Circus of Books

In 1976, Karen and Barry Mason had fallen on hard times and were looking for a way to support their young family when they answered an ad in the Los Angeles Times. Larry Flynt was seeking distributors for Hustler Magazine. What was expected to be a brief sideline led to their becoming fully immersed in the LGBT community as they took over a local store, Circus of Books. A decade later, they had become the biggest distributors of gay porn in the US. The film focuses on the double life they led, trying to maintain the balance of being parents at a time when LGBT culture was not yet accepted. Their many challenges included facing jail time for a federal obscenity prosecution and enabling their store to be a place of refuge at the height of the AIDS crisis. Circus of Books offers a rare glimpse into an untold chapter of queer history, and it is told through the lense of the owners’ own daughter, Rachel Mason, an artist, filmmaker and musician.

Director: Rachel Mason
Cast: Karen Mason, Barry Mason, Larry Flynt, Alaska Thunerfuck

Review: Circus of Books isn’t just a highly amusing portrait of normies working within the counterculture, although it definitely is that at first, it is a triumph of filmmaking in the way it covers such a range of topics so seamlessly: LGBTQ history, pornography, religion, obscenity law, media, AIDS, coming out, parenthood, and more. The film blossoms when it focuses on interviews with employees, longtime customers and the stars of the porn the store financed. These members of the community reflect on a bygone era with wit and warmth, and the film supports their memories with golden-lit archival footage of the neighborhood in the 1980s. It also grounds the store in its political history, including the devastation of the AIDS crisis. The remembrances are the movie’s heart — not a family secret, but a community’s pride.

Verdict: Worth the Popcorn

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