DIRECTED BY Tim Wolff MPAA RATING NR RUNNING TIME 80 Mins. DISTRIBUTED BY First Run Features DVD EXTRAS Bonus Footage; Costume Photos; Deleted Scenes & More
"The Sons of Tennessee Williams" Review
With a foundation as elaborate and fascinating as Mardi Gras, New Orleans and a vibrant drag community as a foundation, it's hard not to be just a tad disappointed by Tim Wolff's The Sons of Tennessee Williams, an 80-minute feature documentary released on Valentine's Day 2012 on DVD with distrib First Run Features following its brief but successful festival run that began in October, 2011.
The Sons of Tennessee Williams tells the story of New Orleans' gay Mardi Gras across five decades and, in so covering such a vast time period, serves as a tour guide through the history of the first semblance of civil rights for gays in America.
The film is most successful when Wolff is focusing on the men who have served on the "krewes," many of whom have participated since the early days of the New Orleans Mardi Gras experience despite, for years, severe persecution and public humiliation from the police, city officials and local media. Early Krewes such as Krewe of Yuga and Krewe of Petronius were a direct response, at least partially, to the acquittal of three college students in the beating death of a gay man. Despite the reputation that New Orleans has long possessed for flamboyance, in the 1950's and 60's being openly gay in New Orleans would likely mean arrest and having one's name printed in the newspaper. In essence, being forcibly outed.
It is in these stories of the krewes that The Sons of Tennessee Williams packs its power and its poignance as we have the opportunity to compare and contrast the fullness of these men's lives, man of whom would now qualify as senior citizens and many of whom either are or have been in long-term relationships and for whom these Mardi Gras experiences became experiences that would help them grow into themselves.
The Sons of Tennessee Williams is constantly fascinating, often quite funny, frequently endearing and always informative as Wolff attempts, not always successfully, to turn the film into lessons in gay civil rights. I was a tad surprised to not really learn anything from the film. While I certainly have many gay friends, being straight myself I would have expected that aspects of the film would come off as a surprise or that certain facts would prove enlightening. Instead, when The Sons of Tennessee Williams is focusing on the civil rights lessons it wishes to share the film feels, excuse the pun, a bit too straightforward.
Those who are interested in gay history may very well marvel at the archival footage utilized in the film, along with Wolff's ability to get so many to speak to the camera about the past and present. While their stories don't, for the most part, emotionally resonate, they perhaps do something even better and more powerful by humanizing the men beneath the dresses in ways both simple and extraordinary.
The Sons of Tennessee Williams is available now on DVD. Be sure to check out the extra features including bonus footage, deleted scenes, costume photos and quite a bit more.