Frameline to Outfest: “Glitz” Is the Word to Describe Fabulous Allan Carr

by Kevin M. Thomas, @ReelKev

Director Jeffrey Schwarz is a name we should get to know.

He’s a documentary filmmaker and historian who can find out a lot about his subjects and make it fun, informative and entertaining in every film.

I have become a fan of Tab Hunter, pornographer Chuck Holmes and even more a bigger fan of Divine, thanks to his films.

He’s taking on a less known member of the gay community in his latest project. Allan Carr may not be a household name but gay men of a certain age will realize they were familiar with his productions.

“The Fabulous Life of Allan Carr,” screens at 4pm on Sunday, June 18 at San Francisco’s Castro Theatre and then it’s off to Los Angeles.

The movie is one of the many wonderful documentaries in this year’s LGBTQ Frameline Film Festival.

His past festival films “Tab Hunter Confidential” and “I Am Divine” were wonderful portraits of iconic entertainers.  Carr’s name is less known to audiences but his work and actions were.

Carr might be a social media maven if he were around today. Carr had the vision and panache to make memorable events. Years before he became a movie producer with one of the most popular musicals of all time “Grease,” Carr was called on by Hollywood to make other events splashy and star studded. If he gave a party, they would come. His larger than life vision was parallel to his flamboyant personality, which definitely caught the media’s attention.

Director Schwarz recalls a lot of these events as if he were there. That’s one of the strengthens of a filmmaker so involved in his work.

One example he shares is the premiere of the movie musical “Tommy” in the mid-1970s. Carr was asked to have a premiere party and Carr cleverly selected the New York Subway as the venue for a big party attended by the larger than life cast: Ann-Margret, Tina Turner, Elton John and Roger Daltrey to name a few.

Schwarz says he’s drawn to “over the top personalities” and chose Carr as a subject because of his impact on Hollywood. Of the numerous films that Schwarz has made, Carr reminds him more of B movie William Castle, the topic of his documentary “Spine Tingler: The William Castle Story”. Castle, like Carr, relied on gimmicks to help sell his movies and is known for films that rattled the seats, have transgender killers and recent audiences might recall the stunts he did promoting “Strait Jacket,” the schlocky movie Joan Crawford made after “Baby Jane” and featured in the TV mini-series “Feud.”

“Both men were showy and had highs and lows in their careers,” says Schwarz, pointing out they both were outsiders looking in and craved respect from the industry. 

Carr relished his career highs with the success of the movie “Grease” and the Broadway musical “La Cage aux Folles,” the ladder winning him a Tony Award for Best Musical.

The lows, however, had taken personal tolls on Carr. The one year he produced the Academy Awards was one of the worst reviewed Oscar ceremonies in history. But Schwarz is one of the many fans of one of Carr’s other “lows” – the musical “Can’t Stop the Music,” which unfortunately the disco laden film was released when disco was dead and “people would gather in stadiums burning their disco records,” says Schwarz.

“But the movie itself is a gay man’s dream,” says Schwarz, or at lease capitalized on everything that titillated Carr: “hot guys, older movie stars and the Village People.”

Schwarz says that when Carr first saw the Village People, he decided to make an entire movie around them. Add sexy YMCA scenes, Olympian Bruce Jenner and first time director (old Hollywood respected) Nancy Walker and you have a hit on your hands, or so Carr thought.

Schwarz takes the movie beyond the glitz and caftans and shows some of Carr’s insecurities and reveals some of “the sadness in his eyes.”

Carr left this world too early. Schwarz wonders what he might be up to these days and how much presence he’d have on social media. But one thing is for sure, he’d likely be a guest judge on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

Like other Schwarz films, we learn a lot about Allan Carr and are entertained and enlightened every step of the way.

The film just starting making the film festival circuit in May. After Frameline, it moves on to Los Angeles’ Outfest. Follow the film at www.allancarrmovie.com.

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