The documentary opens with a story told by Hudson to an openly gay actor about a dream he had in which he was the center of a brilliant diamond. This dream was supposedly the anchor that Hudson clung to throughout his tumultuous Hollywood career. It is through this framework that the filmmakers posit that many of his life choices—including his reluctance to come out even after Stonewall—stemmed from his desire to achieve and maintain this stardom.
Using an abundance of archival footage and photographs, Kijak plots the life of Hudson-born Roy Harold Scherer Jr.—from his childhood in Illinois to his stint in the Navy during World War II to his early days and climbing later in Hollywood. Kijack pays particular attention to Hudson’s relationship with agent Henry Willson, who created the name and star persona that fans knew as Rock Hudson.
The filmmakers don’t shy away from the lilac and lavender aspects of old Hollywood, exploring the various ways queer stars hid their personal lives and fought to keep their names out of the tabloids like Confidential. This includes an in-depth look at Hudson’s brief arranged marriage to Wilson’s secretary, Phyllis Gates, and the damage it caused to both parties.
All of this is rich and complete. However, the format of the documentary remains surprisingly uneven. For the first 45 minutes or so, Kijack uses only voices from various interview subjects, some new recordings and some archival, who either knew Hudson personally or have insightful commentary on his life and career. However, the final hour of the film is spent on camera interviewing various living people, some of whom were part of Hudson’s inner circle such as Tales of the City writer Armistead Maupin and Hudson’s former lover, Lee Garlington, and especially poignant. interview with his “Dynasty” co-star Linda Evans, who discusses their controversial kiss on the show.
While the change in format certainly touches on the availability of these subjects and their closeness to Hudson during his lifetime—the private photographs provided by Garlington of the two on vacation together are sure to tug at your heartstrings—the execution of this shift is jarring and would have felt less abrupt if the filmmakers had chosen to weave these interviews into the camera from the start.
The film also leans heavily on the editing format from the excellent 1992 experimental essay “Rock Hudson’s Home Movies” in which director Mark Rappaport uses footage from Hudson’s films – out of context – in order to brazenly gay and shake your head at his strange readings. films when viewed with knowledge of Hudson’s orientation, whether they are actually there or not. While Rappaport’s use of this technique was playful and subversive, the way it is used by Kijack is often very on the nose and empty rings.