Out of Print

By Josh Eliot

 

As I grow older, I get more nostalgic about experiences from my past. It’s natural to feel this way when we see things that bring back great memories and helped form who we are. Sometimes it’s seeing a movie. When I was 15 years old, in 1977, I talked my parents into taking me to see Diane Keaton in Looking For Mr. Goodbar. A decision I’m sure my parents regretted once the subject of the movie became crystal clear. I’m sure they thought that since Tuesday Weld was also in the movie, it would be pretty tame. Not! The film started with a haunting song montage including “Don’t Ask to Stay Until Tomorrow” by Marlena Shaw and it really set the tone. The movie was a tough and gritty expose on the bar fly, one night stand dating scene in New York. I’m sure mostly anyone who is reading this blog has seen this movie at some point in their life and came away from it moved or shaken. For decades, I and hundreds of others, tried to access this movie on DVD. It was originally released on VHS and LaserDisc, but evidently by the time negotiations came around for a DVD release it was dead in the water. Various chat rooms over the last decades point to the legal issues and costly fees involving the music rights. It seems to have simply vanished. It went “out of print.”

When I saw this movie at 15, I was thrilled to see the male hustler character played perfectly by Richard Gere. The moment he danced around in his jockstrap while holding a glow in the dark knife both tantalized and terrified me. I think this might have been the first “male nudity” I ever saw in a film, unfortunately for my mother sitting right next to me. The movie’s soundtrack was filled with great tunes like “Don’t Leave Me This Way” by Thelma Houston, “Prelude To Love,” “Try Me, I Know We Can Make It” and “Could It Be Magic” by Donna Summer and “Love Hangover” by Diana Ross. The music worked so brilliantly with the raw, realistic story, making the whole experience feel 100% real. Diane Keaton, famously known to be shy about her body and always dressing in long sleeves and a buttoned collar, had several nude scenes in the movie. She won the Academy Award the very same year for Annie Hall and you can bet your ass this role in Goodbar helped seal that win. What a film, but yeah, unfortunately I could not watch it and relive all those great memories and feelings because it was simply out of print.

 

Looking for Mr. Goodbar lobby cards

Looking for Mr. Goodbar lobby cards

 

The feeling of never seeing a movie again that you loved watching or loved working on must have been how the cast and crew felt back in the early days of porn. Before VHS, DVD and Blu-ray, the movies would show in an adult cinema then pretty much disappear. Maybe they would come back again to play as a second feature for a new release. But with the explosion of VHS on the X-rated market, suddenly all the new adult productions had a life beyond the new release stage. They would be widely available for purchase and viewings forever. That was exactly what we assumed when we were making the gay and bi porn movies back in the 1980s. There are a lot of collectors who have vast libraries both VHS and DVD. I have those collector tendencies too. I just added a new “instant favorite” autographed photo of Will Seagers to my collection. He signed a black-and-white shot from LA Tool & Die. I gave it a place of honor on my office wall just under the signed photo of Bette Davis.

 

Some of Josh's signed photos: Will Seagers, Bette Davis, Haruo Nakajima (Godzilla), Rob Cryston

Some of Josh's signed photos: Will Seagers, Bette Davis, Haruo Nakajima (Godzilla), Rob Cryston

 

I like to post trailers, clips and teasers from my library of movies for Catalina Video on YouTube and Instagram. It’s like a virtual collection, and I like the idea of letting them have some sort of permanent place in history on those channels. It seems that a new generation of worldwide gay and straight viewers really responds positively and has an appreciation for nostalgic porn clips. I thought it might be cool to post a newly cut trailer of the first movie I ever made, called Runaways, back in 1989. I used to have the VHS, which showed a young, sad-eyed twink looking through a dusty, cracked nine pane window on the box cover. Then on the DVD cover, they swapped the twink for a much hotter shot of Jake Corbin. Somewhere along the way, I loaned out that DVD and never got it back so I started searching for it online. I found the movie available on several websites with a fabulous new cover but, much to my dismay, the DVD version said “out of print” - leaving only the digital version available for download or single scene viewing. I thought, this must be a one-off. Maybe the owners of the Catalina Library sold out and will re-release it down the line? I purchased the download, cut my trailer and posted it on my Instagram and YouTube. Then it happened again with another title I was looking for and I started wondering what was going on. Why aren’t these titles available? Suddenly, I received a mailing for a major sale on most if not all of the William Higgins classics like Pizza Boy, Hot Rods, The Young and the Hung, Preppy Summer to name a few, with the title of the sale saying: “Get Them Now Before They Are OUT OF PRINT Forever.” There were also Dirk Yates and Catalina Video sections as well.

 

Runaways box covers over the years

Runaways box covers over the years

 

A little piece of my heart broke at that moment. What we always thought would be around and available on some sort of tape or disc or “newly invented format” was not to be. It became very clear to me that there would be no future restoration of these movies, there would be no re-release of these movies, there would be no “tangible,” hold-it-in-your-hand version of these movies any longer. I would have been content leaving this earth thinking that some “physical form” - complete with original movie artwork of the Catalina Library featuring John Travis, Scott Masters, Chet Thomas, Chi Chi LaRue, myself and others - would always be available. But evidently that is not to be. I get the digital thing, but it doesn’t mean I have to embrace it. I already had huge respect for the way BijouWorld treasures their films, directors and customers. The restoration costs they absorb to make their library of films the best they can be for future generations to enjoy and collect in a physical and digital form speaks volumes about their integrity. Even though the Catalina library of movies we made will not get the same “white glove” polished treatment Bijou offers to its library, I am more than content to know that the movies I looked up to and shaped me as an adult video director are being preserved.

