The Backstory of Peter de Rome's THE DESTROYING ANGEL Revisited

 Posted by guest blogger Miriam Webster

Vintage poster for The Destroying Angel

For today, I wanted to resurrect an old blog I wrote on my personal favorite movie in Bijou's catalog (and one of favorite movies in general), the 1976 Hand in Hand Films classic The Destroying Angel, which insightfully and provocatively examines one man's internal conflict over his sexuality and his place in the Catholic church. The film follows a man on sabbatical from his priestly studies who becomes - in this case, literally - fragmented into two selves in his inability to reconcile his sexual desires with his call to the cloth, while having a series of bizarre sexual experiences under the influence of psychedelics.

The Destroying Angel images

"It started with the thought that gay films had been made in various forms, but that they hadn't yet tackled the horror genre," starts celebrated gay porn auteur Peter de Rome's backstory write-up on his truly unusual 1976 horror/porn hybrid, The Destroying Angel - an entertaining, disturbing, and hallucinatory film about Catholicism, sexuality, doppelgangers, and psychoactive mushrooms. "Almost at the same time came the idea to write a story about twins - one that had been lurking in the back of my mind for a long time."

Peter de Rome and Jack Deveau on the set of The Destroying Angel
Peter de Rome and producer/cinematographer Jack Deveau on the set of The Destroying Angel

British filmmaker Peter de Rome, who passed away in 2014, was the subject of the 2016 documentary, Peter de Rome: Grandfather of Gay Porn. His work, which is both avant-garde and explicitly gay and erotic, has been widely critically recognized and written about in recent years. Working independenly on shorts in the late '60s/'70s and then with Hand in Hand in New York City in the early days of hardcore, de Rome's body of work consists of many short films and two features (1974's fascinating Adam and Yves, shot in Paris and featuring the last known footage of Greta Garbo, along with The Destroying Angel).

Vintage Adam and Yves poster

Eight of his shorts made between the years 1969 and 1972 (notably, the well-known Underground, which depicts a real sex scene shot on an active NY subway train) make up the collection The Erotic Films of Peter de Rome, released by Hand in Hand Films as the follow-up to their innagural film, Left-Handed. (For more of the studio's history, read our interview with editor/co-founder Robert Alvarez, our blog on Hand in Hand, and the 2019 book Good Hot Stuff: The Life and Times of Gay Film Pioneer Jack Deveau.) Hand in Hand also released de Rome's two features and included a few more of his short films in their compilations In Heat and Private Collection.

The Erotic Films of Peter de Rome poster

De Rome was an atypical pornographic filmmaker, largely because he had little interest in the straight-forward depiction of sex or the conventions of pornography, prefering to focus on exploring a broad, suggestive, and multi-dimensional look at sexuality through his filmmaking. "My feeling is for eroticism. And that, for me, is 'leading up to the sex.' Once you're at the sex stage it can quickly get terribly boring," he told HIM Magazine. "For me, a lot of the arousal is in the mind and the imagination. That is what really turns me on. Most of my ideas, therefore, are concerned with how we get there."

Peter de Rome directing Destroying Angel stars Tim Kent and Philip Darden
Peter de Rome directing Destroying Angel stars Tim Kent and Philip Darden

In an interview with In Touch Magazine, de Rome elaborated, "I think that we've barely scratched the surface of pornography in filmmaking, and that it has become a sort of mandatory thing in sex films to show a positive view of sex and all of sex is supposed to be the ultimate, the pinnacle of excitement, and life simply isn't like that. It seems to me that sometime we've got to get honest about sex and admit to ourselves that very few sexual encounters do work out agreeably or are completely successful. And that's one of the reasons that I did the first scene in Destroying Angel as a 'down'; it was meant to be an unsuccessful sex trip. I have a very simple if not simplistic attitude toward sex films, and that is that sex is just as much a part of life as living, eating, breathing, sleeping - it's just another function of life and I don't see why it can't be depicted dramatically just as those other funcitons are and as honestly, too. And I think we have to show every aspect of sex in films before we can really say we are making sex films."

