Originally produced for PBS television, the Emmy-winning "Before Stonewall" is a must-see documentary for anyone researching Gay American history. What makes this film so invaluable is its success in recreating - through photographs, film clips, and later-day interviews - a period in time that was carefully and deliberately NOT recorded as it was happening due to the pervasive institution of "the closet", and the very real dangers that faced those brave enough to crack open the door and step out into the light. As one courageous lesbian pioneer remembers, just being accused of being a gay woman was grounds for involuntary commitment to a mental institution during her youth. Small wonder, then, that there is such a paucity of material documenting the gay movement pre-Stonewall, especially during the years from 1900-1950, before the earliest Gay and Lesbian social and political institutions in the United States were founded.
The cornerstone of this remarkable film is the handful of interviews conducted with some elderly activists from the years before the Stonewall riots began on June 27, 1969. With humor, dignity, and matter-of-fact courage, these men and women tell personal stories about their experiences in the armed forces, in the halls of government, in society, and in their home lives during the years in which America at large experienced the roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, the Second World War, the beginning of the Baby Boom era, and the radical Sixties. Their recollections are not only fascinating and brilliantly told; they are of critical importance in understanding the true heritage and history of today's American gay community. The DVD edition offers some fascinating extra material, including some expanded interviews, and footage of poet Allen Ginsberg reading two of his early compositions. Very highly recommended in terms of both quality and content.