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Circus of Books

Country: USA, Language: English, 92 mins

  • Director: Rachel Mason

CGiii Comment

Oh...what a circus! This is so bizarre, you really couldn't make it up.

Affable Jewish couple [she's religious, he's not] wandered aimlessly into the world of hardcore gay porn...and, remained for over 30 years. To their kids...mom and dad run a bookshop. Imagine their surprise when they found out what kind of books they sold! They even started a video production company...employing the crème de la crème of 80s porn stars. So successful was this little enterprise, it paid for their three kids to go through college. A life of secrets and lies...certainly paid off!

Fortunately, this is not a film solely about the ill-gotten gains from pornography...this is a family affair. Using old home movies, snippets from her video diaries and current talking-heads of family, friends and employees, Rachel Mason [the couple's daughter] tells the story of her non-peculiar [absolutely peculiar] family. It's engaging, engrossing, eye-opening...and, eye-popping. Because...what happens is on par with Kafka's Metamorphosis - there's a revelation, a revulsion and a reversal of opinion. Karen Mason really does deserve total respect for being so honest about her erstwhile feelings [they are shocking]...and, applauded for her own inner revolution...it's a staggering turnaround.

Circus of Books is [now] gone. This film remains...as a surprisingly poignant slice of LGBT history...who would have thought that a gay sex shop could evoke such a porn-tinged spectacle of emotion. Nowt so queer as life!

A fabulous film...


Trailer...

The(ir) Blurb...

How do you explain to your friends that your mom and pop run a gay pornography shop? This is just one question that director Rachel Mason asks in this intimate and probing documentary. When their medical device company went under, Karen and Barry Mason needed a source of income to tide them over. They found a temporary gig distributing explicit magazines for publisher Larry Flynt. This eventually morphed into a mini adult empire, including the titular retail shop—a fixture on West Hollywood's Santa Monica Boulevard for decades—and later, a hardcore film production company.

Turning the camera on her parents and siblings, Mason explores the contradictions of growing up in an unconventional household where her mom could be found volunteering at her synagogue or re-stocking issues of Hand Job Magazine. Sex was never discussed at home, but it was films like A Rim with a View that helped put the kids through college. Circus Of Books chronicles the Masons and their uncommon journey: obscenity charges during the Reagan era, bearing witness to the AIDS epidemic, and facing financial struggles given their aging customer base. It's an honest and engaging portrait of the legendary X-rated emporium and its unlikely proprietors.

—Mimi Brody