13 January 2001 | d_fienberg
Worth Seeking Docudrama About Young Lesbians
Su Friedrich's film (which I'm pretty sure has a longer running time than the 57 minutes listed here by probably five minutes) Hide and Seek is an interesting mixture of elements. On one hand it's a mocking compilation of archival health and wellness movies from the late fifties and early sixties intended to make audiences laugh in awe at just how skillfully backward people used to be. On another hand it's a series of "traditional" documentary talking heads -- grown women discussing their lesbian childhoods. And finally it's a short fiction film about 12 year-old Lou's move into puberty and, presumably, homosexuality.
The film is very wise to strike a light tone on the subject. After all, they're talking about young girls awakening in their sexuality and the material tends either towards sad stories of ostracisim or far too raunchy stories about self-exploration. Hide and Seek does neither of those things. The talking heads are more amused than anything else. Stories about being caught naked with their young friends, moments which at the time would have seen traumatizing, are told with huge smiles, the ability to judge events through the hindsight from a life satisfyingly lived. The talking heads are ethnically and nationally mixed, as are their stories. The heads separately debate many of the issues of gay development -- whether they were genetically predisposed, whether they knew from the beginning that they were gay, and whether it had to do with the way they were raised. Their answers, of course, are all different. There were tomboys, but there were also girls in skirts who yearned for the gymnast next door, unsure how to handle those feelings. The archival footage, with its Donna Reed meets Father Knows Best tone, perfectly compliments their memories.
Still, it's hard not to feel that Hide and Seek's fictional narrative is a little to pat, a little too glossy/dreamy/obvious. Little Lou is captivated by the idea of a lesbian teacher, obviously in love with her femme classmate, and devoted to throwing rocks and breaking things with boys. She's the simple version of a lesbian childhood. Friedrich tries very hard to blend Lou into her surroundings and to fill all of the interactions of the film's female characters with just a hint of homoeroticism (inevitably the wrong word in the context of pre-teens, but still...). The fictional scenes seem to be set in some halcyon memory of a integrated early sixties before drugs and the sexual revolution, again matching the aesthetic of the archival footage. Still, I'm not sure that the obviousness of the fiction (matched by the slightly over-earnest performances of the first-time actors in the cast) is entirely successful. But it mostly works.
Hide and Seek features a couple familiar names for views of independent (or gay) cinema. Jamie Babbit, the writer-director of But I'm A Cheerleader, was a script supervisor, while Todd Hayes, of Poison and Safe, gets a special thanks...
I'm giving this one a 7.5/10. It's certainly an interesting watch.