Bill Eld in a Destroying Angel publicity photo
Star Bill Eld in a Destroying Angel publicity photo

Hand in Hand's press sheet on The Destroying Angel discusses the elaborateness and complexity of the production. It was shot in ten days, with twenty-two scenes in nineteen different locations "from Montauk Point to The Spike [a NYC gay bar] to Christopher Street to Brooklyn to an eighteenth century cemebery in a forgotten spot in rural New Jersey." The Spike sequence includes a barely-discernable cameo from Peter Berlin in the background. Though he's hard to spot in the film, itself, there are a few clear behind the scenes photographs of him on set.

Peter Berlin in The Spike during The Destroying Angel's filming
Peter Berlin in The Spike during The Destroying Angel's filming

The press sheet also mentions that post-production took a considerable time to complete - about a year - and cites some of the filmmaking challenges present during production, primarily finding a double for the lead (Kent) with an identical body but larger cock, and shooting and constructing the doppelganger threeway scene through camera and editing tricks.

Slating, recording sound, and Peter de Rome with Tim Kent and his body double
Slating, recording sound, and Peter de Rome with Tim Kent and his body double

Hand in Hand make-up artist prepping Tim Kent, his body double, Philip Darden, and Bill Eld
Hand in Hand make-up artist Gene Kelton prepping Kent, his body double, Darden & Eld

In Peter de Rome's backstory write-up from our files, 'Genesis of The Destroying Angel,' he goes further into the film's origin story:
 

By chance, I happened to read John Allegro's fascinating study, The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross, that seeks to equate Jesus Christ with a mushroom, the Amanita Muscaria. This, in turn, led me to R.G. Wasson's Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality, which traces the same mushroom to the Soma plant in the ancient Rigveda of India. The whole incredible story seemed to me to be a natural for erotic treatment. But how to blend the two ideas together?

I sat down at the typewriter and looked up at the painting hanging on the wall before me. It could have been a portrait of myself, except for the way he was clothed and the caption underneath: Edgar Allan Poe. Was this a sign? Maybe, but inspiration eluded me. So I went back to his stories and, sure enough, there was the answer.

Peter de Rome in front of a portrait of his look-alike, Edgar Allen Poe
Peter de Rome in front of a portrait of his look-alike, Edgar Allan Poe

"William Wilson" provided just the sort of structure I was looking for with one important change: the twins became one troubled young man and his alter ego. A few scenes in the film are direct parallels to the story, but mostly only the structure is retained.

And then, because of the religious aspect of the mushroom story, it seemed logical to make the principle character a young priest, sorely tempted beyond his means to resist.

Destroying Angel stills featuring Tim Kent as the priest

The urination scene derives from the hypothesis that the sacred plant called the Soma in the Vedic culture was, in fact, a hallucinogenic mushroom, a plant with miraculous inebriating virtue, enjoyed both by the peoples of the Valley of the Indus and the cattle they tended. The juice of the Soma had a similar intoxicating effect on the animals, and is excreted still in its purest form in the urine, only to be ingested once more by the peasants. This way they could stay high for days!

 

[This likelihood of this urine-drinking claim of Wasson's has been debated, but it seems to have caught de Rome's piss-fetishistic interest (piss-drinking also makes a tiny appearance in Adam & Yves).]

The hallucinatory piss orgy from The Destroying Angel
The hallucinatory piss orgy from The Destroying Angel

Orgy scene cast
Orgy scene cast

De Rome's write-up concludes:
 

Small wonder that the sun became a compelling metaphor for the gleaming red-topped mushroom, and the urine its golden rays.

Destroying Angel still featuring a mushroom, knife, and cross necklace

The Destroying Angel has a heavy focus on religious themes, and this was hardly first time de Rome tackled these in his films. Adam and Yves features a masturbation sequence (starring muscular Bill Eld, who also plays a prominent role in The Destroying Angel) in an 11th century French chapel, and two films in The Erotic Films of Peter de Rome (The Second Coming and Prometheus) also come to mind. Prometheus, a sort of reinterpretation of the Greek myth, focuses on a man who is brutally used by a group of strangers ushered into a room by a figure resembling Christ. The Second Coming starts off as a lark, as two men (one played by Peter de Rome, himself) travel across Europe, collecting clues that lead them from city to city. One of them winds up in an old village, where he wanders into a cathedral. A group of men are huddled together inside, looking at what initially appears to be a large crucifix on the wall in front of them. However, the figure on the cross moves - it is not Christ, but a live nude man mounted there, who ejaculates, hands free, all over his own torso.

