Circus of Books (Movie)

Title — Circus of Books
Available on — Netflix
Production Country — United States
Release Date — 2020
For decades, a nice Jewish couple ran Circus of Books, a porn shop and epicenter for gay LA. Their director daughter documents their life and times.

🪶 Story & Synopsis

“Circus of Books” is a poignant documentary directed by Rachel Mason that delves into the extraordinary story of an American family who found themselves at the epicenter of LGBTQ+ history through their unexpected ownership of a bookstore and gay pornography shop. The film follows the journey of Karen and Barry Mason as they take over a Los Angeles adult book store in 1976, unknowingly transforming it into the largest distributor of gay porn in the United States.

Through intimate interviews and archival footage, the audience witnesses the double life the Masons led, struggling to balance their roles as parents while operating a business that catered to a marginalized community during a time when LGBTQ+ culture was not widely accepted. The documentary sheds light on the challenges and triumphs the family faced as they navigated societal judgment and legal battles while providing a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community.

As their daughter, Rachel Mason, unearths the hidden layers of her parents’ enigmatic business, she uncovers a world filled with love, acceptance, and resilience. “Circus of Books” is a testament to the power of family, the complexities of identity, and the enduring legacy of a small bookstore that became a beacon of hope for a community in need of acceptance.

🧑 Cast & Crew

Actor Role
Karen Mason Herself
Barry Mason Himself
Rachel Mason Herself
Josh Mason Himself
Micah Mason Himself
Alexei Romanoff Unknown
Billy Miller Unknown
Don Norman Unknown
Freddie Bercovitz Unknown
Paulo Morillo Unknown
Ellen Winer Unknown
Larry Flynt Unknown
David Gregory Unknown
Fernando Aguilar Unknown
Alaska Thunderfuck Unknown
Jeff Stryker Unknown

💬 Reviews and feedback

Imagine a circus where books are the star performers, and the audience is left in awe of the spectacular show they witness. Welcome to the captivating world of “Circus of Books,” a documentary that unravels the intricate tale of an American family who unintentionally found themselves at the center stage of history.

The film delves into the lives of Karen and Barry Mason, a seemingly ordinary couple who led a not-so-ordinary double life as the proprietors of Circus of Books, a bookstore that was not just any bookstore. It was a hub for gay pornography and adult goods, nestled in the heart of West Hollywood.

As you embark on this cinematic journey, you are introduced to their daughter, Rachel Mason, who uncovers the true nature of her parents’ business as a teenager. The documentary beautifully intertwines personal narratives with broader themes surrounding LGBTQ+ culture, acceptance, and family dynamics.

Plot and Themes:

The narrative skillfully navigates through the complexities of maintaining a balance between parental responsibilities and societal expectations during a time when LGBT culture was still shrouded in stigma. It sheds light on how Karen and Barry managed to keep their unconventional profession hidden from their community while fostering love and support within their own family.

Acting and Characters:

The real stars of this documentary are undoubtedly Karen and Barry Mason themselves. Their authenticity shines through every frame, showcasing their unwavering commitment to both their business and each other. Rachel Mason’s portrayal of her personal journey adds an intimate touch to the storyline, making it relatable on multiple levels.

Direction and Cinematography:

Rachel Mason’s directorial prowess is evident in her ability to capture raw emotions and candid moments with finesse. The cinematography beautifully encapsulates the essence of Circus Of Books, immersing viewers into its vibrant yet enigmatic world.

Score and Production Design:

The score complements the emotional depth of the narrative, enhancing pivotal moments with subtle yet impactful melodies. The production design transports you back in time, allowing you to experience firsthand the nostalgia-infused ambiance of Circus Of Books.

Special Effects and Editing:

While not laden with CGI or extravagant effects, “Circus Of Books” relies on its authentic storytelling and seamless editing to weave together a compelling tale that resonates long after the curtains draw to a close.

Binge-Watching Tips:

  • Pay close attention to the subtle nuances in each scene, as they offer insights into the intricate dynamics within the Mason family.
  • Reflect on how societal norms have evolved since Circus Of Books’ heyday, prompting discussions on acceptance and inclusivity.

This heartwarming documentary serves as a poignant reminder that families come in all shapes and sizes, often defying societal norms while embracing love unconditionally.

Come one, come all! Step right up into this mesmerizing world where books take center stage amidst a backdrop of acceptance, love, and resilience. “Circus Of Books” invites you to witness a spectacle unlike any other—a tale that transcends generations and celebrates the power of authenticity. So grab your popcorn (and maybe a few tissues) as you embark on this emotional rollercoaster ride!

