Bijou Classics for the Fourth of July 2018

I'm feeling kind of blogged out as the dog days of summer approach, so this Fourth of July weekend I am showcasing a couple of our titles that are relevant to the violent tensions between boundaries and bridges, ideals and ideology, illusion and reality that our country is currently wrestling with.

In our title Blue Angel (1986), directed by Jurgen Bauer and produced by and starring Mackenzie Poe, a cabaret gay sex show in the style of 1930's Weimar Berlin draws disturbing parallels between the rise of fascism in Hitler's Germany and the continued oppression of LGBTQ Americans. One could even claim this show is an act of resistance as the performers break sexual taboos but also dress in leather gear that both embodies and transcend the culture's oppressive power structures.
 

Images from Blue Angel
Images from Blue Angel

In our title American Cream (1972), director Rob Simple (aka playwright Jean-Claude van Itallie) has created a masterful three-part pictorial comment on America, masculinity and desire. In the final vignette, “Roles,” juxtaposition of the well-heeled Tom and the rough and studly Doug and their ultimate interchangeability as they play roles speaks to a culture that easily blurs any distinction between illusion and reality.
 

Images from American Cream
Images from American Cream

These movies are both available on DVD and Video on Demand. Don't forget take advantage of our 35 percent off DVDs sale on the website.

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Sunburn

In the olden days, and I am talking way, way back, it was a status symbol in European culture especially among women, to be “pale.”

Imagine fair skin, and not just naturally fair skin (that Swedish skin I inherited from my mother) or what some often term an “English” complexion (which means one burns easily in the sun). To show fair skin meant you were wealthy enough to not have to work outside like peasants and slaves.

And being white and, even more than white, pale thus frail, also implied that she was naturally above those darker persons whose job was to toil outside so you could stay inside.

Thus, a lady would powder her face (which action, in addition to trying to conceal blemishes with patches that could be interpreted as beauty spots, was really an attempt to cover up smallpox scars).

Now, the same physical and social dynamic might also apply to men. The urban “fops” (both straight and gay) in eighteenth century England did powder their faces. The more rugged guys (probably “rough trade” for the fops) probably showed tans, but again, a darker skin implied a lower social status.
 

18th century macaroni in pale makeup

By the 1930s, the standard of skin beauty had changed, especially in America which contained a state with a Mediterranean climate, California. And that state was producing movie stars who dictated to the masses new standards of beauty. If Joan Crawford praised sunbathing, the ladies of America (the few who had time to sunbathe, that is) would follow suit.
 

Joan Crawford sunbathing
Joan Crawford sunbathing

(It also helped that the poisonous arsenic-based makeup women used to create the illusion of paleness was a thing of the past by that time.)
 

Ad for arsenic-based soap claiming to improve skin health

Men started showing their torsos, especially after Clark Gable (Joan's long-time lover and compatriot) was the pioneer who dared to show off his hunky chest in It Happened One Night. By the 1950s, the tanned muscle bods of the California beaches were worthy of emulation. Beach Blanket Bingo, here we are.
 

Clark Galbe shirtless in It Happened One Night
Clark Galbe shirtless in It Happened One Night

1950s bodybuilder showing off

And a skinny pale boy, the victim of sand kicking, could become a tanned bronze god by following the Charles Atlas workout routine.
 

Vintage physique magazine, Demi-Gods
Vintage physique magazine

It seemed like a nanosecond since that time to the tanning beds, salons, and steroids embodied in that woman who literally burned herself in order too attain her goal of the ultimate tan. (Is she sporting the burnt toast look?). In her case, her pursuit of an illusion produced its opposite: an admittedly grotesque “hyper real” image.
 

The tanning mom
Tanning Mom

Porn is in many ways by its very nature hyper real. Yet even though there were periods where one look was the model of beauty, such as the gay macho Castro Street clone look (which Al Parker and Will Seagers naturally embodied), the genre was able to revel in a range of skin and body types, from Peter Hunter's pale skinny twinks to the ebony muscle of Joe Simmons and their social and sexual implications.
 

Al Parker and Will Seagers in Wanted
Al Parker and Will Seagers in Wanted

The cast of Peter Hunter's Puppy Tales
The cast of Peter Hunter's Puppy Tales

Porn star Joe Simmons
Porn star Joe Simmons

Beauty in in many cases skin deep, but I think the emphasis could be on deep, because it's hard to separate the largest and most visible organ of the body, the skin, from one's deepest social and sexual identities.

I am thrilled I got some compliments about my sunburn, but I'm not going to develop that look obsessively. I'm more than my skin. Much more.

