This movie takes its name from one of Rock Hudson’s most enduring films All That Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk, 1955), and straight from the opening shot the documentary peers at the actor’s personal life with decided interest. Not that it sensationalises his domestic life – his sexuality has been public knowledge for some time – but the film does what it can to demystify the artist from the heartthrob who impressed men and women in different capacities.
Director Stephen Kijak quickly establishes Hudson’s impact on the world, and we’re quickly given the “women wanted him, men wanted to be him” routine, but the actor was much more complicated than the image he and his agents projected to the public. In 1985, Hudson admitted that he had contracted Aids, shocking the world of cinema much as Freddie Mercury’s diagnosis would affect the music industry in 1991. What Kijak demonstrates isn’t necessarily closure but context, and the documentary presents a complicated person who had to play two roles – actor and human – throughout his career.
Considering that he was a star in the 1950s, it’s no surprise that he was told to keep his sexual predilections a secret from the public, but the extent to which he tried to reveal his sexuality might come as a surprise to some viewers. Characters frequently found Hudson in “closets” in his films, a thinly veiled metaphor that won’t surprise anyone these days, but kept him sufficiently veiled at that point to carry on as he pleased. As is evident from the film, Hudson started off like anyone: A young person with a stomach and ambition that initially seemed larger than his reach. Yet he persevered to deliver some scintillating performances, and his acting abilities – not forgetting his natural good looks – served him on his journey to attain fulfilment. Like many Catholics, he spent much of his time querying his worthiness in an industry predicated on capitalism, but when he delivered, he proved his worth and then some.
But it must have pained him to hide a part of himself from the public, and one of his boyfriends/paramours describes the efforts they went to hide their relationship from the public eye. As his illness grew more apparent, the tabloids started to speculate on his homosexuality, and the film highlights Hudson’s importance in relaying information to the public about the disease. (As a side note, one of the issues I have with the documentary is that they state that no other celebrity has made as grand an effort to highlight the illness as Hudson did, which conveniently overlooks the valiant efforts Brian May and Roger Taylor have made since losing Mercury to the dreadful virus.)
Stephen Kijak’s doc is occasionally hagiographic, but the point remains an emotive one, highlighting one man’s ambition to distant his personal life from his art. Whether Hudson will be the last to do so remains unlikely, but it’s hard not to admire his commitment, particularly when so much of his method stemmed from truthfulness and spontaneity.
Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed will be available to download and rent on digital platforms from Monday, October 23rd.