Montgomery Clift may be one of the most well-known and tragic queer stories in Hollywood, but that doesn't mean everything you read about him is the absolute truth. Small inaccuracies can snowball into widespread untruths even in the smallest of groups, so imagine how rampant falsehoods can become in the case of a well-known Hollywood heartthrob.
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Robert Clift, Montgomery's nephew, who was born 12 years after the icon's death, realized at an early age that the Monty he heard and read about was very different from the one his actual blood relatives often recalled. After unearthing years upon years of recordings from his father and Monty's brother, Williams Brooks Clift Jr., Robert and his wife, Hillary Demmon, decided to compile their research in an attempt to better understand the closeted movie star and hopefully undo some of the perpetual misinformation that surrounded him. The filmmakers spoke with OUT ahead of the documentary's Newfest premiere.
OUT: Take us through the early stages of constructing this documentary - why was it so important to you?
Robert Clift: Growing up I was very aware of the difference in the Monty I heard about in public and what people that I knew at home or people that loved Monty would say about him and I knew there was a lot of pain involved with that difference.
Hillary and I were moving across the country so we decided that we would start working on this in part by stopping to interview and talk to family members along the way. We made a number of stops from the west coast to east coast and we dug through basements and discovered that a lot of family members and loved ones had kept materials about Monty.
How long did it take to complete the film after you started interviewing relatives and loved ones and gathering all that research material?
Hillary Demmon: I think from the time that we can say we really started to when we finished was probably about five years. But it paid off because that kind of time lets the project evolve and lets you evolve along with it.
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And how did this film evolve from start to finish?
Hillary: I think that, with our film, the goal was not to be comprehensive. I think our main thing was removing some of the roadblocks that might have been in the way of looking at Monty in a different way. I think that his legacy and his influence got kind of overshadowed by some of these narratives about his life that might have been based in stereotypes or obsessed over his sexuality. My hope is that we were able to clear away some of those roadblocks to take a new view of Monty and look at his work with either new eyes if they're younger audiences or take a new look at it if they've never seen it before. I hope people go watch his films after this.
Robert: Similarly, I would say that the goal was not to make a definitive biography about Monty. I think one of the lessons that this film brings is that approaches which try to establish a definitive version of someone can be dangerous because they sometimes solve the mystery of the person by eliminating everything that actually made the person unique.
For me, growing up, the people that knew Monty and loved him would never say they knew exactly who he was or could give you the key that functioned to explain everything about his life. I think when people do that it's often based on stories that ring true just simply because they're repeated over and over, so it becomes the truth of familiarity. My hope is that people are able to revisit his life and his work with a different understanding.
Hillary: I would just add that I think walking away from this film with more questions about Monty is actually a great thing. Just as Robert was saying - this isn't an attempt to solve him or come up with a new replacement real version of Monty. I would love if this film helped people take kind of a critical questioning eye to how they receive celebrity and how they receive information.
Making Montgomery Clift premieres at the closing gala of Newfest on October 30, at 7:30 pm eastern.
This interview has been edited and condensed.