Rating: 9/10

In conclusion,

“Circus Of Books” stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of family bonds amidst societal challenges. Through its heartfelt storytelling and genuine portrayal of human connections,

this documentary leaves an indelible mark on your heart long after you’ve bid farewell to its colorful characters



“In this circus called life,,
we are all performers navigating through our own unique acts with grace,
, resilience,,
,and above all,,

Pros Cons
Tender portrayal of family life Some paradoxes and sadnesses left unresolved
Absorbing and complicated story Parents’ double life struggles
Warm remembrances from the LGBTQ+ community Reluctance in filming certain aspects
Heartwarming portrayal of LGBTQ+ history Struggle to maintain balance as parents
True representation of family and LGBTQ+ history Some unresolved conflicts


  • Circus of Books (film) - Wikipedia

    Circus of Booksis a 2019 American documentary film directed by Rachel Mason, written by Rachel Mason and Kathryn Robson and starring Karen Mason, Barry Mason and Rachel Mason. The premise revolves around Circus of Books, a bookstore and gay pornography shop in West Hollywood, California, and in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles.

  • Watch Circus of Books | Netflix Official Site

    UNLIMITED TV SHOWS & MOVIESSign InFor decades, a nice Jewish couple ran Circus of Books, a porn shop and epicenter for gay LA. Their director daughter documents their life and times.Watch all you want.Executive producer Ryan Murphy helms this acclaimed, Emmy-nominated documentary.Watch offlineDownload and watch everywhere you go.GenresThis movie is…Provocative, Investigative, EmotionalAudioGerman, English – Audio Description, English [Original], Spanish (Latin America), French, ItalianSubtitlesEnglish, Spanish (Latin America), French, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese

  • Circus of Books movie review & film summary (2020) | Roger Ebert

    What may appear incongruous at first glance can prove to be ideally matched when viewed from a certain angle. A background in special effects technology doesn’t seem to have any relation with the skills needed to improve medical equipment, but Barry Mason would genially agree to disagree. It was the optical printing work he did with Linwood Dunn for “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Star Trek” that prompted him to invent a sensor for detecting air in the blood chamber of the dialysis system used by his father during a kidney transplant. This is one of numerous eye-opening revelations contained in “Circus of Books,” the wonderful debut documentary feature of Rachel Mason, Barry’s daughter, who relishes every opportunity to illuminate the connections between what would normally be viewed as unrelated. Take her cheerfully square parents, for example. The notion of them owning a bookstore geared for families is far likelier than the reality of how they earned a living—by becoming the biggest distributors of gay porn in the United States. Once this twist is revealed in the film’s pre-title sequence, Rachel lets her camera linger for a beat on the enigmatic pokerface of her conservative mother, Karen, thus eliciting the first burst of incredulous laughter from the viewer.

  • Circus of Books | Rotten Tomatoes

    Like the cheekily named store at this documentary’s center,Circus of Booksproves there are countless stories below the surface if we’re only willing to look.

    Circus of BooksWhere to WatchCircus of Books

    Watch Circus of Books with a subscription on Netflix.

    What to KnowCritics ReviewsAudience ReviewsMy RatingCast & Crew

    Rachel MasonDirectorKaren MasonActorRachel MasonActorLarry FlyntActorJeff StrykerActorPhil TarleyActor

  • Circus of Books (2019) - Plot - IMDb

    was seeking distributors for Hustler Magazine. What was expected to be a brief sideline led to their becoming fully immersed in the LGBT community as they took over a local store, Circus of Books. A decade later, they had become the biggest distributors of gay porn in the US. The film focuses on the double life they led, trying to maintain the balance of being parents at a time when LGBT culture was not yet accepted. Their many challenges included facing jail time for a federal obscenity prosecution and enabling their store to be a place of refuge at the height of the AIDS crisis. Circus of Books offers a rare glimpse into an untold chapter of queer history, and it is told through the lens of the owners’ own daughter, Rachel Mason, an artist, filmmaker and musician.

⚠️ Explanation (Spoiler)

In the documentary film “Circus of Books,” directed by Rachel Mason, viewers are taken on a fascinating journey into the lives of Barry and Karen Mason, a seemingly ordinary couple who led an extraordinary double life. What initially seems like a typical family-owned bookstore turns out to be the largest distributor of gay porn in the United States.

The film delves into the intriguing contrast between the Masons’ conservative exterior and their involvement in the LGBTQ+ community, shedding light on their pivotal role in providing a safe haven for gay men during a time when societal taboos and prejudices were rampant.

One of the most poignant aspects of the film is the exploration of family dynamics, particularly the evolving relationships between the Masons and their children. The revelation of their son Josh’s closeted life and Barry’s disenchantment with religion add layers of complexity to the narrative, highlighting the challenges and triumphs of acceptance and unconditional love.

Through interviews with key figures such as Larry Flynt and poignant moments like Barry’s recollection of visiting dying men abandoned by their families during the AIDS crisis, the film skillfully weaves together personal stories with broader societal issues, ultimately inviting viewers to reflect on their own perceptions and biases.

