The Late Great JOHN TRAVIS, My POWERTOOL Mentor

By Josh Eliot

 

FLASHBACK, 1987: I was 25 years old when I started working with Catalina Video in San Francisco. Dan Allman was in charge of the new studio, which he ran with his new boyfriend, John, who he met on the set of a movie he recently directed called Bad Boys Club. Catalina Video moved their productions from Los Angeles/Ontario to San Francisco after the video crew got busted in a Ralphs Supermarket parking lot while shooting the movie Bulge. That’s really the extent of the information I was given at the time. All of the camera cases and equipment still had remnants of the “evidence” tape from the police department. The story I was told is that it was no longer viable to shoot in the L.A. County limits until a pandering case was resolved in the courts. So they set up shop in San Francisco. The Catalina Producer/Director was Scott Masters (Nova Video) and the VIP Director of the company was John Travis (Brentwood Video). William Higgins had recently moved to Europe.

 

Catalina equpiment with evidence tape

Catalina equpiment with evidence tape

 

John Travis started off in the industry shooting 8mm loops including the two infamous John Holmes gay porno scenes. He also shot the ever enduring Brentwood Video library of films, which are best sellers to this day. He was hired by Chuck Holmes and started a decade-long tenure with Falcon Studios. His work as cinematographer in The Other Side of Aspen 2, A Matter of Size, Big Guns and The Young and the Hung elevated those movies' statuses. He became lovers with and was credited for discovering Jeff Stryker. Travis’ Powertool starring Stryker became the most successful and best selling movie of its time. Travis won Best Director/Best Picture for Powertool in 1987 at the Adult Video News Awards. (The same year, I started working with him and he never mentioned it for months! That’s how unpretentious he was.) He also won an AVN Award for Best Director/Best Picture for Undercover in 1989.

 

John Travis and Jeff Stryker

John Travis and Jeff Stryer

 

Most of my days at the studio consisted of “woodwork”: building sets, then dressing and lighting them for upcoming shoots according to the specifications we got from Scott Masters in Los Angeles. The night prior to filming a scene, the director and models would fly in from Los Angeles and Dan would pick them up and take them to an apartment Catalina rented and furnished. It was always a nail biter when we would show up for the shoot in the morning. If it was a set for a Scott Masters movie, you can bet your ass that there would be major changes that would delay the beginning of the shoot. Scott would always have outrageous requests that drove us nuts. Things like, “I don’t like that end table, it’s too small to fuck on. Can we run out and buy another one?” - instead of just modifying his plans for the scene and fucking on the roomy couch instead. But when John Travis came to direct, he always had positive things to say about the sets. If anything, it was the lighting that needed modifications, which always made the set look better. His experience showed. He would always find creative ways to modify things on the fly and avoid situations that could make a shoot day come to a dead halt.

John Travis ALWAYS showed up to the set with two brand new packs of Benson and Hedges 100’s menthol cigarettes. He would smoke almost every one down to (and into) the filter. In the early days John was always directing from behind the camera as he had done for years and cigarette smoke was always creeping up into the shots! After the first couple of movies, we built him a beautiful deck and monitor station on wheels so he could direct from behind the monitors while Dan and I performed all the camera work. I think, for the first time in his career, he was able to get out from behind the camera and direct from the station at a distance, and he LOVED it! One would think that his movies would have a different look if he wasn’t working the camera himself, but he was very specific on the framing 100% of the time. “Pull out wider…No... too much... zoom in… but just a cunt hair.” That was one of his favorite lines and I kept using it when directing my own movies for the next 20 years. It was one of many classic lines John put out into the world. I credit him for my first award in 1992 for Cinematography on a movie called Sterling Ranch at the Gay Erotic Video Awards. He was in the audience and when I thanked him personally, my voice cracked and I nearly lost it, but after all, he did put me up there.

 

Josh Eliot at the Gay Video Guide Awards

Josh Eliot at the Gay Video Guide Awards

 

The crew was always enamored with him and we always laughed our asses off. This man was so relatable and sincere, he would give you the shirt off his back. This guy directed Powertool, for God’s sake, and had zero attitude about it. He shared all his experience, shooting secrets, and directing techniques without even giving it a second thought. I truly was the luckiest guy in the industry to have such an icon take me under his wing and mold me.

On a movie called Powerline with Tom Steele, we built a rooftop set, which he thought looked too clean and sterile, so at one point he walked on the set and tossed his full ashtray of cigarettes onto it. “There you are… it’s called seasoning… I’m seasoning the set... It’s too fucking clean.” We roared! That is John Travis in a nutshell. Truly inspirational, down to earth, generous, one of a kind, and an old soul who made the industry a much better place.

