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:
2002 Hits
0 Comments

Interview with Director Tom DeSimone: Part 2 – Hollywood & Mainstream Directing

posted by guest blogger Miriam Webster

Tom DeSimone behind a camera
Image Credit: Tom DeSimone

This is the follow up to our previous blog about Tom DeSimone, a major figure in the formation of the adult industry in the 1970s and one of the earliest directors of gay hardcore films during the establishment of the genre. He directed many well-produced and influential gay porn classics, many of which had an emphasis on narrative, character, and relationships, including Dust Unto Dust (1970), Catching Up (1975), The Idol (1979), and the 1974 documentary on gay porn history, Erotikus: History of the Gay Movie.

Vintage poster for Erotikus

DeSimone's skillful filmmaking in porn led him into an extensive career working in mainstream film and television, which he elaborated upon in this continuation of our interview.

Please read part one for an interview with Tom about his filmmaking background and porn career! And see the bottom of this blog for Tom DeSimone's filmography and links to his movies.

Bijou: What was it like being one of the rare crossover filmmakers between hardcore gay films and mainstream fare?

DeSimone: I was a very well-known writer, producer, and director of gay porn at the same time that both Casey [Donovan] and Wakefield Poole [director and star of Boys in the Sand, 1971] were in the business. I was quite prolific, having made over 80 hardcore features. I wasn't what you would call “obscure” since my films were readily reviewed in all the gay newspapers and magazines and, in some cases, even in Variety, the Hollywood Bible. I was interviewed numerous times in gay periodicals, as well. You could definitely say I was “out there.” And yet I easily made the crossover into mainstream movies and television and, in most cases, my past was known, yet it didn't seem to matter. I worked with Linda Blair, Maude Adams, Jill St. John, Richard Roundtree, Dennis Christopher, Patty McCormick, Susan Oliver, and Barbara Luna, among others. The bottom line was the work, the ability to bring in a feature film that made the grade.

While I respect the work done by many of my peers in those heady porn years, there's a vast difference between stringing a series of erotic loops together under a unifying theme and turning out a traditional feature film. In some instances, the reviews of my films often compared them to Hollywood films. I was known for coaxing believable performances out of guys with no acting training whatsoever. I did all my own editing and made sure I scored the films with appropriate background music. In some cases, I also did the camerawork to be sure that I was putting up on the screen what I wanted my vision to be. I studied the Hollywood classics for years and I also had a Master's Degree from UCLA film school. My being gay had nothing to do with my work. It had always been my ambition to work in mainstream films and making porn was just a stepping stone for me, a chance to practice my art until the big break came.

Ironically, it was my porn films that opened that door. A producer, who just happened to be gay, rented a porno one night and he and his lover settled down to watch it. He was so impressed with the film that he tracked me down and then introduced me to two other producers – both straight, by the way – and it was those two who financed my first legit Hollywood film. When screening my film with them, I was curious if the sex scenes would be a turn off for them, but they weren't phased in the least. What they were looking for was to see if I had what it takes to bring in a feature or not. And that was the beginning of a long and exciting career. Six feature films and one-hundred-sixty television shows later, I'm retired now and take great pride in looking back at it all.

Hollywood was, and still is, filled with gay writers, producers, and directors... they recognize talent when they see it and they reward it accordingly. Sometimes people think we [porn makers] were all just amateurs with a brownie camera in a cheap motel room, grinding out trash. Today's audiences need to know that there were real artists working back then... myself, Jack Deveau, Peter de Rome, Jerry Douglas, Wakefield Poole, etc. We opened the doors... and some of us even stepped through to the other side.

I had always had my eye on working in the Hollywood system from the time I was about ten years old. Making porn was just a means to that end. It allowed me to practice my craft at my own pace and to learn on the job, so to speak. It actually helped me when I finally did get my break because I had learned, by then, to shoot fast and from the hip, as the saying goes. Producers always liked the fact that I didn't waste time on the set and 99% of the time my films and TV shows came in on time and on budget.

Bijou: Which was your first Hollywood film, the one that you got a deal to work on by way of a Hollywood producer being a fan of your porn films? What was that initial shift into working in Hollywood like?

DeSimone: That film was Chatterbox [1977], which was actually a sex comedy. I was introduced to a producer at a New Year's Eve party by a friend who was a writer and successful. He was always a fan of my films and wanted to help me get my foot in the door. He introduced me, the producer and I chatted, he asked to see something, I arranged a screening of The Idol, he loved it, and that was the start. I had an old script lying around that I had intended to shoot, a straight porn movie called Lips about a girl with a talking vagina. He flipped for it but didn't want to do anything hardcore, naturally. So Lips became Chatterbox and my career out of porn was born.
 

Chatterbox poster

Bijou: Tell us about working on porn sets versus mainstream Hollywood sets.

DeSimone: The transition was awkward at first, because making my porn films was a small affair. Me, the cameraman, and the sound man and one assistant who did what we needed on the set. On my first film, Chatterbox, I was astounded to show up on the set and have 100 or more people all busy working and depending ON ME to get things moving and get things done. I knew how to make a film, but had to learn how to relegate duties to others. I was used to moving equipment around and wrapping cables, etc. It was a big surprise (and a lovely one) at the end of the first day of shooting – the assistant director came up to me and said, “Your car is ready.” I had no idea what he meant. I was picking up cables and wrapping them and he said, “What are you doing?” I said, “Finishing up.” He just looked at me and said, “NO... You're the director. You don't do that. The driver is here to take you home.” After that, it was all a joy!

