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Director: Rachel Mason
Producers: Adam Baran and Cynthia Childs
Circus of Books has been a mecca for adult material in Los Angeles for over 35 years. Although the store is notorious, few people know Karen and Barry Mason, the straight couple who have been quietly running it since 1982. CIRCUS OF BOOKS, the documentary is a portrait of a family business whose owners navigated two worlds, raising children in a mainstream straight and religious household, while simultaneously fighting on the front lines of the culture wars of the 1980’s and 90’s. The Masons were accidental heroes to the queer community by keeping their business functioning and thriving so that it could be a safe and welcoming space for people no matter their sexual preferences.
This vivid portrayal of Karen and Barry Mason is conveyed by their daughter, artist Rachel Mason, following her parents as they navigate the closing of their two stores, and through interviews with legendary folks such as Alaska Thunderfuck 5000 (the RuPaul’s Drag Race star was a former Circus cashier), publisher of Hustler Magazine, Larry Flynt , and porn legend Jeff Stryker, as well as a cascade of artists, writers and musicians in the orbit of Rachel Mason's creative community.
“Circus of Books was a significant site for these ephemeral experiences of queer (predominantly male) sexuality. Although considerable attention has been given to this histories of adult media spaces in New York’s Times Square, comparable public spaces in California—exemplified by Circus of Books—have been largely overlooked; yet, because they were longtime stand-alone businesses rather than mere iterations of similar businesses clustered in vice districts, they actually played a larger role in shaping their local communities and cultures.”
- Lucas Hilderbrand, Associate Professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies, UC Irvine
“In a full accounting of the birth of queer community, the foundational role of Circus of Books and places like it won't be ignored any longer. The genius of homophobia was enforced social isolation, promoting the feeling that there was something wrong with you. Whatever else Circus was, it was place of community, and as such a powerful weapon against this isolation.”
- Jonathan D. Katz, Head of Visual Culture Studies at SUNY Buffalo
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