Documentary filmmaker Kirby Dick must like lifting trash can lids, looking under rocks and opening doors that most of us would rather leave closed. How else to explain a résumé that includes investigations of psychotherapeutical prostitution (Private Practices: The Story of a Sex Surrogate), genital torture as performance art (Sick: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist), pedophilia in the Catholic church (Twist of Fate) and—perhaps worst of all—the Motion Picture Association of America’s super-secret ratings board (This Film is Not Yet Rated). With his latest cinematic muckraking effort, Dick leaps headfirst into what could be his most controversial subject to date.
Outrage features a hell of a juicy concept. Dick basically embarks on a quest to “out” certain right-wing, family-values conservatives as closeted homosexuals. He’s not doing it out of spite, mind you. He’s choosing politicians whose voting records are staunchly anti-gay. Should it come as a shock to audiences that politicians who most frequently vote against gay marriage, AIDS research, health coverage for same-sex partners and other such legislation are, in fact, self-loathing homosexuals? Probably not. The secretly gay gaybasher is as much a well-established cliché as the weak-willed bully. Watching poor Larry Craig flail his way through his unconvincing “No, I really am a heterosexual!” speech during the opening credits hardly sets Outrage up as a major shockeroo.
But Outrage isn’t so much about surprising tabloid newspaper allegations. (Not entirely, anyway.) Some (mostly ex-) politicians have already outed themselves (New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey, Arizona Congressman Jim Kolbe). Others (mostly current, mostly Republican) look increasingly suspicious as Dick piles on the testimony of journalists, activists and alleged “companions.” Still, it’s beyond the capacity of a single film to actually “prove” any of these allegations. Is Florida Gov. Charlie Crist a real man’s man, if you know what I mean? It’s a mighty plausible argument, but I wouldn’t want to have to prove it in court—which brings us to the real question here: Beyond the salacious dirt-digging, what is the real point of making these men’s sex lives public?
Wisely, Outrage turns to comfortably self-outed Congressman Barney Frank for its slogan. “There is a right to privacy,” admits Frank. “But there is no right to hypocrisy.” Outrage, you see, is less about, “Hey, that California Rep. David Dreier sure looks swishy,” and more about the sad fact that many people (not just politicians) are living a lie. “I've had members of Congress crying in my arms because they didn't know how to come out,” says activist Elizabeth Birch in one of Outrage’s more emotional moments. Lest we forget, though, these closeted politicians are charged with creating the laws of our nation. Many of them are voting against their own interests (and the interests of millions like them) simply because they are convinced it’s what mainstream America wants to hear. That, my friends, is some dangerous hypocrisy.
Rest assured, Mr. Dick makes the occasional equal opportunity accusation. Liberal Democrat Ed Koch gets called to the pink carpet for sleeping with dudes and offering a lackadaisical record on AIDS and gay rights while mayor of New York. The filmmaker also finds time to blame the media for covering up much of this information. The point about the media’s sleaxy facination with heterosexual affairs (John Edwards’ extramarital dalliance, Gov. Mark Sanford’s Argentine adventure) and relative disinterest in homosexual activities is well noted. But Dick pushes the boundaries by declaring this a “conspiracy.” Media outlets are so terrified of libel lawsuits these days, it’s no wonder few publications are willing to make ill-supported allegations against powerful politicians.
In the final tally, Outrage is less about “naming names” and more about shining the light of day on a group of people who are essentially trying to destroy themselves (and take a certain portion of society with them). Disturbing, thrilling, frightening and dynamic, Outrage gleefully supplies the “out” and leaves audiences to add the “rage.”