Rock Hudson’s Home Movies: Marc Rapapport’s Savvy Compilation

In Marc Rapapport’s savvy compilation, “Rock Hudson’s Home Movies,” actor Eric Farr poses beside cutouts of Rock Hudson, supplying the late actor’s inner voice.

“Who can look at my movies the same way ever again” the fictional Rock says.

Hudson’s films come under a caustic gaze that dissects the latent content of his screen persona. Rappaport’s central assertion is that the star’s hidden homosexuality was an open secret, and that his romantic leading man image always had a sly, knowing side to it. “It’s not like it wasn’t up there on the screen, if you watched carefully,” Rock says. Showing the actor’s split personality–“Dr. Macho Jekyll and Mr. Homo Hyde”–Rappaport uses Hudson’s own words from various biographies, constructing the persona of a celebrity liberated by death.

Innocent-seeming situations and relationships between Hudson and his leading ladies are revisited with a new interpretation that exposes their repressive conventions. “I haven’t any wife,” Hudson’s hero explains to Elizabeth Taylor in Giant, “I live with my sister.” And when Doris Day asks why he can’t marry, he replies that “it’s the kind of thing a man doesn’t discuss with a nice woman.” In Written on the Wind, a sultry Dorothy Malone eyes Hudson knowingly, then says, “There’s only so much a woman can do, and no more.”

Rappaport begins with Hudson’s infatuation with actor Jon Hall (Hurricane), followed by his Douglas Sirk melodramas and the comedies with Doris Day and Tony Randall. Says fictional Rock of Randall: “Such a preening, prissy, neurotic nerd, my sexuality is never called into question.” Scenes in Hudson’s movies show him engaged in stereotypically gay behavior in order to fool Doris Day into thinking he is no lady-killer–“doing my shy homo routine to get Doris to seduce me.” Several characters played by Hudson were devoted to their mothers and showed interest in recipes and cooking.

Rappaport surveys Hudson from his big-screen Don Juan image to his real-life AIDS patient in the 1980s. He starts with the knowledge of a lie–the heterosexual image Hudson embodied in 1950s movies–and proceeds with deconstructing their farcical plots. As critic Armond White observed, Rappaport undermines their premises through inference, implication, and innuendo that make his cleverly selected clips more than hagiography.

A remarkable sequence of interrupted kisses between Hudson and his leading ladies (Lauren Bacall, Doris Day, Syd Charisse, Angie Dickinson, Dorothy Malone), shows disgust on Hudson’s face.

Rappaport’s homage represents an exchange between the cultural heritage that defines our dreams and a postmodern consciousness compelled to deride them. Farr’s narration maintains distance between the charade that created a “heterosexual” idol and the truth about a successful actor forced to deny his true self. The result is a more objective inspection, imbued with ambivalence toward an embarrassed artist.

It’s no longer possible to watch Pillow Talk–or any Hudson film–as just simple entertaining comedies, without bringing knowledge of his homosexuality; audiences will never be that innocent again.