Circus of Books: Mason’s Docu of Iconic Queer Store–and Family Business

Filmmaker Rachel Mason turns the camera on her parents in Circus of Books, an intimate documentary to better understand the personal and political history behind the family business.

There will never be another place as singular and iconic as the legendary Circus of Books, an iconic landmark in queer Los Angeles.

The brick-and-mortar gay erotica emporium is sort of and unofficial community center on West Hollywood’s Santa Monica Boulevard and on Sunset in Silver Lake.

We observe the racks of multi-sized dildos and racy DVDs available for purchase in broad daylight.

Surprisingly, the premier purveyors of hardcore gay pornography in the US were a clean-cut mom-and-pop duo running sexually explicit contraband by day, while raising a family of five in the suburbs by night.

For more than 30 years, Karen and Barry Mason left the straight-and-narrow behind for a side-hustle hawking magazines for Larry Flynt before going on to open Circus of Books, risking imprisonment under the Reagan Justice Department and breaking ground as the erogenous epicenter of LGBTQ L.A. and a sanctuary during the AIDS epidemic.

The docu features revealing interviews with relatives, former employees (including drag superstar Alaska Thunderfuck 5000), and Larry Flynt himself.

Rachel Mason weaves together a most unusual home movie that reflects the freedom and values of one pioneering family.

Mason, the daughter of the owners of Circus of Books, set about to document the story of her parents’ store once she knew that it would soon be closing,  because knew that it was important to the historical record of queer culture in Los Angeles.

When shooting began, it became clear that the film was as much a story about her family as about the business. A visual artist, musician and performer, Mason spent ten years in New York, performing in venues ranging from the Park Avenue Armory and Whitney Museum to gay clubs like Spectrum in Brooklyn.

In 2014, she completed her first feature film, The Lives of Hamilton Fish, an experimental musical film told through murder ballads, which she toured as a live performance.

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