fun on the town
by Douglas Messerli
Filmmaker unknown, Mona’s Candle Light / c.1950
This night, a friend of the regulars has brought her film camera, decorously positioning its lens at a few of the customers before focusing almost entirely on Jansen and Reynard, the former beginning the evening with her standard “Just One of Those Things.”
Today we have this candid, fascinating, but frankly rather boring remnant of LGBTQ history in the form of the eight-minute tape restored and preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive and the Outfest Legacy Project for LGBT Film Preservation.
Yet bars, as opposed to the large clubs such as Studio 54 and the famed New York Baths of the 1970s and early 1980s, were once of crucial importance for gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals not only a location to meet and pick up individuals or to even have sex, as many of the late 60s and early 1970s bars permitted, but as a place where a certain community of friends nightly got together to talk, dish, compare observations, share their sufferings and, mostly, to enjoy themselves in a way that was unpermitted anywhere else.
As Jeremy Atherton Lin in his book about bars and the specific communities they served (Gay Bar: Why We Went Out, 2021) observes: “We did not go out to be safe. I didn’t anyway. I went out to take risks.”
I hope we might be able to uncover more of these revelatory films of early gay bar life since today such bars, open to nearly all individuals, seem almost to be a thing of the past.
Just as in real life, Mona’s Candle Light was fun for the regulars even if it was a bit boring for us tourists. And obviously we know nothing about what happened after the camera stopped its grind and Jen had finished her last song of the night.
Above is a picture of the owner of the bar, Mona Hunt.
*My reference to that film, Bell, Book, and Candle, is highly appropriate, since I read that 1958 film as a coded gay and lesbian work.
Los Angeles, April 13, 2021
Reprinted from My Queer Cinema blog and World Cinema Review (April 2021).