“OUT SPOKEN: A VITO RUSSO READER” edited by Jeffrey Schwarz— The Companion to the Film, “Vito”

Schwarz, Jeffrey, editor. “OUT SPOKEN: A VITO RUSSO READER”, White Crane Books, 2012.

The Companion to the Film, “Vito”

Amos Lassen

Now that the new Jeffrey Schwarz documentary is being shown on HBO, we have the two volume set, “Outspoken”, edited by Schwarz that are readers that accompany the film. Vito Russo is one of our great gay heroes and it is time that we look at Nestor Almendos, his life and his contributions to our rights. I am sure that were he alive today, he would be very proud of the strides that have been made.

Volume I or Reel One as it is named contains Vito’s essays on show people and the list of those here is amazing—Bette Midler, Ronee Blakely, Lily Tomlin (Vito’s dear friend), Valerie Harper, Martin Sheen, Debbie Reynolds, Tennessee Williams, Peter Allen, Pat Bond, Kaye Ballard, Allan Carr, Nestor Almendros, Paul Verhoeven, Kenneth Anger, Pedro Almodovar, Whoopi Goldberg and Ian McKellan.

There are two more sections, one entitled “The Lavender Lens and the other “Russo on Film” and these are his writings which include movie reviews and his opinions on such issues as the future of gay film, “Malice at the Movies”, Hollywood and New York, the lies that films have told us and so on. There is not a boring essay here.

Reel Two is divided into five sections which are lead off with a foreword by Arnie Kantrowitz, “Remembering Vito Russo: An Appreciation”. “Politics and Power” consists of eight political writings which show us that Russo had strong opinions and were not afraid to voice them. “Out Takes” is a series of articles about the movies and gay life and there are articles on “Cruising”, the film, “Making Love”, gay documentaries, Rock Hudson, Joe Orton, gay television as well as other important topics.  “I’ll Take Manhattan”, section three is more or less self-explanatory and contains essays about New York City. “The Final Reel” is made up of four powerful essays about AIDS: “Profile on an Epidemic”, “Michael Callan: Singing from a Purple Heat”, “Coming Out as a Person with AIDS to One’s Family” and “Why We Fight”. Finally, “Post Scripts” is a look at Vito by three people who knew him well—Larry Kramer, Anne Russo (his mother) and Assotto Saint. This is the only section in which we hear about Russo from others; all of the other writings are by the man himself (aside from the introductions and forewords).

The book is quite obviously a labor of love and Jeffrey Schwarz makes sure that we know Vito Russo and he has chosen the selections here that allow us to do just that. The books are that much important since Russo’s “The Celluloid Closet” is out of print and the remaining copies are very expensive. I only hope that this new interest in Russo will bring the book back into publication. I quote from the blurb on the covers because it says it all so well.

“From the rough-and-tumble beginnings of the gay and lesbian movement in New York City in the late-1960s, A Vito Russo Reader travels through the excitement and discovery, turmoil and tragedy that engrossed the next two decades — until Vito’s death from AIDS in 1990.

“These books, like the film, bear witness to the makings of a remarkable man”.