A documentary about gay rights, and the positive change stemming from the laws finally changing in some American states to allow gay marriage, Before You Know It is slightly more unique than other documentaries looking at sexuality because the three main subjects in front of the camera are all old men.
Director P. J. Raval has decided to give a voice to a section of society often not considered even during times of great positive change for the gay community. The three men he focuses on are Dennis Creamer, a lonely man who has kept his homosexuality hidden for many years and also likes to dress up in female clothing in the privacy of his own home, Ty Martin, an African-American activist for gay rights in Harlem, and Robert Mainor, a loud and proud gay man who runs a “gay bar”, Robert’s LaFitte, and looks after all of his staff like a benevolent, over the top, Santa.
Each of these men show different ways in which they are affected by their sexuality and their age, but the real emotional heart of the documentary is Dennis, a sad figure who longs for the freedom to express himself how he wants and to also have some companionship. Ty and Robert both have their share of problems, but even the more serious moments don’t seem so bad because they can be themselves 24/7 and have plenty of supportive people around them. Dennis doesn’t have that, and the saddest scenes come from him even feeling uncomfortable when mixing with other members of the gay community.
It’s the plight of Dennis that reminds viewers that each of these men has lived through years of intolerance and prejudice much worse than the variety of attitudes around at the start of the new millennium. Even Ty Martin confesses that gay African-American men like himself got through life years ago by just keeping quiet and not bringing attention to themselves. He admits that it was the brave, vocal, extroverted members of the gay community that paved the way for others to follow. Thankfully, those who have followed along that path have continued to make progress and battle prejudices wherever possible.
I realise that throughout this review I could be accused of overusing the words “gay community”, but that’s what the documentary is about. Community, and those who may still be on the sidelines, despite being part of that community.
It’s unfortunate that Raval decides to go for 112 minute runtime when everything could have been put together so much more enjoyable in a nice, neat, 90 minute package. An extra 20+ minutes may not seem like much, but it’s enough to drag the feature down a point or two. Too much is repeated and too many moments outstay their welcome when the end is in sight and it becomes clear how each tale will end.
Before You Know It is worth seeing, especially for anyone who has ever had to live a lie while feeling uncomfortable in their own skin, but it’s not great.
DIRECTOR: P. J. RAVAL
STARS: DENNIS CREAMER, TY MARTIN, ROBERT MAINOR
RUNTIME: 112 MINS APPROX