January 20, 2006
A porn documentary shares screens
“I can remember when the air was clean and sex was dirty,” George Burns once said.
Of course, the fogy with the stogie was joking, being a comedian. He was born after the start of the industrial revolution, so the air was always dirty in his lifetime.
And, seen through the eyes of nostalgia, the sex was always dirtier “back then.”
For proof of how dirty sex was “back in the day,” one need look no further than Gay Sex in the 70s by Joseph Lovett, which will be showing at the Cleveland Institute of Art’s Cinematheque twice on January 21.
Oh, the sex was dirty . . . and omnipresent. Everywhere one looked, there was groping and fondling and kissing and . . .
Wait. All of this sex was in a relatively small area of New York City. Ah, one sees now.
The documentary, while fascinating in its combination of photographs, stock footage, old porn and contemporary interviews with men who were there and emerged relatively unscathed, is a bit more narrow than its title would suggest. Perhaps a better title for Lovett’s film would be Gay Sex in a Six-Block Area of New York City in the 70s.
However, examining the intervening years between the Stonewall riots and the onset of AIDS is an interesting subject, and the interviews with Larry Kramer, Tom Bianchi, and others are enlightening and, at times, touching. There is nostalgia tinged with a wistful regret.
Despite the two major names, though--the AIDS activist/writer and the photographer--most gay men will have no idea who these people are. Rodger McFarlane? A Google search reveals he is the executive director of the Gill Foundation, but it’s not something that most gay men would know. Barton Benes? An artist, but not a household name.
Gay Sex in the 70s will be shown at 7 pm and 8:30 pm on Saturday, January 21 at the Cleveland Institute of Arts Cinematheque, 11141 East Blvd. Tickets are $8, $5 for members, CIA students and staff. It contains naughty bits, and probably shouldn’t be shown to minors. Those naughty bits can be really naughty, if brief.
For something a little more contemporary, a little less nostalgic, there’s Sex/Life in L.A. 2: Cycles of Porn by Jochen Hick, a sequel to his 1998 film Sex/Life in L.A.
In both films, he interviews porn actors and follows them around, delving into their lives on and off camera.
In this film, out now on DVD from TLA Releasing, he follows up on some of the “stars” from the first film. (Damian Ford, a porn performer himself, notes that one need only be in a single naughty film to be called a porn star, unlike in Hollywood.)
Kevin Kramer is followed to Oakland, California, where he visits his supportive mother, while Matt Bradshaw has gone back to his native Louisiana, where he lives with his clueless sister.
Hick also delves into newer genres of porn, like Chi Chi LaRue’s online Live and Raw Hotel, where a handful of young men live and schtup on webcam. There’s a urinal cam, there are private shows, and members of the website can vote residents out, just to keep it from getting stale.
The guys in the hotel have widely different views on the porn industry and their ultimate goals, but there’s an underlying creepiness and, in some cases, an odd cross of apathy and despair.
The film goes on to examine the most controversial realm of commercial gay porn, bareback films. Hick’s cameras invade the offices of Hot Desert Knights, a bareback production and releasing company, and he interviews the owner and a duo of performers, one of whom is also a director.
Perhaps the film’s one great failing is in not examining the ramifications of bareback porn. The actors are mostly HIV-positive, and know it. That is why most of them feel comfortable engaging in unprotected sex with each other. However, nobody in the film mentions the very real possibility of cross-infection, creating strains of HIV resistant to medication. Director-actor Ray Butler would probably be less appealing to audiences if he were suffering from wasting, after all, so that should be a major concern for the studio.
And one of the boys from the Hotel mentions that some of the performers he knows of in bareback videos are negative, wondering why they would put themselves in that situation.
Drug use is mentioned, as are its ramifications, like John Garwood, interviewed for the first film, who was dead of an overdose by the time it was released.
Perhaps the one truly hopeful aspect of the film lies in the interviews with Cole Tucker, who in his 40s became a major player. He made around 40 films and then retired, establishing that one doesn’t stop being a vital, sexual being after entering the 30s. He got in, got off and got out, as one of the guys in the hotel called it, and Tucker now works in an office and has a pleasant life in Palm Springs.
Okay, the actor who portrayed Tucker has a pleasant life. As he notes, websites keep coming up with pictures of Tucker, so he jokes that his alter ego is still out there, having sex with all the hot guys.
Proving that Americans do not have a monopoly on sex, the French sex farce Côte D’Azur (Crustacés et Coquillages) is a pansexual romp revolving around a family vacationing in the husband’s recently-deceased great-aunt’s home.
Papa Marc’s sexuality is dubious at best, while mama Beatrix is engaged in an affair with a relatively unattractive man.
Daughter Laura is running around Portugal with her boyfriend, while son Charly is believed to be gay and having a relationship with his friend Martin, who really is gay and would be more than happy to be in Charly’s arms.
And, apparently, just about everyone ends up masturbating at one point or another in the shower.
The film should have been called La Douche (The Shower), considering the fact that the bathroom fixture gets more action than anyone else in the movie and is far more likable than most of the characters.
Of course, the characters aren’t particularly unlikable. They’re just a little highly-sexed. One might even say that they were sex-mad, which is probably a good thing in a French sex farce.
Côte D’Azur will play at the Cinematheque on Thursday and Saturday, January 26 and 28, at 9:05 and 5:45 pm respectively.