That BUTTHOLE Just Winked at Me!

By Josh Eliot

 

I arrived at the Caravan Lodge in the heart of San Francisco’s Tenderloin District thinking to myself, “What the fuck are you doing? Are you crazy?! Meeting a complete stranger in a trashy motel room for an interview?” Days earlier, I called the phone number from a help wanted ad in the Bay Area Reporter looking for a still photographer and a make-up artist for work on adult gay videos. I noticed the door was ajar when I walked up to the motel room, and once I knocked a loud voice told me to come in. The room was super dark, except for the bedside lamp, with a large man sitting on the bed. Smart move, dude!

I didn’t know at the time, but the man was Scott Masters, the founder and producer of Nova Video, now working for William Higgins' company, Catalina Video. Once we started a conversation, I was relieved to find that this was in fact a legitimate job interview and he was actually quite pleasant. I was a bit nervous that I was applying for the still photographer position, because I had ZERO experience shooting photographs. I went to the interview with still photos shot by my childhood friend David, claiming they were mine. It’s called rolling the dice!

 

Vintage brochure material for the Nova film Oh Brother

Vintage brochure material for the Nova film Oh Brother

 

I didn’t go in as a total fraud; I also had a decent resume with film and video production experience from the San Francisco Art Institute and The Bailie School of Broadcast. A year prior, a movie I made and acted in premiered as an Official Selection at the 1986 San Francisco International Video Festival. It was shot on a VHS camcorder and had a budget of $200, which was mostly used to rent the editing equipment. If you like B-Movies, check it out on my YouTube channel, it’s called Fright Night of the Living Dead.

 

1986 San Francisco International Video Festival listing for Fright Night of the Living Dead
Images from Josh Eliot's Fright Night of the Living Dead

1986 San Francisco International Video Festival listing for & images from Josh Eliot's Fright Night of the Living Dead

 

I think Scott Masters was impressed, so he sent me to the adjoining room so I could meet “Jim.” Jim and I discussed specifics about the content of the product they produce and what would be expected of me. He could not have been nicer or more welcoming, something you wouldn’t exactly expect when you later discover that he made the most well-known gay adult movie of its time, Powertool, starring his discovery, Jeff Stryker. I was in the presence of porn royalty, John Travis, the man behind Brentwood Video and numerous Falcon Studio productions. I wouldn’t find out the extent of his notoriety until months after working with him, because he never bragged. Following our meeting, I had a third interview with Dan Allman, who was in charge of art direction for Catalina. On September 21st, 1987, my 25th birthday, Dan gave his blessings and I was officially Catalina Video’s still photographer.

 

Cover for the collection The Best of Brentwood

Cover for the collection The Best of Brentwood

 

My first day on the set, we were shooting a scene for the John Summers/John Travis production Bulge: Mass Appeal. Kurt Bauer and Kevin Glover were in the scene. John was directing from behind the camera while Dan, Kenny (the make-up man) and I were watching it on a monitor to make sure lighting was good. In between shots, we would all run in and move the lights and microphone and set up for another angle. Dan put two apple boxes on the floor and John Travis asked Kurt Bauer stand on top of them while Kevin sat on a stool to blow him. “Hop in there, stills,” Travis ordered. I walked into the set then stopped and looked back at him. “Under there?” Travis had a good laugh, “Of course! … I’m not the only one who gets to have my face up their ass! You don’t bite, do you, Kurt?” Kurt said something cute and flagged me in to get down on the floor under him.

After I got the photo, John told Kevin to step out of the frame then said to me, “Stills, shoot some shots of that hot fucking ass Kurt has, and Kurt… be sure to wink your butthole at him!” I was mortified, but in a good way. Kurt “winked away” and that was my initiation into the club.

 

Kurt Bauer and the Bulge: Mass Appeal cover

Kurt Bauer and the Bulge: Mass Appeal cover

 

It doesn’t give me any pleasure to say that my position as a still photographer lasted a whole two weeks. They were not happy with my photos because I shot everything on automatic. F-stop? What’s an f-stop? I should have asked my friend David. Luckily they liked me and focused on my video production experience, which is what I was hoping for all the time. John Travis and Dan Allman started training me on the back up video camera, normally only used to shoot the second cumshot angle. They went on to hire another still photographer, making me the second videographer, and from that point forward all Catalina productions were shot with two cameras simultaneously.


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

 

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Featured

Weird People on the Bus

 

 

I Love Lucy subway image - woman wearing a vase on her head on a train with passengers staring at her


I've noticed lately there's almost a cult on youtube of people filming antisocial behavior on public transportation. The range of antisocial behavior is wide, but of course obvious brawls accompanied by foul language are almost sure to go viral, or at least get multitudinous views. 

Not surprising, this trend, in a world where senior citizen middle school bus monitors are brutally scapegoated (the Karen Klein incident) or where a girl is brutally attacked by her peers (not in public, but the video was disseminated on the Internet), and her attackers are even thrilled when they end up on the news after they get arrested (see the Lifetime movie, Girl Fight, based of course on a true story). Overall, these incidents (and many others) point to a disturbing pathology of voyeurism and narcissism. 
 

