A short history of the West Coast lesbian scene through the filter of San Francisco’s oldest lesbian bar, “Last Call at Maud’s” is a well-researched, undogmatic look at a footnote in social history. Documentary should have no trouble finding its target audience, judging by the packed world premiere at the Berlin fest. Specialist broadcasters should also place orders.
The brainchild of owner Rikki Streicher, Maud’s closed its doors on Sept. 9, 1989.
In its heyday, Maud’s was “the hub of everything that was happening” at its opening in April 1966, according to one observer, but the bar had outlived its usefulness in San Francisco’s lesbian community and had been hit by the eighties anti-alcohol backlash and the decade’s new conservatism.
As one interviewee notes: “(Maud’s) time is over. It will now become a story.” Another adds, “I hope we always do stay outlaws.”
First-time director Paris Poirier assembles an impressive array of photos, memorabilia and archive footage limning California’s twilight lesbian world from the ’40s to the present.
Through a raft of interviews — but notably with lesbian couple Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, founders of the Daughters of Bilitis club and the Ladder magazine — she sketches the history leading to Maud’s and the bar’s special flavor and appeal.
Though the docu isn’t a political pamphlet, it makes a number of salient points about lesbians’ generally second-league standing compared with gay men, as well as other problems facing lesbians and the gay community in general: legal problems of women bartenders; the gradual souring of homosexual pride during the 1970s due to male gays’ lack of “political consciousness”; the 1978 shooting of Harvey Milk; and first signs of AIDS in 1981.
Speakers are not identified until the final roll call, an irritating but minor fault. Transfer from video to 16mm is par.