From the opening credits, with Connie Francis plaintively extolling “Where the Boys Are,” to the final embrace of two founders of the Scandinavian gay rights movement, “The Secret Club” warmheartedly traces the struggles and quiet triumphs of Norway’s early gay activists. Docu helmer Kenneth Elvebakk is blessed by charismatic subjects with sharp memories and good storytelling abilities, making this a natural for specialized fests and cable outlets.
Hero of the tale is Arne Heli, 78, co-founder in 1950 of the Gay Assn. of Norway, which itself was based on a Danish organization set up two years earlier by Axel Axgil, now 86. Homosexual acts were illegal in Norway until 1972, but Heli and other interviewees describe a life that, while not without discrimination, found ways of socializing while quietly lobbying for change. Without condescension or pity, Elvebakk contrasts the lives of these men with Hans Marius Troseid, whose coming out declaration at the age of 64, “I have retired from the theater,” captures a wistful sadness in contrast to the more fulfilled lives of Heli and others. Video quality, with judicious use of stock footage, is high throughout.