Tribeca: Barney Frank and Husband Upset After Seeing Full-Access Documentary, Call It 'Embarrassing'

Michael Chandler

In a post-world premiere Q&A with Alec Baldwin, the former congressman and his husband expressed some misgivings about the way the film portrays Franks' public and private life.

When introducing the world premiere of their documentary Compared to What: The Improbable Journey of Barney Frank at Tribeca, co-directors Sheila Canavan and Michael Chandler told the audience that they had asked Barney Frank for access to follow him "everywhere but the bathroom" and that the now-former congressman lived up to his end of the arrangement. It even allowed the filmmakers to shoot his 2012 wedding, which made Frank the first member of congress to marry someone of the same sex. The film is a positive portrayal of the politician, but based on Frank's and husband Jim Ready's comments during the post-screening Q&A with executive producer Alec Baldwin, they seem less than thrilled with the final product.

"I don't understand why the moviemakers would want to embarrass someone who went out of the way to let them make a movie about him," Ready told Baldwin. "That kind of bothered me." What specifically bothered Ready was the movie's inclusion of the 1989 scandal involving Frank hiring a male prostitute to be his live-in driver and housekeeper. Frank was accused of allowing his houseguest to run a prostitution ring out of his home, but after being investigated by the House Ethics Committee, he was found innocent and was reprimanded only for using his congressional office to fix his driver's parking tickets.

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"I really think that was irrelevant to put that in there," added Ready. "It's embarrassing … it's just kind of rude," Ready said in reference to having family members in the audience, including Franks' great aunt, who asked a question earlier in the Q&A. Baldwin then quickly attempted to lighten the mood by referencing his own public controversies, saying, "There's a lot of things I'd like them to leave out of my movie." He then added, after getting a laugh from the crowd, "It's not always that easy."

After the film screened, Chandler and Canavan defended their inclusion of the 1989 controversy in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. "It is part of the journey of Barney Frank," explained Chandler, "and we felt that this was an integral part of his story." The documentary does make the argument that the accusations were trumped up and a product of American homophobia in the 1980s. "This was the price Barney paid for the attitudes of the time," Chandler explained. "It wasn't his fault at all."

From Caravan's point-of-view, the straightforward manner in which Frank handled the controversy is one of the reasons he is an admirable public servant. "Unlike President Clinton, he was straight up about it," Caravan told THR. "He was the first one, and it's sort of in vogue now, who stood up and did a six-hour press conference answering every single question. Someone who stands up and says, 'I messed up in my life.' … I think that is important for kids and politicians to understand -- it doesn't have to be fatal; you just have to be honest."

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Caravan said that they normally would have shown the film to Frank and Ready prior to Tribeca, but that the schedule didn't allow for it. Chandler also sympathized with Ready's comments. "He loves Barney, and he wants to protect him."

For his part, Frank himself seemed pleased with the film while talking to Baldwin for 40 minutes about politics and his career. At the end of the Q&A though, when asked by an audience member how he felt about the film, Frank was clearly somewhat uncomfortable seeing his life laid out on the big screen: "To be honest, it's your life and there are some things I would have done differently." He then added that he was happy with the film's general themes and was hopeful it could help in the fight against political cynicism and prejudice against gays and lesbians.

Frank also was asked by someone in the audience about Baldwin's involvement in the film considering the controversy surrounding his anti-gay slurs. Frank replied, "The notion that when you appear in some common forum with someone you are each adopting each other's views, no, I don't pay much attention to that. And secondly, Mr. Baldwin is perfectly capable of explaining himself, but I don't have any problem."

Baldwin then sidestepped that matter, saying, "If I can answer that question in any prism of promoting the film, I'll get back to you."

Canavan later confirmed to THR that Baldwin's involvement with the film predated his homophobic slurs and that the actor was actually concerned his bad PR might taint the film. According to the co-director, it was Frank himself who argued that it made little sense to prevent Baldwin from doing something positive, like helping with the film and advocating for public service, just because he did something bad. "So with Barney being comfortable with it," Canavan recalled, "it wasn't a problem as far as we were concerned."