Time has not been kind to The Celluloid Closet but then, Vito Russo never had much time for Time, either. Writing in 1981, Vito complained that no gay writer had produced any meaningful criticism of homosexuality in the movies, but actually, Parker Tyler had done just that, and nine years previously, with his tellingly-titled twentieth book, Screening the Sexes: Homosexuality in the Movies.
Tyler’s first book, The Hollywood Hallucination, was published in 1944, two years before Russo was born, and Richard Dyer’s Gays and Film came out in 1977, before Russo had constructed a closet for it to come out from. Thomas Waugh’s essays in Jump Cuts, such as “A Fag-Spotters Guide to Eisenstein,” were published in the late 1970s, and Robin Wood’s 1977 lecture at London’s National Film Theatre, “Responsibilities of a Gay Film Critic”was printed as an essay in Film Quarterly in January 1978.
Still, Russo declared that it was he who would get the ball rolling. “We have cooperated for a very long time in the maintenance of our own invisibility,” he wrote, “and now the party is over.” While the first part of that sentence is contentious, it’s hard to find fault with the second part, as it introduces the 350 coma-inducing pages of examples of Russo’s single point: some movies had gay characters in them and those characters didn’t represent gay his preferred way.