Image from Prometheus
Image from Prometheus

Peter de Rome and Bill Eld on The Destroying Angel's set
Peter de Rome and Bill Eld on The Destroying Angel's set

The Destroying Angel - a film that is simultaneously complex and campy, hot and disturbing - was de Rome's final feature, as he was, at this point in his career, growing uninterested in the increasingly graphic sexuality being demanded in pornographic films by producers and audiences. This film (referred to as "a mess but a masterpiece" by Rupert Smith) spends a larger portion of its running time on sex scenes than does Adam and Yves or most of the rest of de Rome's work, but this is not to say that it abandons de Rome's preference for erotic imagination and the underpinning motivations and forces behind sexual acts. Its sex scenes are very unlike most others, growing organically out of the lead character's inner states, becoming increasingly surreal and deconstructed over the course of the film, and serving as the means of relaying the film's themes and character development; they are integral to the movie, not diversions from the plot. And The Destroying Angel fully fuses the genres it is tackling - its sex scenes are horror scenes, making it one of porn's best and most effectively creepy horror entries.

Images from The Destroying Angel's doppelganger threeway
Images from The Destroying Angel's doppelganger threeway
Images from The Destroying Angel's doppelganger threeway

The sexuality depicted in the film is complicated, conflicted, compulsive; the priest character's internal struggle - rooted in religion and made terrifyingly manifest by way of hallucinogens - the source. Psychological and emotional concerns are primary within the sex scenes, which serve as the narrative, helping to make the full runtime of the film engaging as a piece of cinema (particularly as brought to life through its compelling performances, Jack Deveau's expressive camerawork, Robert Alvarez's trippy, frenetic editing, and the evocative music selections). Porn certainly needn't operate on all of these levels in order to be interesting, hot, or significant, but the multi-layered, experimental, and cinematic work of Peter de Rome is a unique and compelling type of pornographic filmmaking.

Illustration from Peter de Rome's Destroying Angel script
Illustration from the cover of Peter de Rome's Destroying Angel screenplay

Learn more about the backstory of this classic (including other interpretations of the film's meaning) in the Ask Any Buddy podcast episode on it.

You can watch the trailer for The Destroying Angel at BijouWorld, where you can also read more about its storyline and get the full movie on DVD, or go to our Video on Demand site to stream it! Bijou also carries Peter de Rome's other films released by Hand in Hand on DVD and Streaming.

Rate this blog entry:
2023 Hits
0 Comments

Condoms Before the Days They Were Rubbers!

posted by Madame Bubby

When I was in sixth grade (I didn’t go to a middle school or a junior high), the tougher boys were joking about rubbers. I did not make the connection to condoms until high school, climaxing in the time when, believe it or not, my dad gave me one to put in my wallet. He thought I needed one because I was hanging out with some girls (little did he or, most significantly, I know I was their gay friend, and one of the girls, nicknamed “Inch," was a lesbian).

I digress. Condoms weren’t always rubber. Before the invention of vulcanized rubber in the 19th century, condoms were made usually of some kind of linen smeared with chemicals or, ew, animal tissue or bladder. What’s interesting is that since ancient times they were used as both a means of birth control and a protection against STDs. (Ironically, usually birth control and/or abortion was the province of the woman, who was blamed for issues is in this area, even though, by the Middle Ages, the established view was that the woman was merely the physical receptacle of the life-giving, soul-containing male sperm.)

Some interesting facts about pre and early modern condoms and condom usage:

There’s a legend that the King Minos of Crete, subject to so many curses, used a goat’s bladder as a female condom to protect his partners because he suffered from a strange affliction; his semen was filled with snakes and scorpions.

