LUNCH HOUR: When the Big Boys Eat

By Josh Eliot

 

I wrote previously about my relationship and rocky road with producer Scott Masters (Nova Video) in the blog: “We Waited 8hrs for a Cum Shot: Is That a World Record?” I mentioned in that blog how he was in a relationship with Catalina exclusive model Matt Powers and how he starred him in his remake of the Nova movie Main Attraction. Matt was great in the movie, but to debut as a dancer in lots of spandex didn’t do his career any great favor. Scott Masters kept stalling on making his next movie and our GM Mike was getting a little bit upset that he was footing this exclusive’s bills for a non-working model who was basically Scott Master’s sex toy. When I wanted to do a movie called Lunch Hour about workers in a steel factory fighting back against management, I pitched the idea to Mike over drinks at the Gold Coast Bar in West Hollywood. The next day, he gave it the green light and personally made the calls to get me the perfect factory setting in Burbank for our shooting location. It took a lot of my budget to rent the place, so Mike agreed to throw in a little more money and then shocked me with his next decision. Mike felt the macho role of the factory worker would be a great next step for Matt Powers. He was looking to “butch him up” by getting him in a masculine role. Scott Masters was a bit shell-shocked and put up quite a stink because in his mind, even though Catalina was footing the bill, he felt he should be the only one to direct Matt’s movies. I agreed with him and didn’t want to take on the responsibility, but eventually he gave his blessing to the idea and I accepted the task. Secretly, I was happy because now having an exclusive as a star meant they would advertise the movie aggressively.

 

Josh Eliot's Lunch Hour

Josh Eliot's Lunch Hour

 

I think Matt Powers liked the idea of working with me as his director because he knew I would encourage his input and recommendations in regards to his role. There’s a great scene in the movie just before the workers overpower the management to teach them a lesson. Matt wanted to smash one of their computers with a giant wrench to show his anger and frustration with them. I had an old computer on the set as a prop and thought… brilliant! It worked out beautifully and added to his macho persona. Once he smashed the computer, he turned to his co-workers and uttered, “Get 'em,” at which time the workers overpowered the managers, ripped off their clothes and well, you know the rest. It was a lot of pressure, but I knew I could make Matt Powers look incredible; he had all the goods but hadn’t been given the chance to show his full potential until then.

Because the factory cost a fortune, I only had two days to shoot Lunch Hour: one day to shoot all the factory scenes and one day in Scott Master’s house (because it was free) to shoot a love scene between Matt Powers and Josh Taylor, showing Matt’s softer side as contrast. Although he really didn’t want to, we made sure Scott Masters left for the day. The factory scenes included all the dialogue, a threeway with Powers and a 6-way orgy (simultaneously happening in another part of the factory), then we brought both groups together for a 9-way finale. Because shooting all this was impossible in one day, Mike told me that he was going to have Chi Chi LaRue co-direct. I directed all the dialogue and the threeway while Chi Chi directed the 6-way, then I directed the end when they all got together for the 9-way.

It was in this movie that I discovered the immensely satisfying act of “Revenge Casting.” My “open-relationship” boyfriend at the time, Randy, a co-owner of a clothing store on Melrose Avenue, always liked to torment me by letting “slip out” names of guys he slept with. This time, he was boasting about having gone home with adult porn actor, Steve Kennedy (aka Luke Bender), after meeting him at a club. I insisted that Scott Masters track down Steve Kennedy and cast him for the orgy. My first thought was to have him gang fucked, but realized he was only topping at that time in his career. I was a fan of Steve Kennedy, which made my jealousy even more atrocious, so I quickly moved on to “Revenge Casting Plan B.” Once he was confirmed as a cast member, I reached out to Charlie Warner and offered him a role. What, you never heard of Charlie Warner? No one had. He was the best friend of my “sleep around boyfriend” Randy and was persistently asking me to cast him in a movie. I never had before, but this time I did with the idea that Steve Kennedy would be giving him a relentless, long, hard and fast fucking. A pounding I was sure would rattle dear Randy when the movie came out on VHS. As soon as it released, I was on the phone with Charlie Warner so he could plan a screening at his house with all his friends.

