The subjects of Before You Know It are no ordinary senior citizens. They are go-go booted bar-hoppers, love struck activists, troublemaking baton twirlers, late night Internet cruisers, seasoned renegades and bold adventurers. They are also among the estimated 2.4 million lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans over the age of 55 in the United States, many of whom face heightened levels of discrimination, neglect and exclusion. But Before is not a film about cold statistics and gloomy realities, it’s a film about generational trailblazers who have surmounted prejudice and defied expectation to form communities of strength, renewal and camaraderie—whether these communities be affable senior living facilities, lively activist enclaves or wacky queer bars brimming with glittered trinkets and colorful drag queens.
Dennis is a gentle-hearted widower in his 70s who begins exploring his sexual identity and fondness for dressing in women’s clothing under the name “Dee.” Ty is an impassioned LGBT activist who hears nothing but wedding bells once gay marriage passes in New York. Robert “The Mouth” is a feisty bar owner who presses on when his neighborhood institution comes under threat. Born before the Civil Rights era, these men have witnessed unbelievable change in their lifetimes, from the Stonewall Riots and gay liberation, to the HIV/AIDS pandemic and Queer Nation, to gay marriage and Lady Gaga, and have lived to become part of an unprecedented “out” elder generation. Before focuses on the lives of these three gay seniors, but reminds us that while LGBT elders face a specific set of issues, aging and its challenges are universal. An affirmation of life and human resilience told with a refreshing humor and candor, Before confirms that you are never too old to reshape society. (Production)
Despite all the big arrivals at the Edinburgh International Film Festival (we’ve had The Bling Ring, Monsters University, The East etc.), this year’s standout features have all been relatively low key documentaries. Whilst these documentaries may not have the star-power or budgets of this Hollywood fare, the impact and heart of the stories they tell could not be paralleled in any fictional work. Before You Know It is just one of these staggeringly powerful documentaries that will leave viewers thinking well after watching the film.
PJ Raval’s Before You Know It looks at the lives of three separate gay seniors living in the USA. Each man has lived a very different life and faced their own challenges, yet all are connected through the strength and guts they fearlessly share.
The film opens with widowed Dennis Creamer, who was long married and lives in the conservative South. Before You Know It details Dennis’ move to a gay-friendly Oregon nursing-home and the senior’s alternative persona, Dee. The least confident of the three men, Dennis’s story is a melancholic one as he discusses his thoughts about suicide, detachment from his relatives and his lonely lifestyle. However, there is also a huge element of warmth and likeability to Dennis – seeing him boast the guts to walk down busy streets in drag (even boarding a Pride float in Dee drag) or embark solo on a youth-heavy gay cruise capture how truly brave this former-veteran is. Raval is an unimposing figure, with Dennis and the film’s other subjects always appearing at ease and comforted under the lens.
The second of the seniors is Ty Martin an African-American gay activist for SAGE (Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders) living in traditionally homophobic Harlem. We learn how AIDS/HIV killed many of Ty’s friends and follow him through the passing of New York’s same-sex marriage bill. Ty’s story is slightly more upbeat than Dennis’s as it showcases changing attitudes to GLBT citizens in Harlem, where we see the activist set a sidewalk stand to promote SAGE and even see him act as best man in his best friend’s same-sex wedding.
The third of these inspiring elders is Robert Mainor, proprietor of trashy Galveston gay bar Robert LaFitte’s. Robert claims he was “always out” and provides a lot the humour in Before You Know It, especially in sequences showing the camp senior going hunting for Hawaiian shirts at garage sales or bantering with the dragged up staff performing in his bar. Robert’s tale is also a sad one – Paval documents how he lost his partners and takes a lesser role in the bar as a result of continual health problems. However, Robert’s tale does remain inspiring – seeing how his bar unites the Texas gay community is heart-warming, as is seeing the love between the staff, clients and Robert.
Before You Know It is reminds us that these seniors have and still continue to pave the way for new generations of LGBT youths and the courage they display shows no bounds. These are touching stories packed with warmth, sadness, fun, and most importantly, strength. (Andrew McArthur, cinehouseuk)