Film Reviews

Small Town Gay Bar Malcolm Ingram

Rating - 7/10

Malcolm Ingram's Small Town Gay Bar is an engaging, zippy, and frequently inspirational documentary about the value and struggles of businesses in rural America that, despite the frivolity of their actual function, serve a larger purpose as beacons of acceptance, looking beyond an overwhelmingly oppressive environment. Within a brief running time, Ingram mercifully restrains himself from reflecting the interminability of the struggle through film length. This may sacrifice some depth, but the movie is telling a broad story that is well served by bold strokes. While 81 minutes may not be time enough to really see the complex, multifaceted difficulty and progression of a single character's life, it is a great length to present a situation and its value.

In less than an hour and a half, Ingram tells the short story of two southern gay bars of very different character and gets to know a few key employees and clientele. One of them transitions ownership while the other dies spectacularly before being reborn in a more hopeful incarnation. Customers lament bygone establishments, the ghosts of which are revisited, suggesting a lifespan before which exhaustion and sustained harrassment and oppression take their toll on the actual proprietors, despite intensely loyal to the point of familial clientele. The opposition is even visited, rather objectively, left to hang themselves in the grotesque absurdity of their time and energy draining pursuit to prevent anybody from expressing or accepting their homosexuality.

It's a hard place to be gay, America outside of one of the more tolerant metropoli. Refreshingly, the characters that populate Small Town Gay Bar are far removed from the magical fashionable pixies that fix things that have become the clean scrubbed acceptable positive gay stereotype on television. Here there is a pretty normal continuum of questionably dressed and mannered southern citizenry, lightly peppered with the georgeous and/or fabulous. Much is made of the struggle many still face in living life and the bravery they exhibit in being themselves.

There is a very shallow impulse to be skeptical about such a degree of self celebration. Why are you a hero just for following your genitals where they were born to go. I often find myself drawn to the idea of being dominated by Asian women, but it hardly seems like I would be embraced for my bravery in seeking out a public place to indulge that. But that's missing the point, and it is downright neglectful in America to turn a blind eye to the hardcore reality of most of the nation, even if you live in a big city and fantasize about living in a big European city. Homophobia, like many of the ingrained crusades of oppression that are as much a part of the national fabric as the ballyhooed life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, cannot be scoffed away, but must be stared dead in the eye and actively protested.

One thing, easy to find if you don't keep yourself from looking, is the constant, organized threat in America, from the periodic murderous hate crime to the week by week campaigns the film illuminates. The people in Small Town Gay Bar are not heroic for being gay, but for allowing themselves to live where they do without succumbing to the hatred that surrounds or leaving. Sadly, in America, even just personally acknowledging homosexuality can (and to some degree, always does) amount to inviting irrational derision and violence. A bar can be the most trivial, even self destructive place of all, an environment in which to exacerbate one's own stupidity and basest impulses. Conversely, it can also be a life line, a place to make accepting connections, meet lovers, and share a sense of goodwill with a community of friends and strangers. There is something courageous and neccesary about having a Small Town Gay Bar.