Jeffrey Schwarz talks on John Waters, Tab Hunter and the future of documentary making.
Jeffrey Schwarz's new documentary Tab Hunter Confidential is screening at Queer Screen Film Festival SATURDAY 26 SEPTEMBER 6.30PM
1950’s Hollywood, Tab Hunter is number one at the box office and the music charts; he has a sea of screaming girls at his feet, but Tab Hunter has a secret. Screen NSW talks with Jeffrey Schwarz about his new film, an insightful take on what it was like for the charming boy next door, as he lived his life in the closet, whilst publicly dating a bevy of starlets and privately romancing men like Psycho star Anthony Perkins.
Young readers may barely be aware of Hunter, who was a huge Hollywood actor and chart-topping singer in the 1950s. Do you feel there is an audience for him?
Based on the sell-out crowds at our screenings all over the world, I'm happy to say there is certainly an enthusiastic audience for this film. The older crowd already is familiar with Tab, and may have even had their first movie star crush on him. And for the younger generation, this is an opportunity to get to know a screen icon they may not be familiar with but are immediately drawn in to his story.
Can you tell us how you pitched the film and how you financed it?
Tab co-starred with Divine in John Waters' Polyester, so I interviewed him and his partner Allan Glaser for I am Divine. I had read his book and always thought it would make a fascinating documentary so pitched him the idea. Turns out Allan and Tab were already thinking about making a doc, and they thought I had the right sensibility for the project so they brought me on board. We financed the film with a combination of donors and investors, mostly friends of Tab and Allan's who wanted to see this movie get made. I'm really grateful for their support, and especially happy that Tab is pleased with the end result.
What made you interested in this story?
All of my films are about ultimately accepting who you are, and this fit in with the themes I'm interested in exploring. I wanted to find out what it was like to be a studio manufactured movie star during the Golden Age of Hollywood and the consequences of being someone totally different from the persona that was being sold to the public. The fact that we had unprecedented access to Tab Hunter himself gave us an opportunity to learn first hand about his journey of self-discovery and ultimately self-acceptance. Tab remained true to himself during a terribly homophobic era that denied him the right to live openly and express who he truly was.
This is the first documentary from the perspective of a major movie star who has lived through his career as a closeted gay man but is now open about his sexuality. What impact do you hope the documentary will have?
I think the film is about the destructive nature of the closet, and how far we've come since the dark days of the 1950s. It is eye-opening for younger audiences to learn about this period where if people found out you were gay it could literally destroy your reputation and livelihood. The film is ultimately about how one can live an authentic life and journey from self-loathing to self-acceptance. Tab's story is a conduit to explore these themes.
Through this film and your previous work you have a beautiful way of telling people lives and unearthing people that might otherwise have been forgotten. What is it about telling these stories of LGBTI icons that drives your work?
When we screened my film Vito at the Castro in San Francisco a few years ago, there was a kid in the audience who was decked out in rainbows from head to toe. He told me that he was 17 years old and just coming out and his mom brought him to the festival to introduce him to the gay community. He said that before that screening he’d never heard of Vito Russo, but today he had a new hero. That was such an incredible moment, and it's why I make these films - to pass the torch of our history to the next generation.
Tab Hunter had a career resurgence of sorts when Art house director John Waters rediscovered him. Your previous film I am Divine also centred on another John Waters star, Divine. Can you tell us a bit about your relationship with John Waters and what influence he’s had on your filmmaking?
John Waters has had the biggest influence on me of any filmmaker. When I was first turned on to him I was still a closeted teenager with no tangible connections to gay culture, so John’s sensibility helped to lead me down a path of embracing my own difference. John’s relationship with his leading lady Divine was also inspiring. Their friendship and artistic collaboration gave me hope that I might someday find like-minded people and be able to express my true nature like they did. I've taken his advice about nurturing your obsessions, and I've made a career of celebrating and sharing them with the world.
Where do you think documentaries are heading?
These days, audiences seem to be more available to enjoying documentaries as they would any other kind of film. With the miserable state of broadcast journalism doc filmmakers are picking up the slack raising awareness of issues that the mainstream media chooses not to cover. Lots of docs are trying to change the world, but I happen to make films that are primarily entertainments. Hopefully the audience will walk away learning something they didn't know before and the subjects open up an understanding of larger issues.
Is there a film you would love to make?
Yes, the one I'm working on now! It's called The Fabulous Allan Carr and will tell the story of one of the great showmen of the 20th Century, and how he transformed himself from a pudgy kid from Chicago into a major Hollywood power player. Allan Carr is famous for producing Grease, Can’t Stop the Music, La Cage Aux Folles, and the infamous 1989 Academy Awards.
You can book tickets to see the film on this link: http://tix.queerscreen.org.au/session_mgff.asp?sn=A+Sinner+in+Mecca&s=87
Watch the youtube video