Those short loincloths Greek and Roman guys wore (mostly those of the slave and laborer class), that in the sword and sandal movies showed off hot, muscular legs, often consisted of little more than a covering for the penis. If someone in a higher class wore one of these “lower class” outfits, some have speculated they may have served as form of condom.
 

Ancient Greek man in short loincloth
Ancient Greek man in short loincloth, Source: Pinterest

Sexual norms changed during the Middle Ages with the rise of Christian theocracies, and the emphasis on sex and procreation tended to put condoms under the radar, so to speak, and we also lost some knowledge of their substance and use during the ancient world. Some writings by Muslims and Jews, who during this period in some areas comprised the majority of physicians, mentioned soaking a cloth in onion juice or other perceived spermicides.

The syphilis outbreak that began among French troops in 1494 prompted an Italian guy named Gabriele Falloppio (from whence we get the name fallopian tube) to pretty much invent the first item we now can define as a condom. He invented a linen sheath sized to cover the glans of the penis, tied to it with a little ribbon, smeared with spermicide. He claimed to have saved the lives of 1100 sailors with the device. Sailors. And with that word, one I think can pretty much imply that these guys weren’t always going after the clichéd wenches.
 

Gabriele Falloppio
Gabriele Falloppio, Source: Sciencemuseum.org

During the Renaissance, condoms were also made of animal intestines or bladders. By the 18th century, they were available in all shapes and sizes; one could buy them especially at the ubiquitous barbershops, which weren’t just places for haircuts. The barbers performed various surgeries, dental work, and especially bloodletting.
 

Retro Durex condom
Condom made of animal intestine, Source: mirror.uk

During the above periods, the upper, and later the burgeoning middle classes, were the ones who used condoms. The lower classes couldn’t afford them, and they also lacked education on STDs.

Now the omnipresent and mostly all-powerful Catholic Church during this time wasn’t exactly keen on the use of condoms as birth control, of course, but it was yet to make its views on the subject official in the Pope’s encyclical Humanae Vitae with the advent of the sexual revolution of the 1960s.

And in the early 19th century, after the invention of the rubber condom which increased usage and convenience considerably, the notorious Comstock Act pretty much made life miserable for anyone who wanted to use any form of contraceptive, much less educate oneself on the issue.
 

Retro Durex condom
Retro Durex condom, Source: sexinfo.soc.ucsb.edu/article/history-condom

The deadly AIDS epidemic of course made the condom a matter of life and death, with the holy haters decrying what condoms had always been used for, saving lives, in favor of reviving the scapegoating of anyone with STDs.

By the way: there was no “Earl of Condom.” The etymology of the word is indeed unknown!

Source: mostly Wikipedia’s article on the History of Condoms, combined with some of my own knowledge of gender/sexuality history

Rate this blog entry:
1239 Hits
0 Comments

Bawdy Gay Latvia!

posted by Madame Bubby

Surprises abound when sifting through the wealth of LGBTQ archival material at Bijou Video. I picked up an issue of a 1970s vintage gay porn monograph or serial (not sure) called Hard? A Pictorial and Literary Study, which is comprised mostly of explicit gay sex photos, with a running text by one Dr. Jack Muller. In other words, to pass the censors, even at that time when restrictions on such material were easing up, the publication is billed as “Educational Material for Adults Only.”

Muller gives in this issue an ambitious history and analysis of pornography. I found his discussion of censorship and homosexuality and its expression interesting, and it correlates to some extent with my previous blog on this subject.

It's painfully obvious the Church/Empire nexus that began under Constantine drove any type of sex other than heteronormative procreative sex into the shadows, while at the same time creating single-sex environments, such as monastic communities. that contained homoerotic “meta-structures.” In fact, bawdy, ribald literature, though mostly heterosexual, was preserved, but also originated in medieval European monasteries, whose inhabitants were copying manuscripts of sexually explicit materials by Roman poet Ovid and others. (And in many cases not just copying, but “enacting” the actions depicted in the texts with each other.)
 

