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Beauty Before Age

Distributed by New Day Films,190 Route 17M, P.O. Box 1084, Harriman, NY 10926; 888-367-9154 or 845-774-7051
Produced by Johnny Symons
A documentary by Johnny Symons
VHS, color, 22 min.
College - Adult
Gay and Lesbian Studies

Reviewed by Ellen Greenblatt, Auraria Library, University of Colorado at Denver


The title of this video, Beauty Before Age, a wordplay on the adage "Age before Beauty," cleverly sums up its point -- that gay male culture obsesses about youth and attractiveness and possesses a collective fear of growing older. In an attempt to begin an intergenerational dialogue about this topic, filmmaker Johnny Symons went to San Francisco's gay ghetto, the Castro, to interview a diverse group of gay men, aged 19 to 77, and gain their perspectives. He interweaves these interviews with footage taken in gay gyms, bars, cafes, dance clubs, and other places where gay men congregate throughout the Castro.

The community that Symons finds is one segregated by age. While a multi-generational gay community exists, there are, as one of the interviewees suggests, few "points of reference across the continuum." Older men are often invisible to the community at large, or when visible, seen in negative terms, as evidenced by the disparaging nicknames young gay men apply to the Twin Peaks Tavern, a meeting place for older gays -- "glass coffin," "wrinkle room," and "God's waiting room." Many younger men in the community see their attractiveness as the only path to love and connectedness. This makes "cruising" an important feature of gay culture. Being "cruised" tells a gay men that others find him desirable and that he therefore has a certain status in the community. However, as an older gay mans observes: "When you're older that 'cruise' relationship breaks down and you become invisible."

What is extremely revealing in the film is that various remarks about the AIDS pandemic are couched in terms related to aging. One of the younger men interviewed says that since men of his age group don't want to live past thirty, the possibility of contracting HIV and AIDS is of little concern. Another middle-aged HIV positive man talks about how AIDS is "like growing old in a short time." The conversations he and his HIV positive friends have focus on "medications, bowel movements, and naps," and he comments that they "sound like a group of old men ... and have formed a premature retirement community." He goes on to say that AIDS speeds the aging process, "Every year counts twice ... 40 is 60 in gay years."

Symons created this documentary short while he was a graduate student in Documentary Film and Video Production at Stanford University. However, unlike many student offerings, this video has outstanding production values and provocative subject content, and received a Gold Apple award from the National Educational Media Network. Recommended for public and academic library collections.