Traverse City, Hamptons, Camden, London, Frameline, Outfest, Sidewalk, Atlanta Jewish, GlobeDocs
The filmmaker reveals how her unassuming Jewish parents came to run a legendary gay adult bookstore.
Growing up, filmmaker Rachel Mason and her two brothers knew that her parents, Karen and Barry, ran a bookstore in West Hollywood, but, not unlike other kids, they had no idea of the specifics of the family business – beginning in 1982, the Masons owned Circus of Books, an adult bookstore primarily frequented by gay men. The outgoing Karen, devoutly religious, kept quiet about her business, fearing the response of her Jewish community, while the quieter Barry would later find out the serious risks of peddling “smut” in the Reagan/Bush era when he was threatened with federal obscenity charges. As her parents face the long-in-coming reality that the store must close, a victim of the ubiquity of free online porn, and gay cruising apps, Rachel mines family history to explore how her parents became the unlikely largest distributor of gay porn in the US, while also addressing the contradictions that came with such a profession. Notably, despite catering to a gay clientele and employing many gay men, Karen had serious issues with homosexuality, influenced by her religion. While her views have evolved – she’s become a longtime, ardent PFLAG member – this came only after the very difficult coming out experience of one of her sons, related at length here. As with any portrait made about family members, the personal can dominate the proceedings, and that’s occasionally the case in Rachel’s film, which might have found a bit more balance through more stories about the importance and impact of the store for the community, but the filmmaker’s focus is understandable. As a whole, she has constructed an affectionate and often very funny piece of LGBTQ history that otherwise might have been lost with the shuttering of Circus of Books.