Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood
A good documentary needs more than just a good story. It also needs to be a well-assembled film in its own right. Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood leans a little too heavily on its subject matter, but it’s a doozy of a subject.
The film picks up with Scotty Bowers just after his book Full Service is published. The book is a tell-all account of his adventures in Hollywood’s golden era. Scotty never uses the words “pimp” or “escort,” but he does describe himself and his “boys and girls” servicing thousands of stars over decades of Hollywood’s history. His stories of who hooked up with whom confirms years of whispered gossip and tears open closet doors that were barely shut to begin with.
One major strength of Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood is the lack of judgement from Scotty and his stories. The documentary allows Scotty to tell his stories with his own nostalgic voice. With the rampant and legal homophobia back in the day, he honestly believes that he was offering a service to the Hollywood elite that allowed them to find happiness and live their lives as they wanted to. The occasional full-frontal photo or video of the era shows Scotty’s lack of airs when it comes to even his own sexuality. He is an open book. Mostly.
You see, this lack of critical eye towards Scotty also weakens Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood. The film admires the man and takes him at face value, to the detriment of constructing a compelling narrative. We see glimmers of his current wife’s willful ignorance of his sordid past, and her disapproval of how he’s living his life now. (He has a clear hoarding issue, which is topically explored.) How can a man who claims to be an open book keep his wife in the dark? And how can a man who prides himself on discretion for his clients’ private business reconcile the fact that he’s profiting off a tell-all book? There are a few times when the filmmakers behind Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood hint at their awareness of these dichotomies, but they never actually dive into these issues.
However, Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood does shine in spilling Hollywood gossip and contextualizing it within the history of cinema. The impact of both the Hays Code and World War II cannot be underestimated in their power of shaping modern cinema. The forced closeting of previously free-spirited stars living loose in Los Angeles created the environment that allowed Scotty to flourish. And flourish he did. For nearly any star of the golden era, Scotty seems to have a sexual anecdote or tall tale that he will recount with a big grin on his face.
The stories are decadent, and Scotty himself is complex, but Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood would have been a much better documentary if it were willing to ask some tough questions.