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Tab Hunter Confidential

10 Nov

Tab Hunter Confidential – directed by Jeffrey Schwarz. Documentary. 90 minutes Color & Black And White 2015.

★★★★★

The Story: A gifted film actor famed for his heartthrob beauty when young, now at the age of 84 tells the story of his professional and sexual career.

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It is the most important documentary ever made of a film star, perhaps even of a public figure of any kind. Unlike most documentary biographies, this one is autobiographical. He is present. He lived it and he lives it still. Its great value lies in how his life corresponds and reveals the braided phases of art, society, and sexuality as they cable through the eras through which Tab Hunter lived and of which he was a cynosure.

He is handsome and at ease in his body today as he always seemed to be. Although when he started as an actor opposite Lynda Darnell he was not at ease in his body because he did not understand that acting required it. He was a teenager. But he learned his craft over the years, paying attention, working hard, growing through practice, natural intelligence, and necessity. He became at home in the body’s intuition upon which the craft of acting depends. He came to give some very good performances.

He was cast as what he appeared to be – a beautiful young man who was a heartthrob to everyone but a sexual object to no one. That is because he inspired, not lust, but a crush.

A crush is a high charged draw towards the desired one, but it is usually not accompanied by genital ambition or babies. It has to do with idealization. It has to do with romance, which means it has to do with the excitement of distance. You do not desire to strip the other persona naked, but you do desire them to skate across the rink to you and hand you a rose. It refers to a fraternity pin and a prom. A crush is a charm on a charm bracelet, not an engagement ring. It is a powerful sexual room, but an anteroom. It has to do not with a desire for marriage but for wooing to start. You would not ask this of Robert Mitchum. You would ask it of a male in whom testosterone is not yet or, outside of marriage, never will be particularly visibly alert.

The heartthrob is very advertizable. It was the kind of thing that earmarked an era, the ‘50s. It looked false then, but it really wasn’t. It was simply limited. Hunter was asked to embody this paper doll for female fans, and he did it with self-effacing readiness. He was never hypocritical. He saw it as the job he was asked to do – a sort of public sign painting. He never felt ashamed of it, nor should he have. He was good at it and suited to it.

If you were an exact contemporary of him, as I am, of course, you turned from the shallowness of what he was required to project. It was impossible to wish him ill, because he was not of a vain and arrogant nature. But subterranean to him and contemporary with him was Marlon Brando and a style of truth which had nothing to do with what Tab Hunter presented. Brando was raw meat. Hunter was Wonder Bread. The female version of him was Doris Day.

Hunter gained good chops as an actor on television and at Warner Brothers, where he was the top money-maker, but when he cut himself loose from Warner Brothers, his career dispelled. How did he ever make a living after that? Dinner theatre. It nearly killed him.

But his survival in life probably depended less upon his fame, looks, acting ability than upon his work as an athlete, which he was from the start. He was a superb figure skater. He was a competitive horseman. A fine skier. His work with horses, his ranching, probably gave him enough to guide him spiritually in the direction of his own nature. He is a person of immense application.

We see all this in the film, we see his relation to his religion, his brother, father, and mother. But strangest of all, we see it in relation to the fact that he was homosexual from an early time, and acted on it.

If the journalists of his day knew, they didn’t let on; they had that pact with studios. Had he himself let on there would have been no Tab Hunter at all. He would have been curtailed, boycotted, disgraced. Out of a job. This is still true for public figures.

The slow revelation of his sexual career is the priceless story this movie tells for it parallels exactly the career coming-out has taken in the past 84 years. He is the model for our age of that disclosure, in its half-measures, prevarications, stumbles, rays of light, strength of conduct. The hills and dales of it are here, for us all who lived through the torment and the passion of it in ourselves.

This not a bland man. Nor is he a humorist. Nothing is laughed off. He is not processed food. He is straightforward, trustworthy, easy-to-take. This film is his greatest role, his only great role, and maybe his only role, the one he was born to perform before us all. His life.

What he did with his life illustrates the social, sexual, and cinema correspondences — torturous, inextricable, ruling — which we still live in. Tab Hunter Confidential is a document of the zeitgeist of our era, a clarification of the utmost cogency.

 

 
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Posted in Clint Eastwood, Debbie Reynolds, DOCUMENTARY, Social Drama

 
 
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