Barney Frank sat in a movie theater in New York on Sunday afternoon and got his first look at “Compared to What: The Improbable Journey of Barney Frank,” the documentary about his life that began filming shortly after he announced his retirement from Congress more than two years ago. The film, which was executive produced by Alec Baldwin , was premiering as part of the Tribeca Film Festival, where it seemed to enjoy a very enthusiastic response from an audience that included, among others, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and Frank’s 94-year-old aunt Dorothy.
Frank himself, who granted directors Sheila Canavan and Michael Chandler nearly unlimited access to his day-to-day life when they approached him about the project, and even allowed them to shoot exclusive footage at his wedding, offered a rather muted assessment of the film during the audience Q&A that followed the screening: “I appreciate the general sentiment,” Frank said. “I’m very pleased with the general themes.”
Frank’s husband, Jim Ready
, was more blunt about his feelings, voicing his displeasure at the fact that the film covered the prostitution scandal that rocked Frank’s office in 1989. “I don’t understand why the movie makers would want to embarrass somebody who went out of their way to let them make a movie about him,” Ready said, as Frank sat silently by his side. When Baldwin, who was serving as moderator, asked him to clarify, Ready added, “I didn’t really think that was relevant.
Could this have been a reference to the recent dust-up in which Baldwin used a gay slur against a newspaper photographer? When asked about that unpleasant episode by an audience member, Frank said in no uncertain terms that he had no problem with Baldwin — a position he had emphasized on the red carpet before the screening, saying that, “his outbursts to the contrary notwithstanding,” Baldwin “has been very supportive of gay rights.”
Speaking on a less thorny topic, Frank confirmed that he just finished a draft of his memoir. Asked if it was any good, he replied, “Well, you know, I was happy with it at first, but toward the end . . . you get so obsessed [that] you just want the damn thing to be done.” The memoir, according to Frank, will cover much of the same material that appeared in Canavan and Chandler’s movie, which delves into the lonely life he led as a closeted gay man in Washington, and tells the story of his most significant legislative achievements. In what might be the movie’s most touching scene — well, aside from the shot of Frank and Ready embracing after being wed — one of the congressman’s ex-roommates from Harvard reveals that he had a crush on Frank, and wrote him a letter in which he told him he was gay with the hope that Frank would follow his lead. But Frank, who would not go public with his sexuality until 1987 because he believed it would destroy his political career, burned the letter, and gave his roommate — who still seems a little heartbroken about the whole thing — no indication that he was also gay.