Screen Gems

This weekend, discover the ‘Circus’ behind LA’s most iconic gay bookstore

Karen Mason in ‘Circus of Books’

Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend dive into queer and queer-adjacent titles of the past that deserve a watch or a rewatch.

The Family Affair: Circus of Books

Who’d have thought that a middle-class, Jewish, straight couple would be the driving force behind Circus of Books, the iconic gay bookstore and adult shop located in West Hollywood’s gayborhood? For that matter, who’d have thought that the daughter of said couple would make a sort of biopic of the business, trumpeting her folks as unwitting champions of queer equality?

Director Rachel Mason chronicles the “life” of the store from conception until its closure in 2019 via archival footage, as well as in-depth interviews with Karen & Barry Mason, Rachel’s parents, her siblings, and former store employees, including future Drag Race star Alaska. The picture that emerges shines a light on the queer culture that emerged in the late 1970s and 80s, and how people like the Masons who provided a safe space for the embattled LGBTQ community–particularly during the AIDS epidemic–helped further advance queer Civil Rights. The film also delves into the private life of the Mason family, detailing the coming out of both Rachel and her younger brother. It may come as a shock to some viewers that Karen & Barry Mason–a couple that had catered to and worked with the LGBTQ community–would have trouble accepting their children as members of it.

By turns sweet, touching and very funny, Circus of Books highlights a delightful chapter in queer history, and commends two unwitting heroes in the push for equality. It’s a must-see for anyone who ever visited a gay book store, and for anyone too young to have needed one.

Streams on Netflix.