Documentary ‘Circus of Books’ shares many different stories

When documentary filmmaker Rachael Mason was growing up she and her siblings were under strict instructions from their parents. If asked what their family business was, they were to told to say they owned a bookshop.

Her parents, Jewish couple Karen and Barry, had started their careers as a newspaper journalist and television special effects technician respectively. They had a career change though when they started up a distribution business selling adult material.

Later in the early 1980’s they bought Circus of Books, West Hollywood’s landmark gay bookstore, which had a significant adult literature and pornography wing. For Rachel and her brothers, when they walked through the store they were under strict instructions to keep their eyes glued to the floor.

While the kids had little idea about all the items their parents business sold, they were also unaware that their parents were one of the biggest distributors of gay porn in the world, were fighting federal lawsuits about freedom of speech and seeing their clients, staff and friends be decimated by the AIDS crisis.

In 2019 Rachel captures her family at a critical moment. Faced with an ageing pool of consumers, the devastating effect of the internet on sales and their own advancing years, Barry and Karen have to decide if its time to close the doors on their landmark business for good.

In this film the director shares the very personal story of her family, and by telling their tale she also takes in the story of gay liberation, battles about freedom of speech and censorship, politics, the AIDS crisis, the changing face of the queer community, and deeply personal revelations of sexuality, judgement and acceptance.

Circus of Books can be streamed now on Netflix. 

Graeme Watson

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