Footage from one such event has been rediscovered, and it’s now being incorporated into a documentary exploring how the footage came to be, the world it was filmed in, and what it was like to be gay back then. The footage was show at a pool party in St Louis in 1945, and was rediscovered at the estate sale of Buddy Walton. He was a well-known hairdresser, used to rubbing shoulders with celebrities and high-society.
The recordings were discovered by gay filmmaker Geoff Story at the estate sale back in 1996. While he knew he’d found something special, at the time he wasn’t sure what to do with it, so to protect the footage he put it into storage. More recently he started thinking that perhaps they could become the basis of a documentary, and so got te footage digitised. Talking to St. Louis Public Radio, he says of the footage, “These men are still in their 20s in the sun, swimming, like they always will. There’s a real sweet pain, and when you watch it, there’s a happiness but you can’t believe it’s so long ago and you can’t touch it—it’s gone.”
The film also hints towards how ephemeral the men’s freedom was, with some of the guys sporting wedding rings, while uniformed soldiers kiss one another. Of that moment, Story says, “There was such a beauty in that moment. I kind of couldn’t believe I was seeing it.”
He’s now teamed with fellow filmmaker Beth Prusaczyk, and together they’ve attempted to track down some of the men in the footage. So far they’ve managed to find some of their relative. Beth says, “We naively set out thinking, ‘Oh, these men might be in their mid-90s, they could still be alive,’ and that might be true. But I don’t know if we’ll actually find them.”
The duo are still looking for older people with knowledge of gay life in St. Louis in the 1940s to come forward to be part of the project. More info can be found over at the documentary’s website, gayhomemovie.com. You can take a look at a brief clip of the footage below.