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Names in Lights: Porn Stars Live at the Bijou Theater

I was looking at some footage on YouTube of Chicago in the 1940s (my nostalgia kick keeps kicking and kicking and kicking, ouch!), and I noticed, as most of the footage was of tourist sites like “State Street, that great street” and its plethora of movie theaters.

And these were not movie theaters hidden inside in decaying malls or bland multistory cineplexes with parking garages, but both glitzy and palatial structures (quite a combo!) that beckoned to passersby (yes, people walked more, it seems, to entertainment) through signs.
 

Chicago's Oriental Theater in the 1940s showing the Jane Russell film, The Outlaw
Chicago's Oriental Theater in the 1940s showing the Jane Russell film, The Outlaw

Yes, the marquee, the name in lights, oh so Old Hollywood. In fact, on one of the videos, I saw theaters whose marquees displayed Leave Her to Heaven with Gene Tierney, and on another one, Joan Crawford in A Woman's Face. Heady stuff for a gay Old Hollywood fan!

The adult movie houses, and in the gay world, often called porn palaces, followed suit when censorship restrictions were lifted in the wake of the 1960s sexual revolution. Even though such venues were usually ghettoized "red light” districts (think 42nd Street in New York City) and often shared buildings and neighborhoods with the seedier peep shows and massage parlors (live sex, less cinematic content) and the like, they still boasted the marquees and the names in lights.
 

42nd Street theaters in the 1960s
42nd Street theaters in the 1960s

In fact, I remember in the camp classic Valley of the Dolls, Neely O'Hara sees her friend Jennifer's (now a star of soft-core French porn) name lighting up that ubiquitous XXX signage as she wanders drunkenly through what is probably the Nob Hill area of San Francisco.

Gay XXX's home in Chicago was the Bijou Theater, and in its heyday, it showed some of the famous, finely crafted classics of gay porn (shot on film, of course). A premiere there was akin to a red carpet event, like it was in Old Hollywood.
 

42nd Street theaters in the 1960s
The Bijou Theater, 1976

Midwest premiere of Michael, Angelo and David at the Bijou Theater with a live appearance by star Marc Stevens
Bijou premiere of Michael, Angelo and David & live appearance by Marc Stevens

Porn studios like Hand in Hand Films and Falcon and, later during that Golden Age, Al Parker's Surge Studios were definitely producing more substantive work, but the assembly-line, amateurish product with mostly anonymous participants (like that being churned out in Europe these days) were confined to peep show booths.

The Bijou Theater thus showcased some groundbreaking gay porn films, but in tandem it also showcased the stars of those films. Again, think Old Hollywood. Fans, autographs. Stars!
 

Ad for a live appearance by porn star Peter Berlin at the Bijou Theater
Live apperance by Peter Berlin at the Bijou Theater

For example, when Al Parker, the greatest of them all, appeared at the the theater in the early 1980s, he did a live sex show (a live orgasm to complement so many of those on-screen orgasms), but according to Steven Toushin, owner of the theater, he spent most of the time there signing autographs and talking to fans.
 

Vintage poster for the Al Parker film Inches
Vintage poster for the Al Parker film, Inches (Steve Scott, 1979)

And the uber-Daddy of them all, Richard Locke, also appeared at the Bijou Theater in 1984. Here's a description of the event, which, as with many other events that showcased porn movies and their stars, blurs the lines between on and off screen performances in an enticing, exciting way:

“The screen on the Bijou screen – a dimly lit room at truck stop, fitted with grimy cots, where truckers catch forty winks before they hit the road again. [A scene from Joe Gage's 1976 classic, Kansas City Trucking Co.] In this case, however, the truckers are not sleeping; they are fucking and sucking with a vengeance. The center of the action is the older, experienced trucker, played by Richard Locke, muscular, masculine, bearded and obviously enjoying himself on screen. The light on the movie screen fades, and suddenly a figure appears from behind the screen. A cool blue light silhouettes a muscled body and music builds. A new kind of show is in progress at the Bijou Theater — but Richard Locke is still the center of attention... Richard turns to face the audience, clad only in a leather harness, stroking his erect penis... Finally he reaches orgasm, shooting onto the mesmerized audience. He turns back, the lights fade, he exits and the film Richard Locke returns to the movie screen.”
 

Kansas City Trucking Co. poster
Vintage poster for Kansas City Trucking Co.

