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Tab Hunter Confidential (2015)

Filmrise
Blu-ray Disc Released: 8/23/2016

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/10/2016

I've said this before, but it bears repeating -- If I watch a documentary, I hope to learn something. This can often depend on how familiar I am with the subject matter. With projects like Paradise Lost, Undefeated or Making a Murderer, I acquainted with these stories (although I feel certain that I probably ran across headlines about them), and was immediately enthralled. And then you have movies like Paul Williams: Still Alive or My Amityville Horror, where I was familiar with the subject or story and hoped to gain a greater knowledge. And then there are those like Tab Hunter Confidential which fall somewhere in the middle. Being a movie fanatic and reading about movies of all types, I had heard of Tab Hunter, but couldn't say if I'd ever seen him in anything or that I knew anything about him. This documentary takes us inside this man whose career has had many ups and downs.

In Tab Hunter Confidential, we learn that young California boy Arthur Gelien joined the Coast Guard at age 15, but was discharged when it was learned that he was underage. He moved to the Los Angeles area and began to work with horses. Arthur soon became interested in acting and found an agent who convinced him to change his name to Tab Hunter. Tab found some small roles in films, but his big break came in 1955's Battle Cry. He then began to turn up everywhere, and became very popular due to his wholesome good looks and quiet demeanor. Tab was also a singer and had many popular records. He was often spotted with the likes of Natalie Wood. However, Tab was hiding a secret. He was gay and hated living a lie. As his popularity grew, so did his desire to be himself. This lead to some soul-searching and several reincarnations of his career.

The United States of today is a very odd place. There are still plenty of areas of the country where homosexuality is viewed as taboo or controversial. However, it seems that (on the surface) Hollywood is the one place where this would not be the case. Even the person is completely ignorant of entertainment could name at least one gay entertainer. (Yes, it would Ellen Degneres, but that would still count.) Although we all know that there are still plenty of actors who are closeted to protect their careers, there are plenty of people in the show business who are a part of the LGBTQ community. Today, when it's revealed that an actor is gay, it's simply no big deal.

But, this wasn't always the case. The 1950s was a time of clean-cut American "values". The two things that people in Hollywood feared being labeled were communists or homosexuals. Even if their friends and colleagues knew the truth, these individuals would do anything to keep their secret from the public. The press was very hungry for these kinds of stories, proving that what we witnessed in L.A. Confidential was true. Therefore, Tab Hunter has to keep his true self a secret from the world. Despite having flirtations with the likes of Anthony Perkins, it was imperative that Tab seem straight to the world. It was until recently that he has been able to tell his story.

Which brings us back to the movie. Tab Hunter Confidential is tackling two stories. First, it's telling us the story of Tab Hunter. I'm sure that there are plenty of people like me who had heard of the man, but knew very little about him. This was due to the fact that by the 1970s, his career had been reduced to appearances on television shows or popping up in novelty roles like 1982's Grease 2. Off-screen, he was doing work in dinner theater. We learn how he revived his film to a cult audience with the help of John Waters and 1981's Polyester. The more important point of the film is the exploration of Tab's private life and the struggle of being a closeted star in the 50s and 60s. Along with movie clips and still photos, we get a wealth of interviews with Tab, who is pretty frank about his story. We also here from the likes of Robert Wagner, Debbie Reynolds, George Takei, Connie Stevens, and John Waters, all of whom share stories about Tab.

There's no doubt that Tab Hunter Confidential contains some interesting subject matter and that Director Jeffrey Schwarz, who has apparently made many DVD extras over the years, gets a lot of information from Tab and the other speakers. The problem is that even at 90 minutes, the movie drags at times and feels redundant. I felt that Tab told the same anecdote over and over, but in different ways. It's clear that Schwarz wanted to give the actor his due and treat this as a serious subject, but he should have cut some of the movie, or added new information. Either way, Tab Hunter Confidential still offers an interesting portrait of a man who struggled for years to become who he really is.

Tab Hunter Confidential should have provided more information on Tab's finances on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Filmrise. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The film consists of various elements, including modern interviews and archive footage. While the older footage varies in quality, the interviews are very sharp and clear. The colors look good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is good, as the image is never notably soft. The Disc carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and a constant 448 kbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Those being interviewed are always audible and there's no hissing or popping on the track. The film clips and musical numbers sound find as well.

The main extra on the Tab Hunter Confidential Blu-ray Disc is a reel of "Bonus Interviews" (36 minutes) which includes a great deal of addition footage with Hunter, as well as extra moments with some of the other speakers. The only other extra is a TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2016 by Mike Long