elisa_rolle (elisa_rolle) wrote,
elisa_rolle
elisa_rolle

Celluloid Activist: The Life and Times of Vito Russo by Michael Schiavi

I have to admit that, when I read about the release of Celluloid Activist, the name of Vito Russo was not new to me, but I really didn’t know the man who was Vito Russo. For me he was the author behind The Celluloid Closet, a landmark of LGBT non fiction, and maybe due to his Italian origins, for me his name was easier to remember than for other people. But as the author of his biography, reading that at less than 20 years since his death someone could think Vito Russo is unknown to the young LGBT community is unthinkable. So I could imagine Michael’s emotional push to finish this biography right in time for the release of a documentary, Activist: The Times of Vito Russo, that together with the book will help remember Vito Russo’s name not only among the fan of old classic cinema, but also among those who need to know that Vito Russo helped paved a better life for them and all the LGBT community.

Celluloid Activist is deeply researched, not only with interviews of friends and family of Vito Russo, but also with not important, but moving details, like when Michael Schiavi checked if the night when Vito was born was really hot as Arnie Kantrowitz, Vito’s long-time friend, jocked about. No, it was not, and reading that part I imagined Michael Schiavi checking some old weather forecast to confuting that sentence.

For sure good share of the book is devoted to Vito as gay activist, and the man who helped founding the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP). But it’s also the recounting of Vito’s private life, like his unrequited love for Jeffrey Sevcik, the man who he sent away three time to then always taking him back, until the time it was too late. Jeffrey Sevcik died of AIDS- related complications and Vito Russo tells about it in Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt, Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman’s documentary.

What you will read in this biography are public events, like Elizabeth Taylor’s involvment in the World AIDS Day and the funny recounting of that moment from one of Vito’s friends, who was envied by people since he knew Vito Russo (and not Elizabeth Taylor), or even when the author described as, at the beginning, Vito Russo and Larry Kramer didn’t like each other very much, mostly since, even if both movie lovers, Vito was more for the old ladies (like Barbara Stanwick), and instead Larry Kramer was the award winning screenwriter of Women in Love, classic example of “modern” (at the time) cinema of the ’60 and ’70. But it was from Larry Kramer apartment balcony that Vito Russo saw his last Gay Pride March, too ill to be among them marching, and Larry whispered to him “These are our children”, while the crowd cheered up to Vito screaming “We love you!”. But there are also very private moments, like when he was mourning the death of his partner Jeff, or when he refused to give Robert Ferro (dying of AIDS) a fatal dose of pills after the death of his partner Michael Grumley, even if he was deeply saddened by the fact that on the New York Times obituary of Michael (Author, 46) they said he is survived by his mother and three brothers, and of Robert Ferro there is no mentioning at all.

Celluloid Activist is not only the biography of a man, it’s the recording of a good part of LGBT history. Anyone who is interested in that should read it, but also who wants to read about a man, his friends and lovers, and his unconditional love for them.

Amazon: Celluloid Activist: The Life and Times of Vito Russo
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press; 1 edition (May 10, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0299282309
ISBN-13: 978-0299282301

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Tags: author: michael schiavi, genre: contemporary, length: novel, review
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