Ovid Manuscript
Ovid Manuscript
Source: http://dcc.dickinson.edu/ovid-amores/manuscript-tradition-ovids-amores

Meanwhile, on what was then the edge of European civilization, Constantinople (the Eastern Orthodox Church) and Rome (the Roman Catholic Church) each fought for the conversion of the Slavs to Christianity, but as was the case in Europe, it was often difficult to discern a boundary between “pagan” or “heathen” cultures and the institutional dynamics of the Church. (In fact, the binary of pagan versus Christian is actually a later interpretation, a narrative built on the idea that the Church was one monolithic entity opposing an inaccurate lumping together of the pluralistic, syncretistic religious universe of the ancient world as paganism.)
 

Map of Latvia in the Middle Ages
Map of Latvia in the Middle Ages

The Slavic Lithuanians actually did not officially convert to Roman Catholicism until 1387, as a condition of union with Roman Catholic Poland. The motive was political, a top-down move by the rulers (as was the case previously with European countries).

Latvia, Lithuania's neighbor to the north, was also a late convert to Christianity, the process occurring in the 12th - 13th centuries; in fact, the local populace in the countryside maintained their pagan belief systems for several centuries, with pockets of paganism surviving in Latvia up until the 17th century.
 

Krisjanis Barons
Krisjanis Barons
Source: https://www.europeana.eu/portal/en/record/92085/lnb_zl_17879.html

One form of erotic expression that survived in Latvia was the daina, and thanks to the writer and editor Krisjanis Barons (1835-1923), part of the “folk-nationalist” movement the Young Latvians (at that time Latvia had been absorbed into the Russian Empire), these were written down and systematized in several volumes.

The dainas were short, rhymed verses in sing-song meters easy to remember orally, reflecting on the cycle of life and death; humans live as integral, organic participants in a natural landscape, and this landscape of course includes sexual activity. Love, the selection of a partner, and marriage with that partner are common themes, and mostly heterosexual, but Dr. Muller, using a book by by Bud Berzing, Sex Songs of the Ancient Letts, quotes several which are blatantly describe homosexual acts.
 

Cover of Sex Songs of the Ancient Letts

One wonders, though, if these elements might have been, given the overall patrilineal emphasis in Latvian culture (even before the dominance of the Church), sung to mock and even abuse, especially foreign oppressors like the Teutonic Knight and Order of Livonia Germans who colonized Latvia in the Middle Ages:

It's a German with an aching head,
While my dunghole's hurting bad;
Come on German, place your head
Close to my dunghole.”

And:

“This boy, a pal of mine,
Has a two-headed pecker;
When he works in the drying barn,
He don't need any fork.”

“Come, laddie, rake some hay,
I got a place for stacking it,
I need one handy guy
To drive a stick in it.”
 

Latvian gay poetry in Hard?: A Pictorial and Literary Study
Latvian gay poetry featured in Hard?: A Pictorial and Literary Study

These types of verses (which were sung out loud at weddings and other events that celebrated life cycle moments) shocked a seventeenth-century German bishop named Paul Einhorn. He wrote, in his Historie lettice in 1649, “Afterwards such improper, brazen, and flippant songs were sung without interruption, day and night, that even the devil himself could not have devised and put forth anything more improper and lewd." The early modern European emphasis on enclosure and boundaries in a time when nation-states were trying to figure how religious institutions fit into their political and social goals spelt doom for many ancient customs that found profound value in the physical cycles of nature.

This was the time when the English Puritans banned the “heathenish” Christmas (albeit temporarily), Counter-Reformation popes covered up nudes, authorities everywhere burned witches and heretics and homosexuals at the stake, and Louis XIV proclaimed that he was the state, which meant vicious persecution and exile for the French Protestants (Huguenots). And a German bishop couldn't deal with euphemisms for genitalia!

It's interesting that it took a nationalist movement of resistance to rediscover and disseminate these songs, which have survived to this day even as new theocratic, nationalistic empires like Putin's Russia (and remember, Latvia had been part of the former Soviet Union) try to censor, subvert, control, and for LGBTQ persons, eliminate sexual expression.

SOURCES:

Wikipedia, entries on Krisjanis Barons, religion in Latvia, Christianization of Lithuania

Encyclopedia.com, entry on Dainas.

