SCOTTY AND THE SECRET HISTORY OF HOLLYWOOD.
SCOTTY AND THE SECRET HISTORY OF HOLLYWOOD DOCS D: Matt Tyrnauer. U.S. 98 minutes. Sep 12, 9:45 pm, Scotiabank 2 Sep 16, 3:30 pm, Scotiabank 4. Rating: NNN
Prior to publishing a memoir in 2012, Scotty Bowers was more talked about than seen or heard. His reputation as a gold-hearted pimp/escort to the closeted celebrities of the 40s and 50s was such that anyone interested in the sexual politics of Hollywood’s Golden Age would inevitably be told they had to track him down.
That included director Tyrnauer (Valentino: The Last Emperor), whose documentary Scotty And The Secret History Of Hollywood posits the now-94 year old as a necessary and trailblazing figure who created a safe space for LGBTQ people before the letters LGBTQ even meant anything.
Like Bowers, the doc doesn’t shy away from kissing and telling. We get matter-of-fact tidbits about George Cukor, Charles Laughton, Lana Turner, Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy and many others, some of whom Bowers slept with, some of whom he arranged tricks for (or both). It’s all revealed in order to tear down Hollywood’s image of bland heterosexuality and show the moral standard bearers of the era were just like everyone else.
Tyrnauer is clearly inspired by the landmark essay film Los Angeles Plays Itself, and spends a lot of time with archival material of architecture and locations – past and present – to show the shifting landscape that Bowers inhabits. Ultimately, this is a film about a particular time and place.
The present-day footage is more compelling than any of the gossipy bits, which turn out to be the hook that pulls the film into more fraught and complex directions.
There’s something manic beneath Bowers’s blasé, bright-eyed storytelling. He is a hoarder, and his home and several storage lockers are jammed with things. His house also seems to be falling apart, and he likes to feed the skunks. Meanwhile, his bemused and conservative-seeming wife, who moonlights as a lounge singer, admits she may have reconsidered the marriage had he informed her of his past prior to his book getting released.
Bowers’s World War II experiences and childhood sexual abuse are gradually and delicately broached, but he views the latter as nothing more than sex. He seems to choke back tears after the topic comes up, a reminder that his resistance to labels such as gay or bisexual doesn’t make him immune to the conventions of masculinity.
Tyrnauer only gently cracks that façade in the doc, which is a breezy and largely laudatory antidote to more Hollywood Babylonesque accounts of the era.