Jeffrey Schwarz’s documentary VITO traces the life of author, speaker, host and activist Vito Russo. Brought up in pre-Stonewall New York and New Jersey, Vito was always entranced by the movies. Later through jobs at filmhouses and through his own travels he gained access to an unlimited supply of films which he screened incessantly for gay characters and innuendo. These clips were to become the basis for his speaking tour and book, “The Celluloid Closet.”
VITO borrows heavily from the treasure trove of these clips, providing much-needed comic relief to squash some of the audience’s growing outrage and foreboding, as well as reminding us all where the negative stereotypes and self-loathing have their basis.
Vito was always an activist at heart, seminal in the founding of both GLAAD and Act Up. He was the host of the first gay “talk show” and speaker at countless rallies. His credo was, “Homosexuality is not what you do. It’s who you are.” Sadly, he was to lose his battle with AIDS at the age of 44, having accomplished more than most people do with a full lifespan.
The film smoothly transitions between your usual compendium of clips, interviews, and photos. However, because of countless interviews before his death, Vito is able to narrate his own life story for us. It is unexpected and effective to hear Vito doing his own voice-overs. The ending of the film is inevitable and heartbreaking. We are left with great respect for Vito as a person and as a hero. We all leave the theater saddened by his loss.
HBO will premiere VITO July 23, 2012 at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT