Dallas couple Hugh Nini and Neal Treadwell open the documentary 100 years of men in love: the accidental collection with an explanation of the birth of their collection. The pair made a habit of visiting local antique shops after church on Sundays. During a chance encounter, the couple discovered an old photo of two men in an affectionate pose from a time when it wasn’t exactly accepted. This started Nini and Treadwell on the path to finding more images like this. Since then, they’ve amassed a collection of what has become hundreds of vintage photos of gay couples in love.
Writer-director David Millbern has created a tenderly melancholy film based on the couple’s book TO LOVE: A Photographic History of Men in Love, 1850-1950that skims the surface while still managing to convey its heartfelt message: love is love. Between interviews with Nini and Treadwell and montages of their collection, we take a revealing journey into the past. Organized by levels of demonstrated affection, we begin with the seemingly platonic images of men standing together. Forensically, our hosts emphasize the subtle nature of masked affections. Maybe one hand is a little too close to the other or one leg closer than would be socially acceptable.
“…the pair discovered an old photograph of two men in an affectionate pose for a period it was not really accepted.
Next, we get into the more obvious signs that a pair is actually a couple. One of the most touching stories comes halfway through when John and Ariel are discussed. “The two sad bags from Texas,” as they called themselves, served together in World War II, actually being part of the team that liberated Dachau concentration camp. When the documentary has the ability to go deeper than the picture, that’s when it really shines and begins to achieve depth.
On the surface, 100 years of men in love: the accidental collection is an unrivaled archive of gay culture in America, not to mention a faint ode to romance. Yet it rarely goes beyond what one might assume from the pictures. Oh, if only it had been! Either way, Millbern successfully argues that love, despite the passage of time, endures as an old image.