A Piece of the Rock

A living actor portrays a dead actor who, while he was alive, was a gay man pretending to be straight who made a movie wherein he played a straight man who seduced a woman by pretending to be gay. Confused?

Imagine how Rock Hudson felt. Rock Hudson's Home Movies, opening Friday at the Alliance in Miami Beach, is a sporadically uproarious and deliciously bent reconstruction of the actor's screen career that illuminates Hudson's dilemma as a gay leading man who owed his career to his heterosexual appeal. By fusing clips from the closeted bad boy's extensive oeuvre with actor Eric Farr's voice-over narration, director Mark Rappaport makes the case (at times facetiously, at other times seriously) that the most famous AIDS fatality of them all was constantly signaling his sexual preference through his movies.

Of course, Rappaport probably could have done the same thing with any deceased actor, straight or gay, with as lengthy a career. He manipulates film like the editors of the nation's tabloids do their cover photographs, cutting and splicing and modifying context to suit his whim. He could be accused of playing dirty pool were the film not A) constructed with such obvious sensitivity to Hudson's awkward situation, and B) so damn funny.

And boy is it funny. A montage of Rock being asked why he's not married segues into a series of "kisses interruptus"; our hero is always cut off in midsmooch by one bizarre intrusion or another. Scenes that seemed so innocuous at the time they were filmed A Hudson doing his macho stud routine opposite the likes of John Wayne and Kirk Douglas A are presented in a new light: that of a gay actor cruising his costars. Hudson was one of the early kings of beefcake A he was photographed shirtless in his movies more often than Patrick Swayze is today. (As this film is quick to point out, Hudson had an amazing physique for a man who never worked out in his life.) Not surprisingly, one of Home Movies's best moments is culled from one of the three Hudson-Doris Day-Tony Randall comedies, 1959's Pillow Talk. Rappaport uses stop-action photography to capture Randall trying to look the strapping hunk in the eye but unable to deliver his lines without sneaking a peek at Hudson's rocky pecs.

Via Farr's narration, Rappaport portrays Day as sympathetic but hopelessly naive. He characterizes Randall as a "prancing, prissy, neurotic nerd" and suggests that he was included in the trio of films as a diversionary tactic A with Randall doing his whining, effeminate schtick, no one was likely to question Hudson's sexuality. But the director also gleefully points out that Randall plays Hudson's significant other almost as often as Day. At one point the oddest of couples even ends up in bed together.

Rappaport invests it all with just the right mix of sarcasm and compassion. The only false note is the performance of Farr, who, by turns, plays both detached narrator and Hudson resurrected. His presence, especially when he's pretending to be Hudson's ghost, is an intrusive, unnecessary device. The damage is exacerbated by Farr's embarrassingly amateurish performance. His voice is monotonous, his delivery flat, his inflection off-target. And he sounds like he's reading. It's like watching a bad comedian with great material. Fortunately Rappaport has the good sense to let Hudson's movies do most of the talking.

 
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