I feel the need to have a “Happy Ending.” Everyone loves a happy ending don’t they? On October 23, 2020, the DVD version of Looking For Mr. Goodbar was finally released through LA Entertainment, an Australia-based company. Something nobody saw coming, and which a lot of collectors are anxious to own.

 

 

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

 
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No More Porn on Tumblr! Why?

I wonder if the announcement that Tumblr was banning pornographic content was perhaps inevitable, but not for the official and unofficial reasons currently being disseminated by the media.

The surface reasons seems to be tied into the confluence between technology and profits. The IOS App Store would no longer allow the Tumblr App because of an isolated child pornography incident. Since most Smartphone users rely on Apps, not allowing it would seriously lessen Tumblr’s overall use and scope. But why target Tumblr? Was it simply the, according to some sources, the 20 percent porn content?

It may seem that Tumblr was directly put between the proverbial rock and hard place, even though the microblog is a free service. An article in The Verge succinctly paraphrases the new policy:

“Banned content includes photos, videos, and GIFs of human genitalia, female-presenting nipples, and any media involving sex acts, including illustrations. The exceptions include nude classical statues and political protests that feature nudity. The new guidelines exclude text, so erotica remains permitted. Illustrations and art that feature nudity are still okay — so long as sex acts aren’t depicted — and so are breastfeeding and after-birth photos.” The wording of Tumblr’s announcement seems to both evoke and invoke arguments about obscenity that occurred in the 1950s and 1960s.

LGBTQ sexual pioneer Chuck Renslow started out as a physique photographer, and he definitely was pushing social boundaries during the 1950s with his homoerotic (as close to nude was possible, and one could often see that the posing straps were painted on) photos. He, like many other in this line of work, were “coding” their visuals, because it was one of the few ways gay men could experience their erotic desires and fantasies safely and privately. Many outfits mailed nude photos and films in plain envelopes, but these were often confiscated by the Post Office and the perpetrators, both the senders and receivers, punished.

Some of these incidents ended up in the court system. Renslow’s case ended in victory, as the judge made the ruling that if one deemed these photos obscene, so would certain masterpieces of art, especially from the Graeco-Roman period.

The Manual vs. Day case, which went to the United States Supreme Court, held that magazines consisting of semi-nude or nude males are not obscene and the Post Office cannot interfere with their dissemination through the mail. The case is notable for its ruling that photographs of nude men are not obscene, an implication which opened the U.S. mail to nude male pornography, especially those whose audience was gay men.

Tumblr of course is certainly not contained physically in brown, unmarked envelopes, but what is interesting is that Tumblr seems to be agreeing with that 1950s judge. Agreeing to some extent, yes, but also opening up once more some of the time-worn arguments about the complex relationship between sexuality, artistic expression, violence, and how this relationship builds and shapes an audience.

Going back to my initial statement, it seems inevitable that something of this nature would happen, because it’s obvious our means of communication have changed drastically since the days of postage stamps and nudie photographs and envelopes, and later, moving images of sexual acts in theaters that charged admission only to adults: physical mediums that exist in a controlled spatial situation.

What Tumblr and those who support restricting what they deem porn (for them, porn equals genitals which equals sexual acts) fail to recognize is not of course the nanosecond dissemination of mostly amateur depictions of sex which could result in more potentially dangerous situations: no, they fail to recognize the aesthetics (which tie into social contexts, of course) of a wide variety of LGBTQ pornography from the 1970s and 1980s, especially.

For example, Al Parker responded to the AIDS crisis by combining sexual acts and documentary in his film High Tech. Jack Deveau offers what one could claim is a documentary of gay life during the "hippie" era in Left-Handed. So many others of that period usually offer narrative structures: the sex acts aren’t just sex acts per se, but components in forms that explore the larger social issues of the time. And even some of the J. Brian films, which were not made to specifically address any social or moral issues, could be seen as living documents of gay sexual history.
 

Three cast members in High Tech
Three men using vacuum pumps in High Tech

Stars of Left-Handed
Stars Ray Frank & Robert Rikas in Left-Handed

The question remains as to how one could apply any standard of evaluation to any medium which communicates the erotic universally, but it seems a rather generalized case could be made that the older the porn, the more chances it could be determined to be aesthetically or historically significant. But the burden of proof would fall on the user, and in today’s lightning-paced communication environment, time is an enemy, rather than, as before, space.

Yet at this juncture, it seems like the only possible solution here is diversification. Perhaps Tumblr’s free-for-all ethos caused this implosion. Given the fluid nature of social media, those who used Tumblr, especially LGBTQ persons who still exist in various states of marginalization, will have to regroup, and unfortunately, some might claim, not return to closets or ghettos, but establish in their own tech-savvy ways other spaces for erotic expression.

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