Matt Tyrauner’s Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood is one messy and confounding documentary. Its subject, Scotty Bowers, is a strange and fascinating character, and I wouldn’t even say he’s not a person who should have his story told. I just don’t think it’s this movie, which wants to layer profundity and importance on its story despite never really earning it. Instead, it’s a film that wanders into its subject’s life but doesn’t do much to illuminate it.
The film’s titular Scotty was a staple of postwar Hollywood who found secret sexual partners for numerous Hollywood stars from the gas station he managed. The film’s thesis is that Scotty allowed people to freely explore their sexuality at a time when homosexuality could end a career. And while this might’ve been true, the film doesn’t really make a convincing argument, instead just pinning the assertion on the words of some pontificating talking heads.
Meanwhile, the rest of the movie follows around the now 90-year-old Scotty, who’s just written a tell-all memoir titled Full Service. There’s some controversy around the book — namely, that Scotty’s outing a whole slew of now-dead Hollywood stars. The film never really examines the issue beyond some words from Scotty, nor does it dig into the veracity of his story. At the same time, there’s a bizarreness to Scotty’s current life. He owns numerous houses, one of which was gifted to him, another of which just houses piles of junk. A different chunk of the movie deals with him recovering his dead friend’s ashes from the trunk of an abandoned car.
There’s an amount of sifting through other periods of Scotty’s life, like his childhood experience of sexual assault and time serving in the military, but the movie doesn’t know how to tie all of it into his time running the service station. Instead, everything is presented in a disjointed manner, jumping around Scotty’s life and stories of his sexual escapades while also trying to tie him into the narrative of marriage equality and sexual freedom. The film never feels organic and can’t decide it if wants to be the story of a quirky character in the history of Hollywood or a grand examination of American puritanism and its slow decline. The end result is a muddied version of both, neither of which exactly work. Not rated. Now playing at Grail Moviehouse.