In 70 years, will younger generations be able to decipher some meaning from your Snapchats? That idea probably never crossed Harold O’Neal’s mind when he was making home movies back in the mid 1940s, but now his private video collection is being preserved by the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco. One home movie features a group of gay men, cheeky as always, sunbathing outside a shoreline cabin. Another of O’Neal’s timeless treasures captures an intimate house party with men in suits drinking dainty cocktails and dancing with each other.
“Over the years O’Neal made dozens of home movies — of house parties, drag performances, skinny-dips, travels with his partner — many of which captured the rhythms and intimacies of gay social life long before it was allowed to flourish in the open,” Alastair Gee, who uncovered these timeless gems, writes for The New Yorker.
Watching these gay home movies is like entering the most private of social clubs, one that was highly secretive from the start and is now forever locked away by the passage of time. Beyond this strange form of time travel, these home movies also make is evident the generational link between gay men today and their past lives.
“To see those same types of mannerisms and the same types of laughter, and laughter at the same things, just made me feel like I wasn’t alone in time,” Stu Maddux told The New Yorker. “Like my generation and the generations around me are not alone in time.”
Maddux spent a year researching the archives at the GLBT Historical Society to source footage for his documentary, Reel in the Closet, exploring the power of gay home movies from eras gone by.
Founded in 1985, the GLBT Historical Society houses one of the world’s largest collections of historical materials relating to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer people and the communities that support them. We like to think of it as “San Francisco’s queer Smithsonian.” The historical society also operates the GLBT History Museum in the Castro. Below are a few of the gay home movies that the GLBT Historical Society has collected over the years.