Photospread of Richard Locke stritease from suit and tie to leather harness
Richard Locke striptease

Now, the above event may be unique to the dynamic of gay porn and its purpose of sexual exploration and gratification, but what happened after that movie/performance links to that Old Hollywood world:

“After his live show, Richard meets his public, signing autographs and talking to a group of eager fans. He is friendly and unassuming as he talks. One young man asks Richard to autograph his back and tells Locke that he will have a tattoo made of the signature. (A later encounter with the same man proves the truth of his boast.) One by one the crowd drifts away and another day's work is finished for Richard Locke, erotic entrepreneur.”

Amazing, and so exciting! Joan Crawford would have been thrilled (perhaps more by the method rather than the content!). Richard, like she did, was working a publicity machine, one of his own making. And he understood that what fuels that machine are the fans and their fantasies, hopes, and dreams. The young man with the tattoo in the quote above was living embodiment of these emotions.

Yet, unlike Joan, he skillfully kept his “divo-hood” on the screen, but at the same time let that larger-than-life screen persona become real in the flesh when he appeared live in that brief moment of ecstasy.

Some say home video (and then the internet) and the tragedy of AIDS killed this world. Perhaps, on the surface, yes.

But in hindsight I think it's a deeply complex issue revealed in today's cultural climate as red carpet events still unfold, and the culture of celebrity has become something like a 24/7 fuck fest. But the cinematic magic that thrives on finely-crafted illusion that elicits an audience's deeper intellectual and emotional responses gets lost in a weird combination of special effects and banal cynicism.

The great porn stars like Al Parker and Richard Locke created and crafted a visual and sexual magic in their films and in their performances and in their audiences.

Bette Davis said in her movie The Star, “If you're a star you don't stop being a star.” And thanks in great part to the Bijou Video's preservation and revitalization of their legacies, Al and Richard still shine.

Look for their movies on DVD at BijouWorld.com and streaming at BijouGayPorn.com, including our brand new release The Best of Richard Locke!

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I'm So Glad We Had This Time Together ...

Carol Burnett today

Yes, dear Carol, I was glad too, because I was able to see you in person for your annual reflection and audience/question answer event on Tuesday, June 12.
 

Carol Burnett live at the Chicago Theater

Carol Burnett at the Chicago Theater ticket stub

In fact, I was more than glad, because like the full-capacity audience at the Chicago Theater, I am a fan. If you are a person of a certain age (and many people of that age brought their now elderly parents), you grew up with this show, the last installment on that amazing 1970s Saturday night line-up that included classics like The Mary Tyler Moore Show and All in the Family.

But this blog isn't just a nostalgia kick. Of course, to see clips of Carol singing with names like Ethel Merman and Mel Torme (names millennials might not recognize), or her spinning yarns in her inimitable way about going to the movies on a dime with her grandmother several times a week, fulfilled mine and the mostly older audience's euphoric absorption into their personal retro worlds.

What really got me was Carol (and she wanted people to call her Carol) is her complete humanity. No diva posturing (which she never did in her show anyway), no condescending royal “common touch” attitude. Like she did when she “bumped up the lights” before her show in its heyday, her wit and charm flamed out like the star she is, but rather than scorching, it emanated warmth and love.

She accepted the inevitable compliments graciously, but always managed to focus warmly and personally on the person she was speaking too, which ranged from a gay Catholic priest who admitted he would sing a variant of her song when he left a parish (how gay is that? my conservative priestly brother would cringe), to an odd question from someone who asked if she “had ever played a pregnant lady.” Huh?

When the inevitable political question came up (of course, in this fraught social climate), she admitted that she never worried about being PC when someone asked a question essentially lamenting political correctness and its effect on comedy, because the show was there for a belly laugh, not politics, and definitely not a laugh in bad taste (hear that, Roseanne?). The conservative members of the audience (they were there, I could tell the white Chicago suburban crowd like New Yorkers can tell the “bridge and tunnel crowd”) approved loudly.

But, when one of the soccer mom types who either brought her children or her mother asked her if she had ever experienced a #MeToo incident, Carol was honest. She had not. She admitted she was lucky. She married the producer of the Gary Moore Show (the place where she began her ascent to fame), and overall the men she worked with her were gentlemen. But she really zinged the audience when she said if any guy had tried anything with her, she “would kick him in the balls.” Deafening applause, ensued perhaps an elusive show of unity.

