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Changing Our Minds: The Story of Dr. Evelyn Hooker

SAN FRANCISCO--Though the ostensibly clinical subject matter might prove a hard theatrical sell, "Changing Times" is a thoroughly engrossing docu that's a sure bet for recurrent major TV exposure. Careful marketing could plumb a modest art-circuit house business, with focus on metro centers of gay interest.

SAN FRANCISCO–Though the ostensibly clinical subject matter might prove a hard theatrical sell, “Changing Times” is a thoroughly engrossing docu that’s a sure bet for recurrent major TV exposure. Careful marketing could plumb a modest art-circuit house business, with focus on metro centers of gay interest.

Director Richard Schmiechen (co-creator of “The Times of Harvey Milk”) casts a wide net in telling the story of Dr. Evelyn Hooker, whose trailblazing research eventually led to the dropping of “homosexuality” from the American Psychiatric Assn. list of mental illnesses.

Startling archival footage offers glimpses of gays undergoing primitive “treatments” for their alleged illness. Failed therapies included electroshock, lobotomy, estrogen/testosterone injections, hysterectomies and castrations.

Major flaw in the doc is the failure to date/place-mark these shocking segments–the treatments dated at least back to the ’30s, but the clips seem to come from the ’50s and early ’60s. Minor time-line confusion occasionally results. Dr. Hooker, still feisty and upstanding at 85 years, is a delightful interviewee. She tells of her own colorful (heterosexual) history as a gangly/Midwest-bred student who studied briefly in prewar Nazi Germany (her horror at the obviousness of mass indoctrination led to a quick departure), later settling down in Southern California as an academic.

Hooker became friendly with a postwar homosexual elite–home-movie footage finds her entertaining author Christopher Isherwood and others at a backyard party. Social life spilled into the professional sphere when a gay student urged her to “study people like us” as “your scientific duty.”

Her meticulously researched eventual findings (coming not long after the Kinsey survey shocker marking 10% of the population as homosexual) indicated that gays scored little differently on intelligence and sanity tests from straights. Ergo, gays weren’t insane, just “different” from status quo.

The resultant brouhaha took nearly two decades to result in the APA’s decision, along the line fueling gay-rights efforts.

Still a strong community advocate, Hooker is currently frail physically but still active in the Santa Monica home where she’s lived since the death of her writer husband many years ago.

A terrifically engaging and inspirational paragon of coolly reasoned thought, she has no patience for witch-hunting conservative mindsets, whether in the McCarthy era or in the 1990s.

Film could have easily been stretched out by 15 minutes or more. At present, it’s polished but rather hurried in compacting Hooker’s own story–plus that of gay oppression and the psychology industry’s shifting take on homosexuality–into 75 minutes.

But the compassionate, balanced viewpoint of both subject and filmmakers is winning.

“Changing Our Minds” is calmly conventional in approach, but the topic and Dr. Hooker herself provide documentary education at its most exciting and enjoyable. Tech values are fine.

Changing Our Minds: The Story of Dr. Evelyn Hooker

(Documentary--Color)

  • Production: An Intrepid Prods. presentation. Produced by David Haugland. Executive producer, James Harrison. Directed by Richard Schmiechen. Written by Schmiechen, Harrison.
  • Crew: Camera (color/B&W), Joan Churchill, William Megalos, Cathy Zheutlin; music, Absolute Music; sound, Flora Moon, Michael Moore, John Hagen; co-producer , Schmiechen; associate producers, Flora Moon, Catherine Valeriote, Nancy Langer. Reviewed in San Francisco, June 1, 1992 (in S.F. Intl. Lesbian/Gay Film Festival). Running time: 75 min.
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