A House Is Not a Disco (2024)


A House Is Not a Disco Review

The movie A House Is Not a Disco is described by one of the people interviewed as having “this much beefcake per capita.” It’s a good looking, highly appetizing documentary debut by actor Brian J. Smith (Netflix’s Sense8). What would happen if you rounded up all the gays and left them on an island? That’s no longer a moralistic premise; Fire Island Pines, a queer oasis 50 miles outside New York City, has been one of the most popular destinations for gay men in America since the ’60s.

The film looks at how Fire Island builds community. It is what people mean when they say “safe space.” Still, Smith’s film nods to the privilege that makes it so. The rolling white beaches filled with well toned bods do not represent all gay life in America. But they’re not pretending to. This is about creating opportunities for connection within one small corner of an incredibly diverse community.

Fire Island was where Smith learned to be a gay man, he says in interviews. And this documentary shares that sentiment, Smith and cinematographer Eric Schleicher shoot its beaches and boardwalks like they’re falling in love with them which, clearly, they are. Natural light and handheld camerawork give everything warmth and immediacy; this environment is one of openness and positivity. The optimism is contagious.

Following the fun in the sun takes an observational route as Smith checks in with various daddies and hunks on the island guys who’ve been there forever tell stories about how it used to be back in their day (it was called Meat Rack Bay for a reason), while younger dudes explain that life on Fire Island isn’t exactly what those older gays think it is anymore, newbies recount their first time seeing someone in drag (which usually happens immediately upon arrival). Longtime residents share history lessons about why the place exists: When strident laws meant gay men couldn’t congregate, be open or express love publicly, Fire Island was an escape.

A House Is Not a Disco leaves space for all types of men literally, the place is mostly filled with white guys of a certain age and body type, but Smith goes out of his way to interview people who don’t fit that mold. Some fun tension ensues when older gays complain that life on Fire Island is just a 24/7 party for younger dudes “They’re not even scared of AIDS!” and they have a point: These kids have probably never even heard of AIDS! The film has the obligatory chapter about the tragic years of the epidemic (Fire Island was an epicenter), but also notes that one person’s lease-breaking comment that “AIDS freed up a third of this island” wasn’t meant as a joke, it was true. The ’80s were bad.

In one of Fire Island’s many picturesque summer homes calling them “cottages” feels wrong Smith observes the life of a throuple that runs what’s known as a “share house.” People come and people go. They cook food by the pound, which is great because everyone’s always starving half because they’re doing so much sex, half because they’re not eating enough to survive. There are swings and beds and an open invitation for skinny-dipping. The house embodies the island’s emphasis on sex positivity

Meanwhile, the same time gives birth to its own confusion. On the one hand of the film a young man states that life at Pines is not all about partying. He starts his summer by shaving his ass in the shower and says, “We’ll probably stop by an orgy.” It’s like picking up some guys on the island is just like stopping by a fruit stand to grab bananas on your way home. He lets it all hang out at different house parties, but there’s some unease and judgment from other people captured by the film’s Wiseman-esque camera. Even among the gayest partiers, some guy shaking his sausage awfully close to the BBQ seems to raise alarms.

The film admittedly meanders somewhat as it takes in the daily labors that make the island run. Loving eyes often take in too much. Check-ins at the liquor store highlight all of boys who keep booze flowing; a trip to grocery speaks to island’s very specific clientele (the jars of za’atar are flying off shelves). Other looks at idiosyncrasies relate how it accessible by ferry and doesn’t have any cars, points that add to its idyllic novelty, while one elder gay makes an annual display with lawn flamingos made up to resemble iconic paintings; buff guys en route to beach stroll by The Scream and Whistler’s Mother.

All these looks at life on island eventually lead toward deeper thoughts. Fire Island may be paradise realized but its Eden is mainly inhabited by rich white cisgendered gay men.Two black folks talk about need for inclusive spaces while one transwoman shares how summers changed after she came out. Elder gays also discuss lack of diversity on island humorously using popular comedy Fire Island as reference point for exploring privilege there: For one, question having pool represents Pines’ accessibility he feels people disclose their “pool status” as means welcoming others into use it; for another islander, having or not having offers a form of social stratification.

Smith’s film finds strong final act when it turns into an unexpected environmental fable. As he follows the party planners who ready their annual beach fundraiser fête, Smith sees that Fire Island is dying. Waves get higher and higher with each passing season, eroding beach and even ruining dance floor set night before. Climate change has its way with Pines and partiers know their oasis might be underwater one day.

But by using a strong mix of archival photos and videos to complement the contemporary vérité, A House Is Not a Disco paints a portrait of place that created for however brief or long gay community which opened its arms and let people find themselves. How long party goes relates to many factors community has to face.

Watch A House Is Not a Disco For Free On Gomovies.

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