another item on the list of things you plan to discuss with your spouse or partner after watching "Outrage," a film sure to get people talking in ways gossipy, potentially polarizing and, hopefully, productive.

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