An exploding bathroom stall of a movie, “Outrage” makes an excellent ipso facto case for itself: If closeted gay politicians vote against equal rights for gays to protect their own secrets, outing them is for the common good. The targets won’t agree, but auds, regardless of their politics, will find Kirby Dick’s filmentertaining, brisk, visually interesting and perhaps even thrilling: Who will be the next hypocritical homosexual to taste the wrath of Michael Rogers, gay blogger-outer extraordinaire? Whether Magnolia Pictures can spin all this closet-spelunking into something noble rather than seamy will determine whether “Outrage” is one of the more successful docs of the year.
Whom does Dick debunk? Larry Craig, of course, the embarrassingly unctuous Idaho senator whose flirtations in an airport restroom got him arrested (the police tape of Craig protesting his innocence plays over the opening credits). Far more controversial will be “Outrage’s” dogged pursuit of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, whose sexuality has long been the subject of speculation, but whose alleged homosexuality is far more circumstantial than Craig’s (in the case of the latter, Dick has assembled several formerly intimate acquaintances, whose testimonies ring of long-buried truth).
With an aptly modulated score by Peter Golub and the engaging graphics of Bil White, “Outrage” levels withering assaults at the likes of former New York Mayor Ed Koch, whose record on AIDS and gay rights was virtually nonexistent, despite a well-established affair with a man he subsequently ran out of town (at least according to David Rothenberg, a Koch confidant and the first openly gay candidate for New York’s City Council). David Dreier, the California congressman and archconservative, and his ideological brethren, such as Louisiana’s Jim McCrery and GOP operative Ken Mehlman, all take their lumps. The fact that Mehlman helped orchestrate the GOP’s 2004 virulent anti-gay strategy is the kind of connection in which “Outrage” specializes.
Pic attempts to establish an ongoing media conspiracy to help keep these men closeted, and it doesn’t quite pull it off. Dick seems to think the mainstream media can speculate about a politician’sclandestine sex life while reporting how said politician voted on a gay adoption bill or AIDS funding measure, but this exhibits an obliviousness about libel laws, much less journalistic ethics. A sequence in which two CNN broadcasts are shown side by side — one in which comedian Bill Maher outs Mehlman, and another in which the outing was subsequently deleted — only shows the perils of live broadcast, and the prudence of CNN’s editors. Or its lawyers.
The docu also commits various sins of editorial juxtaposition: From a scene in which Crist insists on his straightness, it cuts to former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey, who resigned in the wake of a gay sex scandal, talking about how important it is to be true to oneself. What can the viewer be meant to conclude but that Crist is being dishonest? From all the assembled evidence, he is, but manipulation is still manipulation.
At the same time, “Outrage” (which, one hopes, has its own legal team in place) is operating from a position of righteous indignation, and that indignation is infectious. In a near-poetic gesture, Dick brings in “Angels in America” playwright Tony Kushner and Ray Cohn’s denials of his homosexuality, even while he was dying of AIDS co. Where Dick’s film goes very right is in attacking self-denial, the essential vice practiced by those who’ve built careers on denying others their rights.
Production values are tops.