OPENING NIGHT GALA: CIRCUS OF BOOKSDirected by Rachel Mason
Cast: Karen Mason, Barry Mason, Alaska Thunderfuck, Larry Flynt, Jeff Stryker
Within the pantheon of essential landmarks in the history of queer Los Angeles, there never has been nor will there ever be another place as singular and iconic as the legendary Circus of Books: the brick-and-mortar gay erotica emporium, cruising hotspot haven, and unofficial community center on West Hollywood’s Santa Monica Boulevard and on Sunset in Silver Lake. But somewhere between the racks of multi-sized dildos and racy DVDs available for purchase in the safety of broad daylight, you’d never expect to find that the premier purveyors – and producers! – of hardcore gay pornography in the United States were a clean-cut mom-and-pop duo running sexually explicit contraband by day while raising a family of five in the suburbs by night.
Outlaws of obscenity for more than 30 years, Karen and Barry Mason left the straight-and-narrow behind for a side-hustle hawking magazines for Larry Flynt before going on to open Circus of Books, risking imprisonment under the Reagan Justice Department and inadvertently breaking ground as the erogenous epicenter of LGBTQ L.A. and a sanctuary during the AIDS epidemic.
Filmmaker Rachel Mason turns the camera on her parents in this intimate and absorbing documentary to better understand the personal and political history behind the family business. Featuring revealing interviews with relatives, former employees (including drag superstar Alaska Thunderfuck 5000), and Larry Flynt himself, she weaves together a most unusual home movie that reflects the freedom and family values that only a life in gay porn can provide.
Rachel Mason is the daughter of the owners of Circus of Books. She set about to document the story of her parents’ store once she knew that it would soon be closing because knew that it was important to the historical record of queer culture in Los Angeles. When shooting began in earnest it became clear that the film was as much a story about her family as about the business. A visual artist, musician and performer, Mason spent ten years in New York, performing in venues ranging from the Park Avenue Armory and Whitney Museum to gay clubs like Spectrum in Brooklyn. In 2014, she completed her first feature film, The Lives of Hamilton Fish, an experimental musical film told through murder ballads, which she toured as a live performance.