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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Pan

Posted by Madam Bubby

 

We’ve been seeing the word pandemic as we encounter at varying levels one throughout the world. A Greek root in the word, “pan,” means all.

It’s interesting how we have created many words with this root. The most famous example is pandemonium, a word the poet John Milton created in his epic Paradise Lost. It is the name of Lucifer’s city in Hell:

“Pandemonium, the palace of Satan rises, suddenly built of the deep: the infernal peers there sit in council.”

 

Pandemonium, Illustration by Gustav Dore for Paradise Lost
Pandemonium - Source: Gustav Dore, illustrations for Paradise Lost

 

Based on its characteristics, one of its definitions has evolved into meaning a noisy cacophony, or an overall chaotic situation or experience, even though, analyzing the Greek, it literally means something like “all or every little demon.” Whose idea was it to build the city? In Milton’s universe, the figure of Mammon, who represents the greedy pursuit of material gain.

Geologists named the original supercontinent on Earth before it split up Pangaea, and related to the above, specifically, Mammon, a notoriously corrupt real estate company in Chicago is called Pangea (go to Yelp to find out more).

 

Pangaea
Pangaea - Source: http://www.geologyin.com/2018/02/facts-about-pangaea- most-recent.html

 

The word pansexual has become popular in today’s nomenclature as cultural norms about sexuality become more flexible, and some have even defined it as being attracted to the personality of a partner rather than that person’s gender identiity.

But there’s another Pan, and his name doesn’t literally correspond to the root discussed above. He’s that Greek god everyone recognized as a goat man who plays pipes.

But there’s more to him than the clichéd figure of the satyr. I found out via Wikepedia that, according to some myths, his father Hermes (associated with large phalluses), taught him how to masturbate. Pan liked to “chase girls” (yes, he was definitely a predator), but women devotees of his cult were sometimes called “pan girls.”

 

The god Pan
Pan - Source:
http://www.marvunapp.com/Appendix/pansatyr.htm

 

I don’t know if he had sexual encounters with males, but adding to the sexual elements of his personality and cult, his half-brother was Hermaphroditus, the intersex son of his father Hermes and the goddess Aphrodite.

The word panic actually comes from the story that Pan, possessed of a deep, authoritative voice, could create fear among humans by shouting, and he even was able to control a horde of giants attacking the gods by shouting. I assume he made a sound like that during his frequent sexual encounters.

Going back to the first meaning of pan, I like to think of what we sell at Bijou Video as “pan-porn.” Yes, the content is primarily gay male, but our products reveal a variety of bodies, personalities, identities, sexualities.

I think we need to remember that the “all” of human experience isn’t monolithic; many parts interact within that all; thus every day, if we keep our minds and hearts open, we discover what we thought was the “all” is something new and, in these days of fear, a matter of preserving life.

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The Magic and Mystery of Falcons and FALCONHEAD

posted by Madame Bubby

Vintage ad for Michael Zen's Falconhead showing in theaters

"Like something out of a Greek tragedy (or Clash of the Titans), a naked man lies spread-eagled on his stomach on the center of a ceremonial plaza. The Falconhead appears out of nowhere, clad in black robes that look oddly medieval, and presents an ornately framed mirror to the prostrate man, pushing his face into it with his shiny black boots. Text flashes, "He gazed into the mirror and was consumed by it."
 

Still from Falconhead of boot stepping on a man with his face pressed into a mirror

So begins Michael Zen's Falconhead (1977), a richly complex film that “features a fearsome bird-headed man with magical powers, a possibly nefarious shaman/landlord, stunningly photographed solo sequences, deliciously ambiguous sexual violence, and lots of gooey, gooey cum eating.”

The man with the head of a falcon character derives from so many cultures. The ancient Egyptian god Horus was usually depicted as a falcon-headed man, wearing the red and white crown which represented his kingship over both Upper and Lower Egypt. Horus was the son of Osiris and Isis, both associated with the cycles of birth, death, and the afterlife.
 

Horus

In ancient Egypt, falcons (also known as raptors) represented the soul in the afterlife. In fact, the falcons themselves were even mummified, and recently, some scholars have found evidence that the birds were sacrificed to the gods, or even used in falconry, where young birds are trained to hunt prey.

In the medieval period, falconry became a widespread cultural practice among the nobility, but some of its practices were extremely cruel, including temporarily blinding the birds (the gruesome details are elucidated in the hyperlink above), which made them easier to train.
 

Medieval falconry: falconers with horse
Falconers with horse from ‘De arte venandi cum avibus’, 1240-1250, from http://www.medievalists.net/2016/03/falconry-birds-and-lovebirds/

The practice, however, lost popularity in Europe because of the widespread usage of guns and gunpowder. In Britain among some of the gentry the practice survived, and these individuals formed a series of clubs that kept the art alive, leading eventually to the modern development of falconry in Europe, North America and Africa.
 

Man with falcon
Image from http://vafalconry.swva.net/Falconry.html

There are so many elements in the above of terrifying power, sacrifice and cruelty, but also beauty and awe. Birds of course can fly, and this action has always inspired humans to think about power and its limits, the Icarus myth being the most well-known one.

And falcons in all their variety, who soar in the sky, are carnivorous creatures, who hunt for earthbound prey, the creeping things in the creation account in Genesis. Yet, at the same time, humans have attempted to tame, even confine, this energy through the art of falconry.
 

