Rock Hudson — Dark and Handsome Stranger

Maddeningly reductive docu.

With: Armistead Maupin, Yanou Collart, Sean Strub, Michael Gottlieb, Stockton Briggle, Mervyn Silverman, Richard Dyer, Tom Santopietro, Robert Hofler, Rona Barrett, Peter Kulok, Don Crutchfield, Mark Miller, Suzanne Guyot, Salome Jens, Richard Anderson, Leonard Stern, Philippe Siou. (English, French dialogue)

Poor Rock Hudson: Can his life really be summed up with the line “Rock loved my chocolate mousse”? Apparently, helmers Andrew Davies and Andre Schaefer think so, since that’s how they end their maddeningly reductive docu, “Rock Hudson — Dark and Handsome Stranger.” Utilizing trailer excerpts rather than film clips (presumably, the rights were too pricey), this unsatisfying look at the late star is stuffed with inconsequential sex gossip and starved for real meat, relying on tired presumptions about life in the Hollywood closet. Still, the docu will likely kick around the gay fest circuit.

About the only department in which “Dark and Handsome Stranger” works is as a reminder of the shameful brouhaha surrounding Hudson’s AIDS diagnosis. The pic boils the star down to the stereotype of the closeted actor whose fame intimidated sexual partners, and whose death in 1985 put a face to a demonized disease. Of the various interviewees, Belgian publicist Yanou Collart is best at evoking the AIDS panic of the early 1980s: She had to charter a 747 for $250,000, because no commercial airline would take the dying Hudson from Paris to L.A.

It’s Collart who speaks about Hudson’s love for her mousse, but it’s not her fault the throwaway line becomes literally the last word. Earlier, various commentators offer trite observations on Hudson’s status as a closeted gay man in the film world, neither placing him within an established community nor placing the closet in a broader historical context. Struggling to provide a postmodernist camp spin, Davies and Schaefer use ambiguous lines of dialogue from his films (much as Mark Rappaport did in 1992 in “Rock Hudson’s Home Movies”), as if these winking references to a hidden sexuality are actual commentaries on playing “straight” onscreen.

Hudson’s co-stars are largely absent, save “Seconds” colleagues Salome Jens and Richard Anderson, who offer interesting behind-the-scenes remarks (“Seconds” gets more concentrated screen time than any of Hudson’s collaborations with Douglas Sirk). Still, they’re far more sympathetic than Rona Barrett, whose remarks about Hudson’s masculine presence when he kissed his co-stars — “I would never even see the hint of a gay man” — smack of thinly disguised homophobia.

Lost in all this is a reasoned appreciation of Hudson the actor, surely a worthy topic for exploration. Also missing is a real sense of the man behind those good-natured, chiseled features; an on-set interview from “Ice Station Zebra” suggests a depth and guarded intelligence barely hinted at here.

Talking heads and hyperbolic trailer clips are interspersed with superfluous shots of a surfer, while scenes from an old gay porn flick are merely embarrassing filler. Music is repetitive.

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Rock Hudson -- Dark and Handsome Stranger


Production: A Florianfilm, Arte GEIE production, in collaboration with YLE Teema. (International sales: SND Films, Amsterdam.) Produced by Rieke Brendel, Anna Steuber, Heike Lettau, Cecile Thomas. Executive producer, Marianne Schaefer. Directed, written by Andrew Davies, Andre Schaefer.

Crew: Camera (color/B&W, DigiBeta), Tom Kaiser, Jens Schade; editor, Martin Schomers; music, Ritchie Staringer; sound, Ralf Weber, Chris Glade. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama), Feb. 19, 2010. Running time: 96 MIN.

With: With: Armistead Maupin, Yanou Collart, Sean Strub, Michael Gottlieb, Stockton Briggle, Mervyn Silverman, Richard Dyer, Tom Santopietro, Robert Hofler, Rona Barrett, Peter Kulok, Don Crutchfield, Mark Miller, Suzanne Guyot, Salome Jens, Richard Anderson, Leonard Stern, Philippe Siou. (English, French dialogue)

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