Documentarian Rachel Mason investigates her own family to find out more about the gay porn business her heterosexual parents have run for 30 years, while hiding the true nature of their business from their three children.
The odd couple are Karen and Barry, who stumbled into the business after their respective careers as a journalist and special effects artist/designer of components for dialysis machines came to an early end. They went on to become some of the leading manufacturers and distributors of gay porn in the USA, even facing a lawsuit for obscenity during the Reagan years.
You might expect a heterosexual couple running a gay porn business in West Hollywood to be liberal hippy types but you’d be mistaken, as the pair are motivated primarily to earn a living for their family rather than any deep ideological attachment to gay sexual liberation.
Karen in particular is a conservative Jew, and remarkably struggles to accept her own gay son, viewing his sexual orientation as punishment from God. This lack of introspection, and apparent absence of remorse for her actions, having now come round to accepting him, makes her slightly harder to warm to than husband Barry. He is cheerful, easygoing and accepting and seems like an absolute delight.
It features contributions from former business associates and employees, including Drag Race’s Alaska Thunderfuck, but the best contributions come from the family. Made by their daughter, the documentary gets intimate access to parents and children. She seems to have been making the film her whole life as her childhood home video footage is used.
And by looking at the history of the business it’s able to explore a whole host of LGBT+ issues including coming out, religious intolerance, the impact of the AIDS epidemic, the effect the internet has had on gay communities and how radically gay acceptance has improved through the decades. Fascinating, moving, entertaining and heartwarming, Circus of Books covers the landscape of gay history and is an up-close portrait of a remarkable family.