Karen Klein on bus - video stills

I'm not necessarily espousing the view of many “Make America Great Again” people who support the (ah, so ironic given my opinion here, the vulgar boor "President") where American was supposedly a kinder, gentler (maybe the word is genteel), less narcissistic place in their white bread 1950s. But in the days when one got dressed up to go outside (remember, Ethel Mertz would never wear blue jeans on the subway), one wonders if one's clothing might somehow reflect or even monitor one's behavior. Of course, one can act like a brute in a suit (again, look at the vulgar boor), but still, I wonder. 


I do wonder how many fights occurred on buses in the 1950s. But then, one couldn't just immediately whip out a phone and film them for posterity. 

Cell phone footage still from CTA bus fight

But when one takes “public transportation,” and in Chicago, that means the CTA (Chicago Transportation Authority), one is exposed to a vast array of people and their behavior. And in Chicago, especially, where “public transportation” is considered to be the province of lower-status people, there's a stigma. 

 

Crowded public transportation


One takes the bus only when one is too poor to own a car, or disabled, or old, or very young, or non-white. And one only takes it when one's car breaks down. And it's almost like if you own a car, even in densely populated areas where you don't really need one, you've made it. And the high-end developments going up almost always contain garages. 

And in Chicago, certain bus lines are stigmatized in the stigmatized CTA system and those who take it. The number 36, Broadway, carries a reputation for being the bus “weirdos” take. Yet that bus goes through an area of Chicago, Uptown, an area especially hard hit by the lack of governmental funding for certain programs released mentally disturbed people onto the streets from shelters and other facilities. 

I'm not certain which other routes carry this stigma, and I don't want to overgeneralize that buses in underserved areas carry passengers who are necessarily more dangerous or “weird.” Well, there was the woman on one bus on the South Side who claimed to be a bike; see this photo. 
 

Woman riding on bike rack on CTA bus

Anyway, I've been taking the CTA for a long time (for multiple reasons, and I fit some of the stereotypes of those who take it), and I've seen much, but an incident that occurred on the number 81, Lawrence bus, (which travels through one of the most ethnically diverse areas in Chicago) stood out. 
 

Number 81 Lawrence CTA bus

I was waiting for it with my friend from out of town. We had just returned from the casino. We saw a frowsy older woman (maybe sixtyish) with very short hair and very thick round coke-bottle glasses practically leap in front of the bus as it pulled into the terminal; yes, she leaped right in front of the yellow line. The sign tells you to not cross that yellow line. The bus driver, a heavyset African-American woman, yelled at her, harshly, claiming that she had almost hit her as the bus pulled in because she crossed the line. I got the sense this woman takes this bus regularly and always disobeys the sign, and may have been almost hit previous times as the bus pulled in. I heard her respond snarkily to the bus driver, “I have to be the first on the bus.” Uh, OK ... 

Yes, she was, and she sat down and pulled out what looked like some kind of Christian fundamentalist tract from one of her multiple bags (yes, a cliché, but watch for multiple bags, and I don't mean newly minted bags from a recent shopping trips to Macy's or Bloomingdales). My friend (we were sitting a couple of seat pairs behind her) saw she had made many notes on one of the pages. The theme of the tract was the usual societal decay apocalyptic doom end of the world scenario, and my friend later told me he was able to even decipher one of her notes on a section of the tract: It's the television, the source of evil. 

I must claim, though, based on what I said about these viral videos, she may not be that far off track, but I imagined her sitting in her tiny apartment wearing a tin foil hat monitoring the Satanic messages coming in from a test pattern. 

But then, and this is where her behavior became really bizarre and offensive, a young Hispanic woman got on with a baby in a stroller. The woman with the baby pulled down the disabled seats right in front of the weird woman so she could get the stroller out of everyone's way. The weird woman proceeded to hold her nose. She then retrieved from one of her multiple bags a small, sample-size container of Lysol and spray it around her. 
 

Lysol

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. My mouth remained open. Shock. 

Weird woman exited at Pulaski and Lawrence, not exactly a high-class area. In fact, it looked rather overcrowded and depressed. Gentrification had not arrived. Many people were thus waiting for buses. 

And no, I did not film this incident. I'm not sure what conclusions I can draw, but I get the sense, other than that the woman was obviously disturbed, that perhaps she was one of the people who lived around Pulaski and Lawrence in the sixties or even the fifties when the area was white, and I think, predominately Jewish. And she was still living there. But the world changed around her. She couldn't embrace the change as positive and took refuge in a reality that could be safe only by through segregation and scapegoating. 

And this disturbing dynamic is still occurring as youtubers film and view videos that show “the other” as someone or, more accurately, something, to be mocked and dehumanized by not only physical strangers, but by millions, even billions of impersonal, invisible voyeurs. 

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