Director Jeffrey Schwarz returns to SIFF with the world premiere of his new documentary film The Fabulous Allan Carr. If you enjoyed his other recent features Tab Hunter Confidential and I Am Divine, you’ll know what to expect from him: An entertaining, economical jaunt through gay history both personal and societal in scope — and he delivers again with this latest yarn about Carr, the flamboyant producer of several iconic works including Grease, You Can’t Stop the Music (a personal favorite), and the maligned 1989 Oscars show.
Structurally, The Fabulous Allan Carr is rather conventional. It begins with a hint of later-life disaster, then rewinds to early life and proceeds through that life in a linear fashion until it returns to the foreshadowed disaster. Conventionality is not necessarily bad, though; it is used quite well here as a sturdy armature upon which the details of an unconventional life are applied to great effect.
Documentaries can sometimes plod along under the weight of their material. Not so here. The Fabulous Allan Carr plays at an almost relentless pace, as did, it seems, Carr himself. Never does the film fall into a string of talking heads prattling away endlessly about dry details. Neither, thankfully, does it try too hard to impress with gimmicky post-production tricks and nonlinear sdtorytelling chicanery. The editing is snappy, and the story moves briskly, gayly forward. You won’t be bored as Schwarz illustrates the life of this hard-working, hard-partying Johnny Appleseed of campy glamour and excess.
Visual interest is supplied by animated sequences and archival footage, each effectively used to cover the talking heads and remind us of, or perhaps expose us for the first time to, the not-so-distant and yet seemingly alien world of pre-AIDS gay life. Allan Carr was one of the ringleaders of 1970s gay debauchery, it seems, and while an entire documentary series could be made about that aspect of his life, what we see of it in this film is enough to give us strong impressions of how much fun he had, and how much pleasure he brought into other people’s lives. This is a feature film, after all, and as such must be an overview, to a certain extent, but it’s telling that certain sections of the film are so well executed that they made me long for deeper dives.
I’ve written about this before, and I’ll assert it here again: Gay history matters. It’s important, and it’s endangered. It often goes unrecorded and forgotten, or is sometimes maliciously revised or erased. Artists like Jeffrey Schwarz are doing good work to preserve our history, and we owe it to ourselves, and to the maintenance of our weird and varied culture, such as it is, to patronize these works. Whether or not you enjoy Allan Carr’s rather distinctive body of work, the fact remains that he changed the face of pop and gay culture. Jeffrey Schwarz’s telling of his story is capable, accessible, and fun; and it deserves to be seen, just as the history it represents deserves to be witnessed, learned, and remembered.