MASSILLON (1991) [Feature]

USA (MIFF 1992 , Documentaries)
Director: William Jones
Combining painterly images, literary prose, ponderous timing and dry humour, William Jones renders his impressions of grow­ing up gay in a small Ohio city. Moving from the personal to the political, Jones reveals how homophobia and ignorance are embedded in our very language, how the man-made con­structions of living space bear the psychic blueprints laboriously sketched out over the years by authoritarian moral architects.

The film's title is specific — Massillon, an Ohio town named for an obscure French bishop, is the only place in the world with this name — but the experiences recounted in the film have resonance for anyone who has grown up gay in a small American town. The film consists of shots of places. There is no dramatic action in the conventional sense. The narrator, for whom Massillon was once home, tells autobiographical stories that cannot be re-enacted; it is up to the spectator to imagine the drama against a background of empty Mid­western landscapes. A Christian fundamental­ist tirade on the soundtrack disrupts the relative calm of personal reflection, and moti­vates the rest of the film. What follows is an examination of the language describing sexual­ity and the uses to which that language is put. A sense of the history of laws, words and cus­toms informs a mediation on the interaction of the personal and the social, suggesting that childhood experiences are not as innocent as they may seem. The film does not make the concession of a happy ending nor attempt to construct a convenient positive image, but rather provides a starting point for discussion or further inquiry.

• William Jones

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