POSTED July 23 2012

Vito Russo, the HBO biopic

Vito Russo and his megaphone

Vito Russo’s  book The Celluloid Closet (1981) was not the the first comprehensive look at representations of homosexuality in the movies. That was Parker Tyler’s Screening the Sexes in 1973. Yet Russo’s book, initially conceived as a lecture annotated by film clips that gestated over many years, gained traction in ways that Tyler’s history did not. For the year that Russo’s book was published was the same year a syndrome initially known as AID — and later AIDS — captured headlines.

The charismatic Russo, who would die in 1990 of AIDS at the age of 44,  is the subject of Vito, a documentary that airs tonight on HBO (9 pm EST and PST, 8 pm CST). The mustachioed dynamo was not merely an activist but what might be called a proactivist: movie maven reframing history, co-founder of GLAAD, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, and a catalyst of ACT UP, the organization dedicated to fighting and ending AIDS. (“Silence = Death” was ACT UP’s motto; Russo’s must have been Talk = Life.)

“The times gay characters have worked well in mainstream films have been when filmmakers have had the courage to make no big deal out of them,” Russo wrote, paving the way for historians such as Ruby Rich, author of Queer Cinema and progenitor of the 1990s movement of that name. As Rich observed, when homosexuality ceases being the content of a film and starts being the assumption, that’s when the culture changes.

Can’t wait to see the film tonight. You? Share your Vito stories and thoughts.





  1. Gary Kramer says:

    I was soooo disappointed and frustrated by the recent Russo biography CELLULOID ACTIVIST (see review–third from the top: that I have resisted seeing this film because I fear it too, won’t do Russo and his legacy justice. I’m sure I’ll see VITO eventually, but do let me know if it’s worthwhile so I can catch it after the bad aftertaste of CELLULOID ACTIVIST disappears.

  2. I’ve been absent for a while, but now I remember why I used to love this site. Thanks, I will try and check back more often. How frequently you update your web site?

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