 

Magazine featuring rooftop images from Powerline

Magazine featuring rooftop images from Powerline

 

John sadly passed away in January of 2017 but his work will stimulate and entertain forever.
 


Bio of Josh Eliot:

At the age of 25 in 1987, Josh Eliot was hired by Catalina Video by John Travis (Brentwood Video) and Scott Masters (Nova Video). Travis trained Eliot on his style of videography and mentored him on the art of directing. Josh directed his first movie, Runaways, in 1987. By 2009 when Josh parted ways with Catalina Video, he'd produced and directed hundreds of features and won numerous awards for Best Screenplay, Videography, Editing, and Directing. He was entered into the GayVN Hall of fame in 2002. 

 

You can read Josh Eliot's previous blogs for Bijou here:

Coming out of my WET SHORTS
FRANK ROSS, The Boss
Our CALIGULA Moment

That BUTTHOLE Just Winked at Me!
DREAMLAND: The Other Place
A Salty Fuck in Saugatuck
Somebody, Call a FLUFFER!

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On and Off the Set: L.A. Tool & Die

By Will Seagers

 

This was the most momentous and professional endeavor in my porn career. And, it literally fell out of the sky!

A friend in San Francisco by the name of Lewis was connected with the Gage brothers from his own film performances. He knew me and of the upcoming third part of their Working Man Trilogy, L.A. Tool & Die, and passed on a positive recommendation. A very casual but professional interview followed. Soon, I was on my way to L.A. to play the part of Wiley.

 

L.A. Tool & Die poster
L.A. Tool & Die poster

I was flown down and given pleasant hotel and dining accommodations. Upon arrival, I was taken to the various sets and given a copy of the script. There was a lot of "activity" on these sets already. Just as in other major studio productions, segments were not always in chronological sequence. I also found out right away that most of the film technicians were from the major studios in town. Cameramen, lighting techs, gaffers and the like were "moonlighting” on this film. It explains the high quality of the finished product.

I basically started in the middle of the story line and proceeded to the "well-gushing" finale. They needed me to do a flashback military scene without a mustache. That was done after most filming was completed. I didn't know that they were going to call upon me to "act" in the film. In the flashback scene in the military, I had to lament the loss of a close buddy who died in my arms. That was a stretch... but, I loved the challenge.

 

Will Seagers flashback to Vientam War sequence from L.A. Tool & Die

Will Seagers as Wylie in the flashback to the Vientam War sequence from L.A. Tool & Die

 

Mr. Locke and I "met" before the shooting. So, we knew and liked each other already. Both of us had a professional attitude about this genre of film making. That helped us out with some of the retakes and set adjustments that happened during some sex scenes. With my background in lighting, I even got involved in setting the tone for the love scene in the van. It was sort of comical. There I was stark naked and at half mast repositioning lighting gear aimed into that van. I didn't think any viewer would have been the wiser after I viewed the dailies for that scene!

 

Will Seagers and Richard Locke in an L.A. Tool & Die promotional photo

Will Seagers and Richard Locke in an L.A. Tool & Die promotional photo

 

One astonishing bit of spontaneity was the gas station bathroom stall scene. I don't know what came over both of us. But, for me it was one of the hottest and unscripted events in the flick! I think that was the only time in the filming I heard the word "cut!" lol

 

Will Seagers and Richard Youngblood in the gas station glory hole sequence

Will Seagers and Richard Youngblood in the gas station glory hole sequence

 

All in all, I was very proud to be a part of the film. It received great press among the gay mags and papers. Another thing that was quite different was being stopped on the streets of San Francisco and being told... "I didn't know you could act!" IMHO, if there was a Gay Academy Award, this picture should have gotten it.

 

Oscar statue

(This Oscar does have genitals.)

 

Bio of Will Seagers:

Will Seagers (also credited as Matt Harper), within his multifaceted career and participation in numerous gay communities across the country in the '70s and '80s and beyond, worked as a print model and film performer. He made iconic appearances in releases from Falcon, Hand in Hand, Joe Gage, Target (Bullet), J. Brian, Steve Scott, and more, including in lead roles in major classics like Gage's L.A. Tool & Die (1979) and Scott's Wanted (1980). He brought strong screen presence and exceptional acting to his roles and was scene partners with many fellow legends of classic porn.

 

Will Seagers, present day image

Will Seagers, present day image

 

 

You can read Will Seagers' previous blogs for Bijou here:
Welcome Matt/Will
What's For Dessert?

 

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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.

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