Circus of Books | Chicago Reader
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Circus of Books

“I don’t know why you think this is worth documenting… I don’t like all this filming. I don’t know what you’re gonna come up with from this,” said Karen Mason, scoffing at her daughter Rachel behind the camera. To Karen, she and her husband Barry were merely parents and struggling small business owners. To everyone else, however, Karen and Barry and their store Circus of Books existed as an iconic spot in gay Los Angeles. For the Masons, the lucrative but dangerous business of owning an adult store in the 70s had turned from a temporary gig to a 30-year venture. Circus of Books compelled the straight, average, Jewish couple to navigate their own family and faith parallel to the world of porn magazines and movies, sex toys and accessories, and to-scale action figures of pornstar Jeff Stryker. The documentary that tells their extraordinary story is funny and jaw-dropping just as much as it is heartfelt and deeply personal, with excellent moments of mother-daughter (subject-creator) bickering that ground the film and, refreshingly, break the emotional tension. Circus of Books is a triumph of filmmaking in the way it covers such a range of topics so seamlessly: LGBTQ history, pornography, religion, obscenity law, media, AIDS, coming out, parenthood, and more. It’s a story well worth documenting, whether Karen Mason will ever understand that or not.

Streaming on Netflix

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