 

Steve Kennedy aka Luke Bender (L & R) & Charlie Warner going down on Steve and the steel workers (center)

Steve Kennedy aka Luke Bender (L & R) & Charlie Warner going down on Steve and the steel workers (center)

 

The expression on Randy’s face was priceless, and he looked at me knowing exactly that what I had done by casting Charlie and Steve together. It was sweet revenge. His special one night stand with Steve Kennedy wasn’t so special anymore. Charlie actually did a really good job and I used him again in The Secret Boys Club, shot at a roller rink in the San Fernando Valley. Randy and I had a good run, but in the end he broke my heart. I was supposed to go to a party with him and had to cancel because, once again, Scott Masters needed me, last minute, to nail sequins on block letters to spell out Matt Powers' name for a dance tour he was going on to promote his movies. That very night, Randy met a young plaything at the party who basically replaced me. He broke up with me a couple days later and I was fucking distraught. I was immediately on the phone with Chet Thomas, Catalina editor, cursing Scott Masters' name for making me stay home the night of the party when Randy met the new guy. Being a great friend, Chet rushed over with a big bottle of Jack Daniels and we drank the whole thing.

Lunch Hour came out in 1989, and when Scott Masters watched it he ran up to me and gave me a big kiss on the cheek. He was happy that I made Matt Powers look macho and sexy in the movie. I think he thought to himself that he’d better troubleshoot the situation so that the manager, Mike, didn’t give Matt away to any other director, so in 1990 we shot and released Scott Masters' Lifeguard On Duty. We shot it up in Pismo Beach and Scott Masters had Matt play the lead role, which was well written and included a very well shot, if I do say so myself, fight scene with an armed assailant on the beach at night. That was Matt’s third and final movie for Catalina, because their relationship started deteriorating right before our eyes during filming. In 1991, after one of many arguments with Scott Masters, Matt took off, ending their relationship, shot a movie for Fox Studios called Muscle Force and then returned home to Massachusetts and enrolled in college.

 

Matt Powers on Jock Magazine (L) & on the cover of Lifeguard on Duty (R)

Matt Powers on the cover of Jock Magazine (L) & in Lifeguard on Duty (R)

 

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!
The Late Great JOHN TRAVIS, My POWERTOOL Mentor
(Un)Easy Riders
7 Years with Colt Model MARK RUTTER
Super NOVA
Whatever Happened to NEELY O’HARA?
Is That AL PARKER In Your Photo?
DOWN BY LAW: My $1,000,000 Mistake
We Waited 8hrs for a Cum Shot... Is That a World Record?
Don't Wear "Short Shorts" on the #38 Geary to LANDS END
How Straight Are You Really?
BEHIND THE (not so) GREEN DOOR
The BOOM BOOM Room
CATCHING UP with Tom DeSimone
Everybody’s FREE to FEEL GOOD
SCANDAL at the Coral Sands Motel
DEEP INSIDE THE CASTRO: The Castro Theatre
DEEP INSIDE THE CASTRO: The Midnight Sun
RSVP: 2 Weeks Working on a Gay Cruise Ship
VOYAGER of the Damned
I'M NOT A LESBIAN DIRECTOR
Diving Into SoMa/Folsom: THE FOLSOM STREET FAIR
Diving into SoMa/Folsom: A TALE OF TWO STUDS
BALL BROTH
My 1992 “Porn Set” Diary
Out of Print
There’s a Gloryhole WHERE??!

 
Rate this blog entry:
491 Hits
0 Comments

We Waited 8hrs for a Cum Shot... Is That a World Record?

By Josh Eliot

 

Patience is a virtue, or so they say. There were more than a handful of times that my patience wore thin on a porn set. It’s not all fun and games, let me tell you that right now. I became an expert on troubleshooting situations throughout my years of producing and directing, but in the early days, the crew and I were not able to escape the inevitable when a certain someone was in charge. I wouldn’t say my producer Scott Masters was a perfectionist, but he tried damn hard at it. If I’m being completely honest, Scott Masters and I had a love-hate-love again relationship from almost the very beginning. We both shared the passion for putting out the best product possible, both of us were totally invested in the stories we were telling, proper lighting and camera angles. You would think it was a match made in heaven, and to an extent it was, but there was one very important difference that had us butting heads many times over the years. Flexibility, or the lack of it.