Muller, Jack, “How to Be Circumspect,” in Hard?: A Pictorial and Literary Study

Berzing, Bud, Songs of the Ancient Letts

Dryer, Richard. “Ovid in the Middle Ages,” at http://freepages.rootsweb.com/~aranar/genealogy/ovid.htm

Rate this blog entry:
1084 Hits
0 Comments

Cults All Around You

posted by Madame Bubby

I was doing my usual scrolling on Twitter the other day, and I came across a news item on a cult I had never heard of before, which masked as a theater company!

According to the link above and other sources, the leader of this cult is a former actress, Sharon Gans, who starred in the 1970s film Slaughterhouse Five. In 1978, she and someone named Alex Horn ran out of San Francisco a theater company called Theater of All Possibilities, but it folded because of scandals and later resurfaced in New York City in 1980s as an outfit called Odyssey Study Group.
 

Gans cult articles
Gans cult articles (Source: A Cult Survivor's Handbook)

The Odyssey Study Group still puts on theatrical performances, but its members primarily focus on following the teachings of philosophers George Ivanovich Gurdjieff and his protege P.D. Ouspensky, who believe that the path to self-development involves labor and intentional suffering. The philosophy one could characterize as a form of gnostic dualism, as it claims most persons are living in a “sleep state” until awakened by learning esoteric principles taught by an elite persons, in this case, Gans, who is practically worshipped as someone one who gained a higher level of consciousness.
 

P.D. Ouspensky
P.D. Ouspensky

The link details the all too familiar verbal, physical, and financial abuse of members characteristic of cults, but after doing some research on Rick Ross' excellent cult education website, I also discovered that the cult does not allow African-Americans or LGBTQ persons. Apparently they aren't “pure” enough, though I did not find out the exact reasoning. Thus, if a member of the group attempted to recruit me in a coffee shop (the typical first step), I would be instantly rejected.

Why am I bring this point up? Cults are certainly in the news these days, especially if celebrities are involved. I am thinking specifically of the NXIVM pyramid scheme/sex slave cult, even more notorious because of the involvement of Allison Mack. Yet, what is really fascinating and also frightening is how these cults mask as other types of groups and ideologies, transmuting them into times and spaces of abuse.
 

NXIVM cult
NXIVM cult (Source: meaww.com)

I've come very close to cults, because cults prey on those they see as vulnerable to their “I/We alone can save you” mission. When I was in high school, a girl approached me and asked if I wanted to go to a movie. I thought she was asking me on a date, and to be frank, I was shocked, social outcast I was. When I asked where the movie was playing, she said it was being shown at some youth group. I asked my parents if I could go, and they said yes. I possess very little memory of the incident, other than persons sitting in folding chairs holding Bibles and giving the group money. On the way home (I got a ride home from the group members), I began to feel violently ill. Perhaps I sensed something was off. When my parents found out I had given the group money, they called the girl's parents. No more "youth group movies" for me.

I also briefly in college joined a Catholic charismatic group after a recommendation by a nun (she is no longer a nun, by the way; she left and got married). Catholic charismatics speak in tongues, claiming that it is a gift of the Holy Spirit. I remember lots of psychological manipulation in an "inner healing" session, and I noticed that persons in the group, called The Children of Light, tended to hang out only with others in the group. I got the sense this group somehow thought they were special, or "the elect" in a kind of antinomian way, as opposed to those mundane Catholics who were not so gifted. And what is even more frightening: one of the president's Supreme Court judgeship picks, Amy Coney Barrett, was associated with a community called People of Praise, which started out as one of those charismatic groups.
 

Speaking in tongues
Speaking in tongues (Source: Northwest Catholic)

And, I found out as well, what looked like yet another yoga place in the Clark and Diversey neighborhood, Body & Brain Yoga (now closed), which taught a Korean physical exercise philosophy called Dahn Yoga. The Dahn Yoga organization, among other abuses, charged exorbitant fees for retreats and even was involved in a wrongful death suit.
 

Dahn Yoga CNN report
Dahn Yoga (Source: CNN.com)

And then there was a meeting I went to with a friend from college and someone she knew, which in hindsight I found out was some pyramid scheme. I remember being hectored to take a course which would change my life. The friend of a friend gave them a lot of money that night. By that time, I had wised up. I knew I was vulnerable because of my sexuality and socioeconomic status, but I also was educated enough academically and experientially to both know and intuit the specific time and space of a cult.

