Study Guide for The Celluloid Closet (Epstein & Freidman, 1995)

Discussion Questions for  The Celluloid Closet (Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Freidman, 1995 – Based on Vito Russo’s book)


  1. Comment on the significance of the title.
  2. Anneke Smelik (Film Studies, Hill & Gibson, 2000) calls Vito Russo’s book “The Celluloid Closet” (which the documentary is based on) an archelogical project. Discuss Smelik’s claim in relation to the documentary.
  3. List some of the characteristics of the onscreen portrayals of homosexuality examined in the opening moments of “The Celluloid Closet” and discuss in what ways these portrayals can affect audiences’ view of homosexuality.
  4. Why is Hollywood described as “that great maker of myths”?
  5. What is  actor/screenwriter Harvey Fierstein’s explanation of the need for arts? Why does he say say that he looked for gay images on screen when he was young?
  6. What is film historian Richard Dyer’s definition of identity?
  7. Give examples of how homosexuality was represented by early Hollywood.
  8. List some of the themes restricted in American film as a result of the Production Code.
  9. Give examples of how Hollywood got around the Production Code by referring to films such as “Rebecca” (1940), “The Maltese Falcon” (1941), and “Rope” (1948).
  10. What does “The Celluloid Closet” tell us about how masculinity was perceived in 1950’s America?
  11. Comment on how the theme of homosexuality is encoded in the following films: “Tea & Sympathy”, “Rebel without a cause” (1955), “Ben-Hur” (1959), “Calamity Jane” (1953), “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1953), “Lover Come Back” (1946), “Some Like it Hot” (1959), “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (1958), and “Suddenly Last Summer” (1959).
  12. Discuss the importance of the following quotation from the film: “All minority audiences watch movies with hope”.
  13. Comment on Martha’s definition of herself in “The Children’s Hour” (1962).
  14. What images of homosexuality were available in films like “Fox” and “The Detective” in the 1960s ?
  15. How does screenwriter Mart Crowley, explain the “self-deprecating humor” in  “The Boys in the Band” (1970)?
  16. What was special about the representations of homosexuality in “Cabaret” (1972) and “Car Wash” (1976)?
  17. How was homosexuality represented in films like “Night Shift” (1982) and “Teen Wolf” (1986)?
  18. Why were there protests against the movie “Cruising” (1981)?
  19. Why did Daniel Melnick find the movie “Making Love” (1982) very hard to cast? Why does Michale Ontkean react to a man playing a gay role although he has played such a role before?
  20. How does Susan Sarandon explain men’s feeling not threatened by girly bonding in film? Do you agree with her?
  21. What does Tom Hanks think about his presence as a gay character in “Philadelphia” (1993)?
  22. What does the documentary tell you about the most recent representations of homosexuality?
  23. What is your evaluation of the arguments presented in the documentary?
  24. To what extent and in what way(s) would you call “The Celluloid Closet” a political text?

© Ali Nihat Eken, Istanbul, February 2009


One thought

  1. These are excellent study/discussion questions. Thank you so much for creating and posting them. May I use these questions in a class discussion? If so, I will be sure to cite you and direct students to your blog.

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