Shane Bitney Crone

A Universal Loss

Doc Co-Producer To Appear In Royal Oak After 'Bridegroom' Screenings

By Christopher J. Treacy


4:30, 7 & 9:30 p.m. June 25

Emagine Theatre

200 N. Main St., Royal Oak

We'd all like to think that if we were lucky enough to find that elusive "soul mate," we could then ride off into the sunset without further ado. The worst parts - the loneliness, the longing, the less-than-stellar pairings that came before it - that would all be over with. Right?

Linda Bloodworth-Thomason's tear-jerking 2013 documentary, "Bridegroom" - which screens 4:30, 7 and 9:30 p.m. June 25 at the Emagine Theatre - paints a powerful portrait of romantic male-on-male love struck by unbelievable tragedy. It's a wrenching reminder that life has a way of hurling curveballs at us. While some seek sanity in the notion that the universe (and whatever you believe governs it) works on a vague system of relative checks and balances, the plain truth is that awful circumstances sometimes befall the kindest, most open-hearted people. And while this certainly isn't news, it's worth considering when you assess your feelings about "Bridegroom," which runs the risk of bringing out feelings in ever our cattiest, most jaded brethren.

If Shane Bitney Crone, co-producer and one-half of the film's central duo, wasn't perfectly aware of this risk when he opted to let Thomason make her film, he's aware of it now. Those that lived through AIDS in the '80s have a tendency to speak of that time in terms of unparalleled disaster. Though warranted, it doesn't negate the hurts and losses that younger generations have faced since. Crone, 28, makes an important distinction that enlarges the scope of his story if you're willing to let it.

"My story is not unique, and that's actually the beauty of the film," says Crone, who will appear during a meet-and-greet after the 9:30 p.m. screening. "It's many people's story."

Simple, but true. Loss is loss - and seen from that angle, "Bridegroom" speaks some universal truths. The film chronicles the love affair between Crone and Thomas Bridegroom, detailing the obstacles both men had to overcome as teens coming up in differing environments. Montana-raised Crone is accepted as gay by his family, but feels largely rejected and antagonized by his peers. He seeks solace in California after graduating high school. Bridegroom, from Tennessee, remains closeted to all but his closest friends while attending the prestigious Culver Military Academy and going on to study at Vassar. When the two are introduced in Los Angeles, magic ensues. But, after a largely blissful six-year romance, Bridegroom falls from the top of a building and dies.

The shocking accident knocks the wind out of you. Watching Crone's immeasurable grief play out, especially when contrasted with the Bridegroom family's cold, tight-lipped treatment of him, feels like a harsh beating. Still, Crone knew that some viewers might not be able to muster more than a sarcastic "boo-hoo" when he posted the commemorative YouTube video that eventually led Thomason to contact him about a full-length film. Gay audiences, especially men of a certain age who feel they've "been all through it," can be a tough crowd.

"I was worried that maybe I was being indulgent," he says. "I had to literally look at myself in the mirror and clarify my intentions. When it came to making the documentary, I had to learn to trust the director. I mean, to some extent, it's indulgent by nature - it is a story about me and Tom and our lives. And I didn't want to make it seem too perfect, because it wasn't. Our relationship had normal ups and downs. Some people have claimed they think it isn't political enough, but I think that the director's intention was to get viewers that might not normally support people like us to see gay relationships in a new light. Shoving political ideas down people's throats may not be the best way to achieve that."

Perhaps not, but effectively tugging at their emotional fabric might be. Part of the way the film sets you up to feel Crone's loss so intensely is by underscoring what both men went through to become comfortable with themselves and their surroundings. Bridegroom's family is not at all supportive of his lifestyle and ends up blaming Crone for the whole situation. After years of effort, what seems like a reconciliation between mother and son (and son's lover) turns out to be little more than lip service. When it came time to making the film, the family, who blocked Crone from attending the funeral with the threat of violence, wanted nothing to do with the project.

"I had hoped they'd have participated," he says. "I believe documentaries should present two sides of every story, but we reached out to them and they didn't respond. I know that there are members of his family that have seen it, but it's his parents I'm most interested in. Honestly, I think they would be surprised to see that we included as much positive information as we could about them."

Crone still feels that Thomason did as good a job as possible making her film and says it represents his relationship with Bridegroom accurately. Despite a lack of big-budget polish, he says he's proud of what it has become (the film has garnered some serious accolades, including winning both the Tribeca and Outfest Audience Awards) and how it's changed him. Crone mentions seeing the movie "Philadelphia" before being old enough to understand it. In his mind, it created an indelible link between sexuality and death, leaving him thinking for many years that he was destined to die for merely being homosexual. The awful irony of having his lover perish in a calamitous accident isn't lost on him, but Crone says the experience has helped him put death and dying into better perspective.

"I don't fear death the way I used to," Crone says. "After Tom passed away, I no longer cared about dying. Coming out the other end of that, I realize there are so many things that interfere with living a full life. Making this movie was definitely part of the grieving process for me. For the first year after the accident, I kept to myself. It felt so good to share the story, and I'm really grateful that I was allowed to participate to the extent I did."

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