Bijou: Onto a couple of specific mainstream titles, what was it like working with punk musician Wendy O. Williams in your 1986 women in prison genre satire, Reform School Girls?

DeSimone: Wendy was unique and a mystery. She was very quiet, kept mostly to herself, ate in her trailer most of the time, and didn't socialize or mingle on the set with others, not even me until she had to. She had very strong opinions of what HER FANS would want to see her do, so many times we had to hash things out before doing a scene. She had a manager/Svengali sort of man, who was also her life partner. His name was Rod. He actually created WENDY O.WILLIAMS. That wasn't her real name and he fashioned her entire persona, her look, and her style and she looked to him for everything. Many times while shooting, I had to confer with him about what she would or wouldn't do in the film. Eventually we became friendlier and I was even invited by them to visit in New York, where they lived and worked in a huge loft. It was quite an experience seeing them in their own world. Unfortunately, he eventually took a position in upstate New York to teach at some university and took her along. It was my understanding that they had married. Sadly, being a faculty wife in a small academic community didn't make it for her and one morning she went out into the woods with a rifle and shot herself. Sad ending to a tumultuous life.

(Read more about Tom's work on Reform School Girls in this interview.)
 

Reform School Girls poster

Bijou: What was it like working with The Exorcist's Linda Blair in your 1981 cult horror film, Hell Night?

DeSimone: Linda was a gem. We hit it off immediately and remained friends for several years after the film wrapped. She was hesitant at first about doing another horror film after doing a couple of Exorcist films, but we convinced her that her character wouldn't end up being a victim but, instead, would be the one who saves the day. She was always professional and has a great sense of humor, which made the work a lot easier. The entire film was shot at night, so working was difficult and, at times, really a struggle in the cold nights outdoors. We shot over the Thanksgiving holiday and even Christmas. When we took a break from shooting for Christmas, she arranged a big party for the entire company, actors and crew, and had it catered and everyone was invited to her home. I thought that was pretty special of her, since most actors would have wanted to take the time away from everything and just relax. We stayed in touch for several years after the shoot, but now only on occasion do we cross paths.

(Read an interview with Tom about the making of Hell Night here.)
 

Hell Night poster

Thank you again to Tom DeSimone for generously discussing his career!

Tom DeSimone's Partial Directorial Filmography:
(From IMDb and Gay Erotic Video Index)
Links to movies available through Bijou Video

The Collection (as Lancer Brooks) – 1969
One - 1970
Dust Unto Dust (as Lancer Brooks) – 1970
Peter the Peeker – 1971
Lust in the Afternoon - 1971
Gay Tarzan – 1971
Confessions of a Male Groupie – 1971
Black and Blue - 1971
The Gypsy's Ball - 1972
Prison Girls – 1972
Chained (as Lancer Brooks) – 1973
Swap Meat (as Lancer Brooks) – 1973
Sons of Satan (as Lancer Brooks) – 1973
Black Heat (as Lancer Brooks) – 1973
Games Without Rules (as L. Brooks) – 1974
Erotikus: A History of the Gay Movie (as L. Brooks) – 1974
Station to Station (as L. Brooks) – 1974
Everything Goes (aka Anything Goes) (as L. Brooks) – 1974
Duffy's Tavern (as Lancer Brooks) – 1974
Blue Movie Auditions (aka How to Make a Homo Movie) - 1974
Assault (as Lancer Brooks) – 1975
Sur - 1975
Good Hot Stuff – 1975
Aphrodisiacs in the Male Animal (1975)
Catching Up – 1975
Chatterbox! - 1977
Hot Truckin' (as Lancer Brooks) – 1978
The Harder They Fall (aka The Frenchman and the Lovers) – 1977
Gettin' Down (as Lancer Brooks) – 1978
The Idol – 1979
Bad, Bad Boys (aka Bad Boys) (as Lancer Brooks) – 1979
Hawaiian Eyes (aka Gay Guide to Hawaii) – 1979
Private Collection – 1980
Heavy Equipment (as Lancer Brooks) – 1980
Wet Shorts – 1980
The Dirty Picture Show (as De Simone) – 1980
Flesh and Fantasy 1 – 1980
Dirty Books - 1981
Hell Night – 1981
The Concrete Jungle – 1982
Skin Deep (as Lancer Brooks) – 1982
Bi-Coastal (as Lancer Brooks) – 1985
Bi-bi Love (as Lancer Brooks) – 11986
Nightcrawler: A Leathersex Fantasy - 1986
Reform School Girls – 1986
Angel III: The Final Chapter – 1988
Freddy's Nightmares (TV Series, 4 episodes) – 1988/1989
Super Force (TV Series, 6 episodes) – 1991/1992
Dark Justice (TV Series, 18 episodes) – 1991 - 1993
Swamp Thing (TV Series, 3 episodes) – 1992/1993
Acapulco Bay (TV series) – 1995
The Big Easy (TV Series, 4 episodes) – 1996/1997
Coming Distractions (as Lancer Brooks) – 1997
Pensacola: Wings of Gold (TV Series, 1 episode) – 1998
She Spies (TV Series, 1 episode) – 2002

Rate this blog entry:
2395 Hits
0 Comments

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

Go to top