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Uncle Bob (DVD Review)

22 Oct, 2011 By: Angelique Flores

Street 10/25/11
Breaking Glass
$24.99 DVD
Not rated.

Most everyone remembers the streaker from the 1974 Academy Awards show. But not everyone remembers his name — Robert Opel — or the contributions he made to the gay movement in San Francisco as well as to art.

In this documentary, Opel’s nephew and namesake Robert Oppel (uncle Bob dropped the second ‘P’ to protect his family) tells his uncle’s life story and searches for answers to his 1979 murder.

A former English teacher, Opel was a photographer, gay activist and owner of the controversial Fey Way Studios, which helped artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe. His art and the art he exhibited often carried political and erotic themes. Opel’s life came to a tragic end during a robbery, when he was shot by a man who some believe was working with the police.

It seems Oppel uses the film as a platform to express his own political thoughts and push his own art and possibly an acting career. In trying to emulate his uncle, Oppel’s attempt comes off as merely an unoriginal imitation of the polemic Opel.

The young Oppel gushes over his uncle, making the film at times feel more like a tribute piece than a biographical documentary. He also inserts himself too much into the story, which during his personal remarks feels like scripted reality TV.

More distractions are found in the re-enactments of certain events in Opel’s life as well as Oppel’s interpretation of his uncle’s unfinished agitprop performance art. The given footage, photos, interviews with colleagues and friends, as well as Oppel’s finished work speaks well enough on Opel’s impact on gay culture.

Most compelling in Oppel’s work is his quest to meet with Opel’s killer, which is consistently being blocked for various reasons by the prison where he is serving time.

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