Hot Docs 2013: Continental (2013)
The new documentary Continental from director Malcolm Ingram explores the importance and impact of New York City’s Continental Baths in the gay rights movement of the late 60’s and early 70’s. In 1968 New York City’s gay scene was more a dirty little secret than a scene. Gay bars were dark and dangerous, bathhouses were grotty and unsanitary, and every gay establishment was subject to frequent police raids. Enter Steve Ostrow, aspiring opera singer and founder of the Continental Baths, a new kind of elegant and sophisticated bath house in New York’s legendary Ansonia Hotel. Immediately, the Continental Baths became not only a safe place for gay men to meet and have sex, it became a hot night spot for NY’s social elite and launched the careers of the likes of Bette Midler and Labelle.
While Continental is ostensibly about the Continental Baths, it’s really about Steve Ostrow himself. A lack of found footage from the heyday of the baths might be explainable – gay men were still targets for violence, persecution, and prosecution in 1968, after all – but it seems Ingram might have had some access issues with the present day Ansonia Hotel as well. We see lots of shots of this architectural heirloom from the outside, but walk away with little sense of what the baths looked like, a serious problem in a visual medium. (If viewers are interested, the Continental Baths space ultimately gave way to the infamous NYC swing club Plato’s Retreat, covered in, um, loving detail in the 1998 doc Plato’s Retreat.)
Still, Steve Ostrow is an interesting figure and Continental documents the important flip-side to the somewhat more explosive push for gay rights that was happening 70 or so blocks south in Manhattan at the same time with the Stonewall riots. On the one hand, New York’s gay and lesbian community had to actually fight for their rights, but – just as important – men like Steve Ostrow and the jumping night life of the Continental Baths demonstrated to the mainstream public just how fabulous this community could be. Both of these things were key.
Screening Times for Continental
Sun, Apr 28 9:15 PM
Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Tue, Apr 30 4:00 PM
Sun, May 5 8:00 PM
Gallery of Images from Continental
For more information about Hot Docs 2013 and to purchase tickets, visit http://www.hotdocs.ca/.