The title is a twist on Douglas Sirk’s 1955 All That Heaven Allows; Stephen Kijak’s documentary retelling of the life story of Hudson is, like the star himself, somewhat problematic. Hudson was arguably the biggest film star in the world for a considerable time; he’s compared to Tom Cruise here in terms of decades of popularity. Hudson was gay, but chose to keep his own sexuality a secret to the point of death, and that mixed message somewhat tamps down the modern urge to consider him a trailblazer for gay issues. ‘Rock was an activist without knowing it,’ is the somewhat contorted logic we get here; it might be more accurate to say that he chose to be an activist in no sense other than his own private business, which is to say, not much at all. His focus was being a film-star, and he excelled at it.
Hudson’s good looks meant he didn’t have much of a struggle to be famous; it’s something of a shock to see him as a guest on This is Your Life back in 1952, making play of his real name Roy Fitzgerald but with barely a hint of who Hudson/Fitzgerald actually was, honouring the studio construct instead. And what a construct; Women wanted him, men wanted to be him, Hudson was a ‘sexual gladiator’ amongst mortals, a man ‘who taught (them) how to be heterosexual’ with great success. Except Hudson’s private and public lives were worlds apart, with his male lovers muted in favour of his sham marriage or on-screen romances with stars like Jane Wyman, Doris Day and the late Piper Laurie.
The secret weapon of cinema’s mission to ‘bring back glamour’ to a post WWII world, Hudson was ‘playing a man called Rock Hudson who was the personification of America,’ as one contributor says; only a few would have noted that Liz Taylor, with her penchant for gay company, was a close confidante. Kijak’s film has got some choice clips and some great editing to capture the story of Hudson’s double life, and telling contributions from notables like Alison Anders and Ileana Douglas. It’s frustrating to see little coverage of significant films in his canon like Ice Station Zebra or Pretty Maids All in a Row, although arguably Hudson’s most important film from a modern perspective, John Frankenheimer’s 1966 shocking and revealing masterpiece Seconds, are thoroughly considered.
Hudson may have seen himself as a diamond, as the dreamy opening sequence suggests, but his value was tarnished by the way he allowed himself to be used as currency; it’s somewhat agonising to hear that previously friends Nancy and Ronald Reagan turned their backs on him when he needed urgent medical treatment after contracting AIDS. This is a documentary well worth commending to anyone interested in Hollywood hypocrisy, and Hudson emerges as a somewhat torn, if not tragic figure who never got the chance to be himself.