 

William Higgins & Scott Masters (L); Higgins & Scott Masters with Jerry Douglas (R)

William Higgins & Scott Masters (L); Higgins & Scott Masters with Jerry Douglas (R)

 

Probably the first time it really came to a head was when we were shooting Hard Men 3, the third installment of a very popular series in the 1980s called Hard Men: No Strings Attached. It was basically a Chippendales type video where dancers would dress as a theme character and strip. The twist was that our dancers would strip all the way and when their undies came off they had a huge hard on that they flopped around for the camera, shot from every angle imaginable. We even had a plexiglass floor made for the models to dance on while we were underneath. At the end of the video, there was ordering information where the viewer could purchase a J/O tape of their favorite dancer masturbating, complete with cum shot, sold via mail order. The series was perfect for women or gay men to purchase. It was also perfect for Scott Masters as “director” of the segments. Scott loved plays, musicals and anything to do with the stage, not to mention his “costume fetish” I’ve mentioned before. Our “head butt” came one day when Scott was directing Chris Dano, who was playing a matador. The matador was to enter the stage through separating walls that we built on wheels to open and close. Very theatrical. It was 10:45pm, we had shot the dance/strip, the j/o bonus movie and all we had left was the opening shot where he entered the stage through the walls and dozens of roses showered him from above. “What? Roses? What are you talking about (Scott Masters)? You never asked for roses on your list!”

 

Hard Men series, matador & under plexiglass

Hard Men series, matador & under plexiglass

 

Well, you would have thought I’d killed his first born. The look on Scott Masters' face said it all as he screamed back at me, insisting he mentioned the roses when he ordered his custom built set over the phone. He definitely had not, and it was too late to run to the store to purchase any. His flight back to L.A. was at 8am, so I apologized if I missed the “roses request,” but reinforced the fact that he had a strong scene and no one would miss the fact that there were supposed to be roses. Well, that fell on deaf ears. Back and forth, back and forth. Suddenly he had an epiphany: “The curtain!” “The curtain?” Yes, the red velvet curtain that the model used in his dance and wrapped himself in for the J/O bonus movie. Don’t you know that Scott Masters had me, the 2nd cameraman, the make-up man, the still photographer and even poor Chris Dano sitting on the floor until 1am cutting up that muther fucking curtain into small strips and making fake roses that were stapled together so we could shoot a 15-second shot of them falling from the sky onto Chris Dano. It took all of my will power not to purposely jiggle the camera during the shot. I think I got home around 3am.

 

Matador and roses

 

Another more draining situation came on the movie The Main Attraction. This was a homage to his Nova Video movie of the same name. Matt Powers was Catalina’s new exclusive, and Scott Masters' secret (at the time) obsession. (I might talk about that “love affair” in a future blog; it’s personal so I’m not sure. But, then again, I do have a big mouth.) Anyway, Matt Powers finished the scene with Vic Summers, which, let me tell you, took a layer of flesh to complete, even before things came to a dead halt. We waited four hours while Vic would watch and rewind the VCR to get himself to the point where he could cum. He must have ran into the set screaming “I’m cumming!” seven or eight times, but nothing came out. Masters refused to let us put the cameras on a tripod because he had very specific angles in mind that called for me to be on a 20-foot ladder and 2nd camera to be wedged with the still photographer, literally on top of each other in the corner of the set. All of our backs were sore and aching but he refused to let us change the angle. At around midnight, Masters decided to end our misery but wanted us all back at 6am to try again for the cum shot, as they all had 1pm flights home. At 6am, we all returned to the studio hoping and praying that a good night's sleep would somehow empower Vic Summers to quickly blow his load. It was a repeat of the night before, so I requested to Masters that we lay Vic on his back on the bed with the VCR in viewing distance so he was comfortable and could just “cum” without having to run into the set and get in an awkward position. That and any other suggestions were met with a “no” accompanied by a long monologue as to why not. Just shy of four and a half hours later, drip... drip. A very un-dramatic visual presentation of what some might call a cumshot.

When I saw John Travis later that month to start shooting My Best Buddy, the crew and I shared our nightmarish experience. Travis was like, “What the fuck? We’ve got so many fucking cum shots in the can, close-up, underneath, overhead, fat dicks, thin dicks, straight dicks, crooked dicks, mushroom heads, no head… couldn’t he have just reused one of those?” Exactly.

