Film reviews

Telling Tales Film and Audio Festival: Stand Up, Stand Out

David Pavlosky’s Stand Up, Stand Out opened the 2018 Telling Tales International Film and Audio Documentary Festival, as audiences witnessed a new and beautiful instalment of contemporary LGBT Cinema.

The title itself refers to the art of stand-up comedy and the presentation of standing out in protest or in performance. Stand Up, Stand Out presents gay rights activism of yesteryear and its evolution into obscure gay comedy and the exhibition of gay comedy itself.

Stand Up, Stand Out tends to centralise on the comedy of both Tom Ammiano and Karen Ripley, but then for the added spice, includes a great deal of Romanovsky and Phillips’ musical talents. We follow Tom Ammiano’s lifelong protesting as well as his life in comedy, briefly beginning with his comedic origins in the “very straight”. Holy City Zoo, alongside his collaborations with fellow gay teachers, Hank Wilson and Ron Lanza – both of whom desired to open a gay comedy club. In 1981 the desire became a reality when the Valencia Rose – Cafe, Restaurant and Cabaret was opened in San Francisco. Karen Ripley comes into play when Tom Ammiano gets word of her comedy act in the East Bay, and invites her to the Valencia Rose.

The origins of the Valencia Rose are somewhat poor in comparison to its subsequent heights – Karen Ripley describes the venue upon her debut as a “mortuary”, whilst Tom Ammiano then recalls the lack of a microphone for the acts. Despite Karen’s Ripley’s visible concerns, she does establish that it was a fun gig despite the suspicious beginnings, but this happiness is then mirrored in the audience as presented in archive footage and with the suggestion that the audience were “Hungry for humour they could relate to.”

The Valencia Rose hit to the heights where Whoopi Goldberg was a performer too, but the inclusion of her act was debatable because of the subsequent and inevitable lure of a straight audience, whereas the ethos was that the Valencia Rose would be a gay club featuring gay performers, performing gay comedy to a gay crowd. Comedy is for everyone, however, and Whoopi was welcomed and praised for her routines.

Stand Up, Stand Out also presents the inevitable darkness of this era: AIDS. The presentation is not graphic though, simply because it does not need to be. Instead, we are shown AIDS victim, Bobbi Campbell, sporting the iconic “AIDS Poster Boy” t-shirt during demonstrations, rather than a dying man in a hospital bed. Heartbreakingly, in black and white annotations on screen, we are informed of the number of AIDS-related deaths in 1986, and the paralleled closure of the Valencia Rose. Outside of the club, we also see the lack of empathy that AIDS sufferers were receiving from the establishment, and then also the establishment’s stance on AIDS too – both quite sickening.

Pavlosky presents the stories in Stand Up, Stand Out through variations of archive footage interlocked with present-day interviews of some who feature in the archives. This method of story-telling is a truly terrific visual experience because the archive stuff is either subsequently contextualised by the present-day interviews, or vice versa, where the present-day interviews are contextualised by the archive footage. Furthermore, the wide range of archive not only displays differentiating footage, but it also suggests and confirms that the creator – Pavlosky – has committed a great deal of heart and research into this project.

The archive footage ranges from the following: different periods of time in performance at the Valencia Rose; protesting from different eras; news reports and political involvement. Showing protests from different eras involving the same individuals connotes that tackling anti-gay and anti-LGBT opinion and order does not last just a month or however long a trend lasts for on Twitter, but for some, it can last a lifetime. Furthermore, the presentation of Ronald Reagan (in power) siding with right-wing ideals and anti-LGBT beliefs suggests to the viewers of Stand Up, Stand Out that LGBT communities were not just protesting against bigots in betting shops or bars, but the establishments of the United States itself. Maintaining comedy within a serious issue, Tom Ammiano says to the public during a demonstration, “Even Arnold Schwarzenegger is a big queen!”

During the post-premiere Q&A, Pavlosky revealed his back story and inspirations behind Stand Up, Stand Out. Having completed his undergraduate degree and having already made two films on homophobia, Pavlosky wanted to laugh, thus he spawned the idea of focusing on stand-up comedy (“gay comedy” in Stand Up, Stand Out) having researched an LGBTQ+ booklet.

As viewers, when something is good, we always want more. Running at only 30-minutes, it is plausible to demand more content surrounding Stand Up, Stand Out, though Pavlosky insisted during the Q&A that his documentary felt right at 30-minutes to tell the story he wanted to tell, of which cannot be denied. If anything, the only area within Stand Up, Stand Out that could have been explored into more detail was the eventual closure of the Valencia Rose. However, Stand Up, Stand Out is a positive, heart-warming documentary – does really need to be presented with the in-depth on-goings as to why and how the Valencia Rose shut down? No. An annotation on screen, displaying the facts and figures of the AIDS epidemic, was sufficient.

Pavlosky, after his premiere screening of Stand Up, Stand Out, can feel positive about his work in the same light as positivity is presented in Stand Up, Stand Out itself.

Check out the trailer for David Pavlosky’s feature below:

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