I could go on and on with her stories … her fake lesbian kiss with Julie Andrews meant to be a joke on Mike Nichols, but Lady Bird Johnson ended up as the audience for that one … the chin operation that nearly ruined a retake of a big scene in the movie Annie where she played Miss Hannigan …

And she, a truly gracious lady, acknowledged the late Harvey Korman in several clips and Bob Mackie, the masterful designer of the costumes for that show (she guesstimated he had to produce during the 11 years of that show 17,000 costumes), Bob Mackie, still active and working for The Cher Show, a gay man whose life partner Ray Aghayan died in 2011. When one thinks about the get-ups Carol wore for her beloved characters like Mrs. Wiggins and Stella Toddler, and of course the curtain rod dress in her movie parody “Went With the Wind,” one sees the show as the work of several geniuses who all came together to create (while enjoying a glorious time doing so) a world of joy and laughter.
 

Mrs. Wiggins
Mrs. Wiggins

Curtain dress
The curtain dress

The show was one of those few moments in life where time stood still. But then it was over, like the words to that song:
 

Seems we just got started
and before you know it
Comes the time we have
to say, “So long.”

Carol Burnett Show cast

Now Carol's got her own youtube channel. Check it out!

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Bisexual Boxer Emile Griffith and a Deadly Fight

Emile Griffith

On March 24, 1962, bisexual (or gay) boxer Emile Griffith knocked out his opponent, Benny Paret, at Madison Square Garden. In round 12, Griffith trapped Paret in a corner; by that time, his opponent had stopped punching back. Griffith held his opponent's shoulder to keep him in position while using his free hand to hit Paret.
 

Griffith knocks out Paret

The audience was shocked; the famous author Norman Mailer, who wrote about it in his essay, “The Death of Benny Paret,” claimed it was the hardest he had ever seen a man hit another man. At this point, the referee, Ruby Goldstein, stepped in, an awarded Griffith a win by a “technical knockout.” Paret slid to the floor; he was carried out on a stretcher and died ten days later in a hospital.

There's a back story here to this admittedly brutal incident, and it ties into the intense homophobia of the time, and the double life Emile Griffith had to lead. He visited the gay bars during that period, and he even hung out in the then-seedy Times Square where, the time before the fight, according to Donald McRae's book A Man's World: The Double Life of Emile Griffith, he “laughed and danced with the Hispanic gay crowd and the old drag queens.”

Before this fight, Emile was able to live this life: be a man's man in the hypermasculine world of boxing, and apparently hold court with the queens of the period on women's hat styles (in fact, he started out working in a women's hat factory, and his shirtless physique (he requested permission to work that way in the heat) caught the attention of the owner, who got him involved in the world of boxing).
 

Emile Griffith news clipping

But, in the weigh-in before the fight, Paret called Griffith a maricón, which means faggot. Members of the press and officials from the New York Boxing Commission witnessed this exchange. And, in pre-fight interviews with the press, Paret's manager portrayed Griffith as effeminate and thus an unworthy opponent for the hypermasculine Paret. Paret also touched Griffith's ass when he called him the slur, apparently enraging him.

The consequences of this homophobia were indeed deadly. Even though Griffith told a television interviewer that he was proud to be the welterweight champion again, and expressed hopes for Paret's recovery, Paret's death resulted in insults and hate mail. And many sources claim that even though Griffith continued to box for 15 more years, he lost his enthusiasm for the sport. Emile blamed himself for the incident; it always haunted him.

Griffith married a woman in 1971 by the name of Mercedes Donastorg. After retiring from boxing in 1977, he worked as a corrections officer at juvenile detention facility in New Jersey.

But Griffith was still struggling with his overall identity. In 1992, he was viciously beaten in New York City after leaving a gay bar. He was in the hospital for four months with serious kidney damage, and under the care of his adoptive son, began a slow mental and physical decline, but also some serious soul-searching.

He told Sports Illustrated in 2005, “I love men and women the same, but if you ask me which is better … I like women.”

Yet, another reporter for the New York Times, Bob Hebert, about that time, asked him if he was gay, and Griffith struggled to answer. He said he no longer wanted to hide, and he wanted to ride that year in the New York Gay Pride Parade.
 

Emile Griffith older

Other interviews with him do emphasize that he did not like labels about his identity.

Yet the one label everyone remembers him by I think should not just be that deadly fight, but his place in the International Boxing Hall of Fame; no other boxer in boxing history had fought more championship rounds, not even the great Muhammad Ali.

Emile Griffith died on July 23, 2013 at the age of 75.

There's a complex legacy here in Griffith's struggles and triumphs, and documentaries and plays and books and even an opera have struggled to understand and express a turbulent double life that exploded savagely in a literal arena which glorifies a violence it claims to sublimate.
 

Ring of Fire, a film about Emile Griffith
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