Fictional bricks in 'Stonewall'

"Stonewall," which opens today at the Charles, turns out not to be a documentary about the key event in gay history, a riot that broke out in the late summer of 1969 when New York vice cops pulled one of their customary nocturnal raids on a Greenwich Village drag bar, the Stonewall Inn.

Rather, it's a fictionalization of that event, following the tangled lives of several of the men who took part in the uprising, using the violence of the moment as a contrast to the emotional lives of the individuals.


In that respect, despite its progressive politics and explicit demand for tolerance and respect, it is rather a conservative work. It's almost like a '50s studio film that follows a group of fictional people through a historical event, using their smaller stories to illuminate and explain the bigger one.

It makes the point that there are no purely political events. No matter how explosive the riot was as an expression of rage long-buried in gay society at the larger structures that oppressed it, basically emotional events drove the participants.


If, say, the drag-queen Bostonia's straight lover Skinny Vinny hadn't blown his brains out over the conundrum of his love for her, then maybe Bostonia wouldn't have punched out that first cop.

And if Matty Deane weren't pulled between his love for the drag-queen LaMiranda and the straight-arrow, politically correct Ethan, maybe he wouldn't have joined in.

And if LaMiranda hadn't been enraged by her abandonment by Matty, then maybe she wouldn't have gotten with the battle either.

That's what a battle is, that's what a movement is, the movie argues: The sum total of the social and emotional frustrations of its participants.

Well-acted, particularly by the two men playing the drag queens (Guillermo Diaz and Duane Boutte), the movie also does an interesting job pointing out the political pathologies of the oppressed.

What to do: Openly rebel, defy society, rub their faces in it (as radicals urge) or, rather, attempt to be inoffensive and to hide one's soul behind a mask of convention in order to curry favor and not attract attention?

That's the issue that split gay society in 1969, as it splits many minority societies even today.

Incidentally, the director, Nigel Finch, died of AIDS shortly after completing the film. It's not great, but it's a telling monument to his life.



Starring: Guillermo Diaz, Frederick Weller

Directed by: Nigel Finch

Released by: Strand

Unrated: Sexually explicit material

Sun score: ** 1/2


Pub Date: 8/16/96