 

Main Attraction: Nova & Catalina versions

Main Attraction: Nova & Catalina versions

 

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!
The Late Great JOHN TRAVIS, My POWERTOOL Mentor
(Un)Easy Riders
7 Years with Colt Model MARK RUTTER
Super NOVA
Whatever Happened to NEELY O’HARA?
Is That AL PARKER In Your Photo?
DOWN BY LAW: My $1,000,000 Mistake

Rate this blog entry:
1384 Hits
0 Comments

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!

Rate this blog entry:
1248 Hits
0 Comments

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:
1799 Hits
0 Comments
Featured

It's Art and It's Porn: The Legacy of Arch Brown

It's Art and It's Porn: The Legacy of Arch Brown
By Madam Bubby

 

“Zee art film … “ I remember that campy scene in Valley of the Dolls where the beautiful Jennifer North played by the beautiful Sharon Tate has to get a job making soft porn films for a sleazy French movie director. Jennifer complains that a beautiful scenery and a bare bottom doesn't make art. 


That may have been the case with those many of those XXX movies about "boobies, boobies, boobies, boobies" that Neely O'Hara laments she didn't have, but the gay filmmakers that emerged from the gay liberation movement of the 1970s radically changed in many ways, at least for many communities in major urban areas, the perception that gay films were either pornographic peep shows, exercises in camp, or mainstream films where a gay character commits suicide after being outed. 

 

One of these filmmakers was Arch Brown, who made a number of gay porn classics, including the particularly notable The Night Before, which was created with and produced by Jack Deveau, Bob Alvarez, and co. of the legendary Hand in Hand Films (read more on them in our blog on Hand in Hand/Deveau, our interview with Alvarez, the Hand in Hand Films wikipedia article, or in the book Good Hot Stuff: The Life & Times of Gay Film Pioneer Jack Deveau).

 

The Night Before poster image


Arch Brown

Arch did not even set out to make gay films, much less films that - because of explicit sex - were deemed pornographic. 

He was born in Chicago as Arnold Kreuger in 1936. After attending Northwestern University, he came to New York City, the destination of so many artistically-inclined and LGBTQ people during the 1960s (and before!). His parents thought it would be respectable for him to go into television (perhaps because less overtly gay-oriented than the actual theater), but he switched majors and decided he wanted to write and direct plays. (Many in the 1970s NYC gay porn world had direct ties to theater, including Alvarez, Wakefield Poole, and Casey Donovan.)

He first worked at Circle Square in the Village, but then he switched careers and got a job in advertising. After contracting hepatitis, he had to quit that job, and ended up, after picking up a guy in Central Park who liked him and his camera expertise, began making “home movies.” But apparently his home movies weren't at the level of crude amateur ones of the peep show variety, and they ended up showing in the private gay movie club, Cinema 7. 

According to an interview in the 1970s gay magazine Michael's Thing, “Andy Warhol's Interview got to him, and Variety sent one of their guys downtown to take a look at these new-fangled movies.”

I wonder if Warhol saw something of his own transformation of new realist techniques such as collage used in his own pop art in Arch Brown's concretely realistic, but also surrealism-infused, films of gay men's sexual relationships. 

These films were realistic because the sex was actually occurring on the screen, themes and characters (and their emotions) came out of real gay life of the time and place, and they also creatively used materials from everyday life at that time, ranging from pop music to advertising. 

Arch Brown perfected the above approaches when he collaborated with Hand in Hand on The Night Before (available from Bijou on DVD and Streaming; images featured below). 

 

This surreal porn classic offers a funny, touching, and realistic look at lovers and their emotional responses to both jealousy and carnal lust. Casting a group of nine men of varied types and cock sizes, the film begins with two average guys, Hank (Coke Hennessy) and Paul (Michael Cade - aka omni-present man of many hats in the NYC gay porn world Frank Ross), who meet and fall in love in New York City when Hank helps photographer Paul with a shoot in the park. 

 

Cast of The Night Before

At Paul's place, they check out photos that he's taken, including one of Paul with another man, both naked. Hank and Paul's ensuing relationship and lust develops through dinners, visiting an art gallery, picking out a kitten, and making out in the dark room. 

