Review: 'An Open Secret'



Arguably the top entertainment story in the past 24 hours would have to be the rapid fall of award-winning actor Kevin Spacey. First, Buzzfeed published a story recounting "Star Trek: Discovery" actor Anthony Rapp's allegations that Spacey made a sexual advance at him when Rapp was 14. Then Spacey released a statement not exactly admitting it happened, but if it did, he blamed it on alcohol. Oh, and BTW, he's gay. That ill-advised explanation wasn't helpful and by Monday afternoon, Netflix has announced Spacey wasn't returning to his hit series "House Of Cards."

Like sexual harassment, pedophilia has long been an open secret in Hollywood. And given the Spacey story, it seems like a good time to recommend the depressingly relevant documentary "An Open Secret."

The 2015 documentary is available for free on Vimeo through the end of the month and it provides a jarring glimpse into the ways that kids seeking to become a Hollywood success can be manipulated and threatened into a sexual relationship. The documentary, directed by the award-winning Amy J. Berg, starts off gently, with inter-cut interviews of parents and now twentysomething kids discussing how they got into show business. At first, it's not clear where this is all going but pretty quickly it turns into a sordid story about the darkest corners of Hollywood.

The centerpiece of the story is the rise and fall of the Digital Entertainment Network (DEN), a multimedia dot-com company founded in the late-1990's by Marc Collins-Rector and his partner, Chad Shackley. The company raised tens of millions of dollars from investors, and on the surface, DEN was producing television-style shows for the internet. But as "an Open Secret" recounts, Collin-Rector and Shackley were housing a lot of their young actors in a mansion filled with booze, drugs and naked swim parties.

DEN spent millions on what was to be their premiere show, "Chad's World," starring a then-unknown Seann William Scott. The series, about a young gay boy who goes to live with his brother and his brother's boyfriend, had the production quality of a D-grade porn film and a creepy script that one person described as a "gay pedophile version of Silver Spoons." DEN collapsed not long after a 14-year-old boy actor who had been living at the mansion sued the duo, claiming he had been drugged and molested.

While the DEN story might be the film's most surreal story, the smaller tales are even more sordid. Agents selling topless photos of their young charges on eBay, managers who used their position to groom and then sexually abuse their clients. And then there's the adult actor who pled guilty to sexually molesting one of the young actors on his Nickelodeon show. And afterwards, he was hired to work on yet another of the network programs. It's all difficult to watch and while the stories are horrifying, they also seem all too easy to believe.

The most infuriating thing about the film is that the end of the movie, the film recounts what happened to the various men accused of molestation. For the most part, their punishment was limited to the loss of a job or some position within the industry. But what they lost was so minimal compared to the devastation that was wrought on these young boys.

One story that is left mostly untold is the role of director Bryan Singer in the rise-and-fall of DEN. It's mentioned several times in the film that he was a frequent visitor at the DEN parties. And while it's not mentioned in the film, a lawsuit alleging that Singer sexually abused an underage boy was withdrawn during the production of the documentary. There seems to be more to the story and perhaps in the braver environment of 2017, the complete story will finally come to light.

In a better world, "An Open Secret" would have been a big hit when it was released in 2016. But the movie was unexpectedly rated "R" by the MPAA, limiting the number of theaters that will run it. And within a few weeks of the film's release, producer Gabe Hoffman took director Amy J. Berg to arbitration, claiming she had failed to deliver the film on the required date and had declined to help promote the documentary. All of this led to the film getting lost in the never-ending firehouse of new things for audience to watch. Which is too bad, because "An Open Secret" is a documentary that deserves to receive Netflix-like distribution.

"An Open Secret" is available for free through the end of October on Vimeo.