The problem is many persons do not wise up, especially in situations of personal anxiety, or, particularly in the current cultural situation, public anxiety. And many persons are what I would call seekers, looking for an ultimate answer, a total experience, where struggle will end, but never really finding whatever they are looking for. Cults and cult leaders prey upon their fears and insecurities, usually offering a dangerous us vs. them mentality that justifies the abuses.

My experiences, and the experiences of others (as seekers and the sought), have shown me that possibilities for spiritual growth and experience exist, but no one person or one idea is all possibilities, and making something possible does not make you better than others and thus give you license to do harm.

Rate this blog entry:
1214 Hits
0 Comments
Featured

The Backstory of Peter de Rome's The Destroying Angel

 BY MIRIAM WEBSTER, special guest blogger

 

The Destroying Angel poster


"It started with the thought that gay films had been made in various forms, but that they hadn't yet tackled the horror genre," starts celebrated gay porn auteur Peter de Rome's write up on his truly unusual 1976 horror/porn hybridThe Destroying Angel - an entertaining, disturbing, and hallucinatory film about Catholicism, sexuality, doppelgangers, and psychoactive mushrooms. "Almost at the same time came the idea to write a story about twins - one that had been lurking in the back of my mind for a long time." 
 

British filmmaker Peter de Rome, who passed away in 2014, was the subject of a recent documentary, Peter de Rome: Grandfather of Gay Porn. His work, which is both avant-garde and explicitly gay and erotic, has been recognized by the British Film Institute and written about extensively in recent years. Working primarily in New York City in the early days of hardcore, de Rome made two features (the fascinating 1974 film Adam and Yves, shot in Paris and featuring the last known footage of Greta Garbo, along with The Destroying Angel), and a number of short films. 
Adam and Yves poster

Eight of his shorts made between the years 1969 and 1972 (notably, the well-known "Underground," which depicts a real sex scene shot on an active NY subway train) make up the collection The Erotic Films of Peter de Rome, released by Hand in Hand Films.

 

Hand in Hand also released his two features and included a few more of his short films in their compilations In Heat and Private Collection
 

The Erotic Films of Peter de Rome poster

De Rome was an atypical pornographic filmmaker, largely because he had little interest in the straight-forward depiction of sex or the conventions of pornography. Rather, he was interested in exploring a more multi-dimensional look at sexuality through his filmmaking. "My feeling is for eroticism. And that, for me, is 'leading up to the sex.' Once you're at the sex stage it can quickly get terribly boring," he told HIM Magazine. "For me, a lot of the arousal is in the mind and the imagination. That is what really turns me on. Most of my ideas, therefore, are concerned with how we get there." 

 

Peter de Rome directing stars Tim Kent and Philip Darden

In an interview with In Touch Magazine, de Rome elaborated, "I think that we've barely scratched the surface of pornography in film making, and that it has become a sort of mandatory thing in sex films to show a positive view of sex and all of sex is supposed to be the ultimate, the pinnacle of excitement, and life simply isn't like that. It seems to me that sometime we've got to get honest about sex and admit to ourselves that very few sexual encounters do work out agreeably or are completely successful. And that's one of the reasons that I did the first scene in Destroying Angel as a 'down'; it was meant to be an unsuccessful sex trip. I have a very simple if not simplistic attitude toward sex films, and that is that sex is just as much a part of life as living, eating, breathing, sleeping - it's just another function of life and I don't see why it can't be depicted dramatically just as those other funcitons are and as honestly, too. And I think we have to show every aspect of sex in films before we can really say we are making sex films." 

 

Bill Eld in a Destroying Angel publicity still

In his film backstory, 'Genesis of The Destroying Angel,' de Rome continues: 

By chance, I happened to read John Allegro's fascinating study, The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross, that seeks to equate Jesus Christ with a mushroom, the Amanita Muscaria. This, in turn, led me to R.G. Wasson'sSoma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality, which traces the same mushroom to the Soma plant in the ancient Rig Veda of India. The whole incredible story seemed to me to be a natural for erotic treatment. But how to blend the two ideas together? 

