Filmmaker Stephen Kijak delivers an intimate portrait of Rock Hudson and adds to his legacy in Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed.
Rock Hudson came up through the Hollywood studio system at a time when it was not safe to be openly gay. I mean, sure, it could be an open secret among friends in the industry. To come out in the open and still take on macho roles would have been unheard of. However, Hudson is proof that it is possible for gay actors to portray straight roles. It’s just that when cis-het actors play gay, it just feels like nothing more than Oscar-bait.
The world was a very different place when the iconic actor died of AIDS in 1985. He was very private about his illness and rightfully so? All news reports were saying at the time was that it was a mystery illness. It wasn’t until after his death that the world learned about Hudson’s true self: that he was a gay man. To say that fans were shocked would not be an understatement. I mean, look at his on-screen identity and you would have been in disbelief at the time. But again, look at American attitudes at the time. There’s no doubt that people–okay, conservatives–would protest his films. In any event, his death led to a very public conversation about AIDS.
There was a brief marriage of convenience to Phyllis Gates. It didn’t last long but Hudson did it as a way of putting rumors to rest. Films like All That Heaven Allows and Giant would make him a box office superstar. Put any news of his being gay into the public consciousness and his career would be finished.
Kijak’s film makes great use of the actor’s appearance in films, with no shortage of clips. There are interviews with those who knew Hudson intimately or as a fellow actor. The filmmaker also has access to Hudson’s archives, which is what makes this film a rare look into the late actor’s life. Hudson’s agents and publicists did everything they could to keep the actor’s private life out of the news while he was living. There’s something to be said about ethics in journalism but even still, there are people working in the media today that work on stories that end up forcing an actor or filmmaker to come out. Is it right? Certainly not. People should be able to come out on their own terms. Hudson did so privately to an extent at a time when things were very different for LGBTQ people in the industry.
Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed adds to the actor’s legacy while exploring the double-life that he lived.
DIRECTOR: Stephen Kijak
FEATURING: Rock Hudson, Piper Laurie, Linda Evans, Lee Garlington, Armistead Maupin
Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed holds its world premiere during the 2023 Tribeca Festival in the Documentary Competition. HBO and Max will premiere the film on June 28, 2023. Grade: 3.5/5
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