It’s incredibly tragic that humanity has made it to the year 2022 AD and we still don’t have proper laws protecting LGBTQ+ citizens. In the past year in some states, the US has actually instituted anti-LGBTQ+ laws, making it harder for people within that bubble to simply live their lives. Hate seems to be at an all-time high for those society deems unworthy, yet it shouldn’t be that way. LGBTQ+ people have a long history in not only the US but the world.
100 Years of Men in Love: The Accidental Collection shines a light on some of that history through a selection of photographs collected by two gay men. Authors Hugh Nini and Neal Treadwell stumbled upon an old photograph of a gay couple by random and then turned it into their mission to discover more of pictures history tried to bury. As they found more and more, they realized some of these photographs dated back more than 100 years.
I have to applaud them and director David Millbern for compiling this footage together, but there is definitely some backstory and commentary missing here that leaves the film filling a bit empty.
100 Years of Men in Love: The Accidental Collection
Director: David Millbern
Release date: March 25, 2022 (Limited Release)
100 Years of Men in Love is a rather basic documentary-style film that sticks close to its title and central premise. Over the course of 57 minutes, we’re treated to various photographs of men expressing love for one another that dates back as far as 1850 and as recent as 1955. The backstory for how this collection came to be is briefly touched on in the beginning, with authors Hugh Nini and Neal Treadwell mentioning their propensity to shop at antique shops and happening upon a frame that contained a photo of a gay couple from over a century ago.
Doing some research into the film, I found that 100 Years of Men in Love was actually published as a novel a few years back under the title Loving: A Photographic History of Men in Love 1850s-1950s. Similar to the film, the book is merely a collection of photographs with some slight interjections from its authors about their personal experience finding a specific photograph and what they think it represents.
Due to how gay couples have been treated over the course of human history, you can already tell how bold it would be for a couple to take a photograph of each other in an embrace during that time frame. That hook is what drove Nini and Treadwell to continue seeking out these photographs and compiling them for all of the world to see. Despite facing extreme persecution, these couples wanted to have a permanent reminder of how in love they were. It’s incredibly poetic.
The film, itself, should also work as a huge eye-opener to any naysayers that believe homosexuality is a more recent trend in human development. As clearly shown by these pictures, we have proof dating back to the 1850s that gay men were living together in America and unafraid of showing their love in public. There’s no reason why they should have been afraid.
Punctuated between certain photos are quotes from authors such as Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau that illustrate how love is universal. Regardless of gender identity or race, we as humans can fall in love with one another. We shouldn’t be imposing limits on our love when love is one of the strongest emotions we can give.
As beautiful as the subject matter is, 100 Years of Men in Love only really falters because the film is so basic. The editing isn’t egregious or anything, but the presentation of each photo follows a very basic slow-zoom style set to the same few classical tunes. We get incredibly brief descriptions of things written on the back of those photos with only the occasional background story explaining them.
It would obviously be impossible to know what each subject was doing given the age of these photographs, but I would have liked to hear more stories from Nini and Treadwell about where they found each photo and what they personally think the scenes are. That does happen from time to time, but it is very sparse.
A rather small nitpick is that the film doesn’t include too many photographs of black gay couples. I fully understand that given the age of these photos, it would be impossible to find a large number of minority photographs. The two authors even explain how cameras were mostly limited to wealthy couples during this period and that handheld cameras were basically out of reach for minorities, but it would have been nice to see a bigger selection of black and bi-racial photos featured, as improbable as that might be.
Really, the only thing truly holding back 100 Years of Men in Love is the story of its inception. As the film is more focused on simply showing the photographs (almost like a video companion to the original novel), by the end, you’re left with more questions than answers. How long did it take to assemble this collection? Were there any doubters when attempting to publish the book? Is a second compilation potentially in the works?
I believe there is a greater story to be told about this entire project rather than what the film ends up being. Even so, I wouldn’t dare claim that 100 Years of Men in Love is a bad movie. It’s more the film is basic when the material could use some elaboration. This photographic collection is a wonderful thing that more people should be made aware of, but I fear leaving out certain information may turn people away.
Those that take the plunge will be treated to a selection of moments that history couldn’t destroy. The love on display was so powerful, it outlived its subjects and went on to become a beacon of hope for others. If that’s not the definition of true love, I’m not sure what else could be.