(OK, so hot boys on the web page movie poster…. Ya not in the actual film. Fred Phelps isn’t mentioned either.)
Whereas OutFest LA ignored our request to cover their event, T Joe Murray wants coverage of his film and sent me a screener of “Fish Can’t Fly”. (For the record OutFest didn’t show “Fish Can’t Fly,” I just wanted to bitch about them blowing us off).
The documentary was an excellent who’s-who of ex-ex-gays including:
Wayne Besen (formerly of HRC, turned “photographer” and author)
Wade Richards (“that kid from 20/20”)
Shawn O’Donnell (more than just an ex-gay in Exodus’ group photo)
Mary Lou Wallner (daughter took her own life, later joined Soulforce)
Joe Kort (we’ll forgive him for not plugging XGW)
Peterson Toscano (a true one-man show, hat included)
Everyone dedicated to the cause of exposing the lies within the ex-gay movement has their own approach. Mine tends more towards documentation and analysis, or generally logos. However an equally important part of the picture is pathos, the sort of heart wrenching stories Murray tells in his documentary. In fact there’s very little presented in the film that needs “explaining” other than a few definitions that pop up on-screen such as “Exodus” and “Reparative Therapy.” (Incidentally reparative therapy pops up one scene too early, before Joe Kort’s segment even begins.)
Over the course of the film, Murray allows his subjects, in their own words, to cover their entire coming-out story. I mean we go from when people first realized they’re gay all the way to what church they attend now and who they’re dating. That’s some serious ground Murray covers and there were only a few instances when it felt rushed. I’ll get to those later.
One of the most significant things presented was Wade Richard’s recollection of his time at Love In Action where he was told having Calvin Klein underwear represented a “false image” that contributed to his homosexuality. LIA prescribed that participants learn to conform to gender images by getting makeovers and learning to change oil. Richards viewed trying to adopt these gender stereotypes as the only “false image” to be found at LIA.
Kudos to Murray for the foresight to include a segment where Joe Kort explains in simple terms why subjecting children to reparative therapy at programs like Love In Action constitutes sexual abuse. This film was created before the state of Tennessee recently launched an investigation of LIA over a complaint of sexual abuse.
In case you’re wondering where the title comes from, I’m not going to tell you because I wouldn’t want to do anything to spoil Peterson’s performance when he explains it.
OK, now for the constructive criticism part.
Literally the first hour of the film is footage of people in their homes and offices giving their testimonies. I’m not knocking what they have to say, but visually it’s banal. Wayne Besen talks about his night photographing John Paulk at Mr P’s in DC, and numerous subjects talk about time spent at LIA. I would have done anything to get these people out from in front of their blank walls and have them tell their stories at places where elements actually happened. Later during footage of church services, the camera appears to be relegated to the back row or choir loft. In defense of Murray, he originally shot some dynamic footage of Peterson in the LIA parking lot which didn’t make it into the film but was included in bonus footage.
But that’s all visual.
Like I said before, Murray had a vast amount of story to cover with 13 people so there were a few things I would have liked to seen more of. First off Shawn has an adorable smile and comes off as a real sweetie. However, he gets a bit less screen time than others in the film. In what felt like three sentences, Shawn “explained” his decision to leave LIA and leapt forward to his marching in the SF pride parade. That’s a considerable jump, and that part of the segment felt superficial and left me feeling unsatisfied. Also, Shawn’s participation in Exodus and its publicity photo isn’t mentioned.
Murray included generous portions of Peterson’s one-man-show which I admit makes me want to see it even more than I did before. (Peterson I know you read this so get your butt to LA for a show already!) The newfound faiths of Murray’s subjects are explored but NOT Peterson’s. Actually Peterson, a Quaker, is the one person whose current faith I wanted to hear about.
This is where I’m supposed to compose some eloquent conclusion and wrap things up by reminding y’all of exactly what I just said. But ya know what? I’m taking one of my licensing exams tomorrow so I don’t care. If given the chance at your local gay film festival, make sure you see Fish Can’t Fly. Be sure to stay through the credits since Murray includes bonus footage which turns out to be some of the most captivating stuff he shot. He says something to the effect that he didn’t include it in the film because it didn’t fit into his composition thematically but was included as bonus footage because of its value.
Buy the DVD online here.