With a blend of humor, heartwarming moments, and thought-provoking insights, “Circus of Books” is a captivating documentary that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the power of acceptance in the face of adversity.

👪 Parents Guide & Age Rating


Age Rating:

The documentary film “Circus of Books” is rated R for mature themes, strong language, and sexual content.

Parental Guide:

Parents should be aware that “Circus of Books” contains mature themes, strong language, and sexual content. The movie explores the 30-year history of a gay pornographic book store and movie distributorship, delving into the personal lives of the owners and the challenges they faced. There are discussions and depictions of the adult film industry, including graphic content related to gay pornography.

Sex/Nudity: The film includes explicit discussions and depictions of sexual content, including references to gay pornography, sex work, and adult film production.

Violence/Gore: There are no instances of violence or gore in the film.

Profanity: The movie contains strong language throughout, including the use of profanity and adult language.

Overall, “Circus of Books” is recommended for mature audiences due to its adult themes and content, making it more suitable for viewers over the age of 17.

📺 Streaming and where to watch

streaming service extra information
Netflix You can watch Circus of Books on Netflix. It is available with a subscription for $6.99/month.

❝ Quotes and Cult

  • Circus of Books was my first glimpse into the fact that I wasn't alone as a gay person.
    Freddie Bercovitz
  • That's all there is; there isn't anymore.

🤖Circus of Books Reddit Talks

Circus of Books: A Nostalgic Dive into the Bygone Era of Gay Pornography

The Closure of an Iconic Era

In February 2019, Circus of Books, the legendary gay pornography bookstore in West Hollywood, closed its doors for good. The once-thriving business had become a victim of the digital age, with online platforms rendering physical stores obsolete. The documentary “Circus of Books,” directed by Rachel Mason, captures the final days of this beloved establishment.

The Masons: Unlikely Proprietors

The story of Circus of Books is intertwined with that of Barry and Karen Mason, the heterosexual couple who unexpectedly became the owners of the store in the early 1980s. Despite their initial reservations, the Masons embraced the LGBTQ+ community and transformed Circus of Books into a safe haven for gay men.

A Sanctuary for the LGBTQ+ Community

Beyond its role as a pornography retailer, Circus of Books served as a vital social hub for the LGBTQ+ community. It was a place where gay men could socialize, find support, and explore their sexuality in a non-judgmental environment. The documentary highlights the store’s significance as a safe space during the height of the AIDS crisis.

A Microcosm of Societal Change

The rise and fall of Circus of Books mirrors the broader societal changes that have occurred over the past few decades. The advent of the internet has revolutionized the pornography industry, and the LGBTQ+ community has made significant progress in terms of acceptance and visibility. Circus of Books stands as a testament to the resilience and adaptability of the LGBTQ+ community in the face of adversity.

A Touching and Heartfelt Tribute

Rachel Mason’s documentary is a deeply personal and emotionally resonant tribute to her parents and the legacy of Circus of Books. Through interviews with the Masons, former employees, and customers, the film paints a vivid portrait of a unique and unforgettable chapter in LGBTQ+ history.

Critical Acclaim and Audience Resonance

“Circus of Books” has received widespread critical acclaim, with reviewers praising its heartwarming story, engaging characters, and historical significance. The film has also resonated deeply with audiences, particularly those who have personal connections to the LGBTQ+ community.

Enduring Legacy

While Circus of Books may be gone, its legacy lives on. The documentary has introduced a new generation to the store’s remarkable story, and it continues to inspire and uplift LGBTQ+ people around the world. Circus of Books stands as a reminder of the power of community, acceptance, and the enduring spirit of human connection.

Top discussions

❓ Frequently Asked Questions

What happened to Circus of Books?

The West Hollywood location of Circus of Books closed in February of 2019 and was reimagined in 2020 as an adult high-end boutique and gallery showcasing racy work from LGBTQ artists.

What is the movie Circus of Books about?

Circus of Books is a documentary that tells the story of an American family who found themselves at the center of history, exploring the complexities of their double life running a bookstore and gay pornography shop in West Hollywood, California.

Who are some of the key cast members in Circus of Books?

The cast of Circus of Books includes Karen Mason, Barry Mason, Micah Mason, Rachel Mason, Josh Mason, Alexei Romanoff, Billy Miller, and Don Norman.

How did the documentary Circus of Books portray the parents’ business?

As depicted in the documentary, Circus of Books delves into how the true nature of the parents’ prudish business, which involved the LGBTQ+ scene, was revealed to their daughter Rachel as a teenager.

Where can I watch Circus of Books?

Circus of Books is available for streaming on Netflix, offering viewers a glimpse into the unique story of a family running a porn shop that became a significant part of gay culture in Los Angeles.

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