Falcon flying
Image from https://mydreamsymbolism.com/falcon-spirit-animal-totem-symbolism-and-meaning/

It's like this type of bird represents for humans a boundary breaker, someone who can brave the wide gaps between heaven and earth, nature and art, life and death.

Perhaps in the mirror the falcon-headed man presents to the prostrate man, we see ourselves consumed by what seems to be our own physical sexual power, but ultimately, it's a power given to us by a natural, or even supernatural force that encompasses, in fact, thrives on, extremes in order to not just survive, but triumph.

The falcon-headed man is the endless orgasm of life and death; we can imitate it, mirror it, but our life is a disconnected series of gooey cumshots in the sublunary earth. The men are consumed; but he burns like that famous bush, not consumed.
 

Still from Falconhead of masked man

The poet Yeats proclaims in his famous poem, The Second Coming, that in a time of crisis “the falcon can no longer hear the falconer;” in these times, perhaps, we have lost the seismic energy that charges body and spirit together in a dynamic relationship. I see this line as implying that falconer cannot bond with the falcon; he has stopped up his conduit to the falcon's awesome energy he was able to tap into.

Thus, all that's left, as in the famous line at the end of the poem, is the “rude beast slouching toward Bethlehem waiting to be born,” a dead life devoid of creativity, passion, and love.

Quotes from the Falconhead review by DM at BijouWorld.
 

Stills from Falconhead
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Of Trees and Bushes and Fun Beneath Them

The Christmas tree, O Christmas tree is a relatively recent addition to the Christmas aka Holiday aka Saturnalia festivities in America. Prince Albert the Good brought it over from Germany during his time as the husband of the great Victoria, and pretty soon the tree decorated with candles and then electric lights has become a staple of what has now become America’s end-of-the-year orgy of consumption.

Such trees, real or artificial, have become status symbols, and they even reflect changing tastes. I head somewhere that the retro Atomic Age white and pink trees (to us in our pseudo-organic age, so unnatural) are returning to popularity. In fact, smaller ceramic Christmas trees with bulbous light and garish ornaments painted on from this period are suddenly the rage on Ebay. Camp and retro and kitsch reign, and o so gay!
 

Ceramic Christmas tree

The proximity of the minor Jewish festival of Hanukkah to the season has created a cousin of the Christmas tree, the Hanukkah bush. Yes, bush. And not the burning one which was not consumed, which would be more appropriate to Passover. It seems that some more secular Jews tried some cross-holiday pollination here, even celebrating Chrismukkah (gifts and trees and menorahs, let’s do it all), much to the consternation of many more orthodox rabbis.

Now the more sensible Reform and Conservative rabbis have claimed that the holiday is mostly secular, so why not put up a tree or a bush if doing so is void of religious significance (its heathen roots in the worship of Odin in the primeval German forests notwithstanding). One woman recently tied in her bush specifically to Hanukkah, decorating with menorahs and little figures of the Maccabees, an interesting solution, but perhaps not one that will gain a foothold in popular culture.
 

Hanukkah bush

Now what’s really fascinating about all this tree and bush worship is the obvious sexual connotations. A tree is phallic, obviously (though as Freud says, a cigar can just be a cigar, and likewise the same could apply to a tree), and in Norse mythology, the great tree Yggdrasil held up the physical world. Its destruction meant its end.

J.R.R. Tolkien transformed this mythology into his own in The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. The survival of the world and the fertility of a line of tall kings are dependent on first two trees, one silver and one gold, and after their destruction, then a white tree descended from their seed.
 

Tolkien's gold and silver trees

And the rabbis and the priests and the ministers of course have interpreted and reinterpreted those mysterious trees in the Garden of Eden, in many cases connecting them with sexual awakening and a fall from innocence into experience.

Thus, rockin’ around that Christmas tree could really in many cases mean sex, and not just the sex that makes babies. The prolific gay porn director, Robert Prion, seems to enjoy setting sexual escapades around and under Christmas trees. Of course these trees aren’t even really growing, because they are either artificial or real ones cut down, so one wonders if somehow the whole life/fertility mythological connection gets lost here. Whatever the case, it certainly adds a somewhat campy/kitschy o so gay aura to the scenes that feature them in our recent release Teasin' 'n' Pleasin' and our upcoming release Access All Areas.
 

Sebastian Jaymz abd Jay Richards in Teasin' 'n Pleasin'
Sebastian Jaymz & Jay Richards in Teasin' 'n' Pleasin'

Scott Spears in Access All Areas
Scott Spears in Access All Areas

A week ago I bought an used tabletop artificial blue tree with a stand covered in glitter that I was told, by the place that sold it to me, once served as a Hanukkah bush. I put some white lights on it, and It really glitters and sparkles. I just might keep it up through February or even March, despite that being a social faux-pas. I mean, who says that lights and sparkles and sex are only a holiday affair?

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Featured

Fun Dick Myths, Such as the Mystery of the Disembodied Penis

 

 

Chronos Castrating Uranus

In Greek mythology, Chronos, son of the god Uranus (essentially means “heaven” in Greek), castrated his father and threw his dick into the sea. Aphrodite, goddess of love, rose from the sea where Uranus's penis had fertilized the waters. So much for heavenly love, or filial love, for that matter. It's all about sex and power. 

In ancient Egyptian mythology, Typhon (also known as Seth, god of chaos) slew Osiris (dismembering him) and kept his dick as a souvenir.. To honor Osiris, his wife Isis mandated that the phallus be an object for worship. (Osiris did get put back together again. I wonder if they found the dick.) 

 

Typhon, Egyptian God

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