I sat down at the typewriter and looked up at the painting hanging on the wall before me. It could have been a portrait of myself, except for the way he was clothed and the caption underneath: Edgar Allan Poe. Was this a sign? Maybe, but inspiration eluded me. So I went back to his stories and, sure enough, there was the answer. 

Peter de Rome in front of a portrait of Edgar Allan Poe
Peter de Rome in front of a portrait of Edgar Allan Poe

"William Wilson" provided just the sort of structure I was looking for with one important change: the twins became one troubled young man and his alter ego. A few scenes in the film are direct parallels to the story, but mostly only the structure is retained. 

And then, because of the religious aspect of the mushroom story, it seemed logical to make the principle character a young priest, sorely tempted beyond his means to resist. 

Tim Kent as the priest, looking distressed and wearing a cross necklace
Man standing before a portrait of Poe and a cross
Tim Kent's face as he's fucked by Bill Eld

The urination scene derives from the hypothesis that the sacred plant called the Soma in the Vedic culture was, in fact, a hallucinogenic mushroom, a plant with miraculous inebriating virtue, enjoyed both by the peoples of the Valley of the Indus and the cattle they tended. The juice of the Soma had a similar intoxicating effect on the animals, and is excreted still in its purest form in the urine, only to be ingested once more by the peasants. This way they could stay high for days! 

Destroying Angel piss scene

Small wonder that the sun became a compelling metaphor for the gleaming red-topped mushroom, and the urine its golden rays: 

Pass on me the flowing Soma
Divine Inebriant - Holy Water 

Urinate your juices on me
Fruit of my esoteric dreams 

Hari Krishna - Flaming Fungus 

Spill yourself onto the belly of Indra
Penetrate my entrails, enter into my heart
O Soma juice, light of the sun. 

Red-topped mushroom and knife

The Destroying Angel was hardly first time de Rome tackled religious themes in his films - this seemed to be a particular fascination of his. Adam and Yves features a masturbation sequence (starring Bill Eld, also of The Destroying Angel) in a chapel and two films in The Erotic Films of Peter de Rome, "The Second Coming" and "Prometheus," also come to mind. "Prometheus" (also with its obvious mythological connections) focuses on a man who is used and abused by a group of men, ushered into the room by a figure who resembles Christ. "The Second Coming" starts off as a lark, as two men (one played by Peter de Rome, himself) travel across Europe, collecting clues that lead them from city to city. One of them men winds up in an old village, where he wanders into a cathedral. A group of men are huddled together inside, looking at what initially appears to be a large crucifix on the wall in front of them. However, the figure on the cross moves - it is not Christ, but a live nude man mounted there, who ejaculates, hands free, all over his own torso. 

 

Passed out man carried away at the end of Prometheus

The Destroying Angel - a film that is simultaneously complex and campy, hot and disturbing - was de Rome's final feature, as he was, at this point in his career, developing a distaste for the increasingly graphic sexuality demanded by producers and audiences. This film (accurately referred to as "a mess but a masterpiece" by Rupert Smith) spends a larger portion of its running time on sex scenes than does Adam and Yves, but this is not to say that it abandons de Rome's preference for imagination and eroticism over explicitness. Its sex scenes are unlike any others, becoming more and more surreal and deconstructed over the course of the film. The Destroying Angel fully fuses the genres it is tackling - its sex scenes are horror scenes. 

 

Frightening sex scene
Frightening sex scene


 

 

 

The sexuality depicted is complicated, conflicted, anguished, compulsive; the priest character's internal struggle, rooted in religion and made terrifyingly manifest by way of hallucinogens, the source. Psychological and emotional concerns are primary within the sex scenes and the sex scenes do not function as durational necessities but, rather, they serve asthe narrative and as the method of conveying the thematic material, helping to make every moment of the film thoroughly watchable as a piece of cinema. 
 

The Destroying Angel art

 

 
Rate this blog entry:
3098 Hits
0 Comments

Contact Us | 800-932-7111 | Join our email list

Go to top