They have their first touching and intimate sexual encounter after this (with no live sound, but a great orchestral score by frequent Hand in Hand composer and Arch Brown collaborator David Earnest): Paul passionately eats out Hank's asshole and rolls around the bed with him to fall into a 69 session. Paul later stands and humps Hank's throat before filling his butt with cock; they go to bed after sex. 

Sounds simple enough, but at this point Brown takes us into the surreal world of Hank's dreams (or paranoid fantasies). In his dreams, Hank watches Paul hungrily sucking one man's thick prick after seducing him and fucking another man's tight asshole, while Hank himself sucks, then fucks, a delivery man in the basement of a building. 

Also occurring in this dream sexual montage are: Paul fucking the hairy ass of the kitten seller on a roof, Paul and Hank painting each other's naked bodies and kissing in a shower, cocks appearing through curtains to be sucked, two professional dancers in a vintage Advocate cover photo coming to life and dancing naked to an operetic score, and Hank participating in an orgy where a cock emerges from a fruit bowl and a massive double-headed dildo seems to fantastically penetrate entire bodies. 

Dancers in The Night Before
Orgy scene from The Night Before


The dream depicts what Brown terms "lover's paranoia," the kind of insecurity one feels when one falls too hard for someone too fast. 

What's interesting here is how some elements of the film were influenced by Brown's own life (a camera shoot in the park), and how artistic mediums (in this case, painting and photography, which themselves have always undergone a rather fraught relationship!) can both concretely and symbolically convey various dynamics of sexual attraction. 

In 1974, according to Variety, this classic gay porn film was one of the 50 top-grossing movies at the 55th Street Playhouse in New York City, and The Advocate said of this Arch Brown masterpiece, "proves that a little Cocteau, a dash of Fellini, and sex do mix well." 

 

For a deeper dive behind the scenes of The Night Before, check out this podcast episode from Ask Any Buddy.

 

Vintage 55th Street Playhouse movie ads


Starting in 1976, Brown made a series of films for P.M. Productions, including the gay porn spoof of Charlie's AngelsHarley's Angels, and also classics like All Tied UpFive Hard PiecesHot FlashesMuscle BoundPier Groups (which we now carry on DVD & VOD), and Dynamite, which often included popular stars like Jack Wrangler, Jayson MacBride, Keith Anthoni, and Eric Ryan among their cast members. His other work outside of P.M. and Hand in Hand includes such titles as (Bijou releases) Trips and So Many Men So Little Time.

Vintage posters for Dynamite and Harley's Angels


Brown said in his interview in Michael's Thing, that he didn't want to be political; he basically wanted to make a good fuck film, but his films aren't just two guys fucking, nor are they apolitical. They come out of a sociopolitical movement that wanted to carve out a visible niche in New York's arts community, and they also, without hitting the viewer over the head with slogans, realistically show the challenges of gay sexual relationships in a world just starting to break down closets of fear and hiding. (Just observe the interesting commentary on the NYC piers' significance to LGBTQ culture and their looming demolition in Pier Groups and the psychological dimensions of out-ness and gay romance and sexuality in The Night Before.)

Brown himself took advantage of a new climate of tolerance.  According to his obituary (he died in 2012), in the late 1970s, Brown began writing plays, which he continued to do into the 2000s. His first play, News Boy, was his most successful, receiving an Off Broadway production in 1979; it focused on the coming out of the gay son of a conservative politician. 

A 1998 comedy by Brown, FREEZE!, received the Eric Bentley Playwriting Prize that year and has been produced several times. 

During the last decade of his life, Brown founded and ran the Thorny Theater in Palm Springs, which mounted several gay-themed plays each season; the theater closed in 2010. 

After his partner, Bruce Brown, died in 1993 (Arch used his lover's last name professionally), Brown established the Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation, which ran until several years ago, giving grants to queer playwrights and to theater groups mounting LGBTQ-themed plays, as well as sponsoring periodic literary competitions that awarded prizes to playwrights and fiction writers whose works are “based on, or inspired by, a historic person, culture, event, or work of art.” 

 

And, fascinatingly, an unpublished manuscript was discovered shortly after Arch Brown's death and published in 2017 as his memoir, A Pornographer.

Rate this blog entry:
5946 Hits
0 Comments

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

Go to top