Friday, December 31, 2021

The Sexual Revolution Is Joe Dallesandro


"A wonderful actor who forever changed male sexuality in cinema." 

 John Waters


   The man doesn't lie. Mr Waters is merely stating what's factual and obvious. And in the half-century that's ensued, the males who've stripped full-frontal naked in the sex symbol's modern breeding ground have, to a man, failed to emulate the male sex symbol that Joe Dallesandro was, an is. The camera probably reads subliminal full-frontal shame for what it is: for all the filmed frou-frou and prosthetic dicks there's been remarkably little male sexuality to see and experience when the movie house lights go dim. And Western civilization has form when it comes to purposing male nudity for political and ideological ends, via all forms of artistic expression. 


This Male Sex Symbol Thing

   He's had a checkered history. From the amulets of antiquity with huge erections to whatever any society purposes him it breeding superiority, war, rape or psychological war on other males. That's a created sex symbol, and be it baked clay or the polished plastic of Chippendale's burlesque, it's existence is medium-dependent. Somebody, somewhere always seeks to manipulate the public imagination via medium messaging, and cinema may very well be the worst offender inasmuch as it thinks a "stud" is a male sex symbol. Despite that turd of an idea flying in the face of the facts, it's a turd which Hollywood especially, on behalf of heterosexuality, won't stop polishing.

Valentino vs Puritanism,1921
And then there's the male sex symbol which just happens, and he's sensational. Valentino towers over the rest because he's a collection of ideas and qualities which found form as filmed mass entertainment. He's bigger than his pictures because his sex appeal is experienced at head-meets-groin level by men and women, en masse.

 That's problematic for a society which opposes men finding other men sexually attractive, symbolically or otherwise. Problematically also is the fact that the male sex symbol in cinema had never been what's expected of a female sex symbol: an alluring easy-going piece of non-aggresive pulchritude for gratifying exploitation in the mind of his consumer, or customer.

And it's into that void that Joe Dallesandro strode as a one-man sexual revolution: naked as a jaybird, and looking just as good from the front as the rear.

Evolution: Where Does A Sex Symbol Come From?

   Dallesandro himself offers a tantalizing clue: "I guess I was looking for some kind of father figure". It's quite revelatory inasmuch as it refers to his teenage location as a runaway in California, notably documented by homoerotic images, across quite a few years. His biographer Michael Ferguson doesn't dwell on the demi monde details of this time but Dallesandro clarifies that something transformative happened for him when being exposed to gay men, as his desirability came with their acceptance of who he was. While Lou Reed states that "Little Joe never once gave it away...everybody had to pay and pay", we can never be certain that the transactions men make amongst themselves are as shallow or as deep as we imagine. Or, as Oliver Stone once said about his sexuality: "Do you want to know about every sailor and every port?"

The homosexual male gaze can't legitimately be presumed as offensive or damaging to a young man. For many it's expected, welcomed or met with hostility in varying degrees - especially if he's good-looking. (see note 1) For Joe Dallesandro it was a healthy affirmation of his bisexual manhood and it didn't arouse residual homophobia. A homecoming of sorts, it was the end of a road plagued by acting out, and a road once seemingly headed to a lesser life of crime and violence. Lacking in stability and social stature and standing at a belligerent 5'6", Joe wasn't the kind of guy you'd put money on to win at The American Dream, circa 1964. In fact, his working-class response was to look back at it: his action plan involved building a 1950's body around his 1940's sensibility tattoo which had proclaimed "Little Joe" from age 15. 

Too young to have developed the hard mass musculature of the many other Italian American bodybuilder guys who peopled California's "modeling" world, the camera disclosed something else quite remarkable: another male with the harmonious proportions of antiquity's statuary. As photographed by greats like Bob Mizer and Bruce of Los Angeles, Joe Dallesandro usually went by his own name when many didn't. Only time would tell whether he was a young naif or a man with enough agency to gladly let others write their own stories on the image of his body. While he's often quoted as retrospectively not being comfortable with being filmed nude he's rarely given his last word: self-approving braggadocio it seems went a long way to ameliorating discomfort. 

A Hustle Here And A Hustle There...



   By 1967, the "there" was back in New York City, and at nineteen Joe Dallesandro had three Underground films under his belt. (see Note 2). He'd abandoned his father-identified image and now presented as youngish and contemporary, with a body less cut and looking more fashionably natural. The greasy pompadour of his feigned adulthood was gone. While Dallesandro is undeniably the greatest of Andy Warhol's underground Superstars because of his artistic output, cultural influence and commercial value, we're reminded that he was of the Counterculture as well, and that he was most importantly of the Sexual Revolution and squarely in the Queer category.

With Lonesome Cowboys, director Warhol was canny enough and underground enough to homosexualize that bastion of red-blooded male propaganda - the Western. And he really homosexualized it in not exhibiting cowboy pansies for laughs or pity in the cheap seats - he threw Gay Lib a bone of no small significance while rattling the floorboards of American mythology. Lonesome Cowboys riffs on themes of family and brotherhood as community, whereas the mainstream would be served up freak shows and self-loathing epics like The Boys In The Band as sorta-documentary entertainments for a very long time. 


The shy one gets to strut his tight pants he feels it

As one of the five homo cowboys, Little Joe managed to defy the Warhol Superstar imperative and convey a sense of interior self. Rumor at the time had it that Warhol was none to happy with the fact that Dallesandro was a talented screen presence, as is demonstrated in the convoluted spoof. Originally sixth-billed and with just a few scenes, Joe Dallesandro is more recently sold as the leading man. Whatever dislike Andy Warhol had for Joe didn't get in the way of making a buck off his back and it didn't matter anyhow: Warhol got shot, Paul Morrissey took over directing Warhol's movies and Morrissey loved Joe Dallesandro.


Joe joins the 60s...near the end of the 60's

   Flesh has its apparent genesis in  Midnight Cowboy's Joe Buck: the Warhol Superstars filmed cameos for that movie and Warhol got the jump on its most sensational aspect by getting Little Joe The Hustler into theaters well before his inspiration hit screens. But is he entirely informed by Mr. Buck? Joe Dallesandro probably should at least share writer's credit for Flesh - the lines he delivers with knowledge and conviction didn't jump off any page written by somebody else. 

Where Buck ends and Little Joe begins is of great consequence, since Joe Buck is a homophobe and Little Joe isn't. By the ripe old age of twenty Dallesandro plus alter-ego personified the hustler as male sex symbol, and it transpired to be not the niche and cheap personage which sexual repression still seeks to dismiss. For gender parity we need to look no further than an all-of-seventeen Alex Chilton fronting the Box Tops and urging "sweet cream ladies" to forward march, for all the right reasons. With genuine goodwill shared around, Little Joe may as well forward march as a sweet cream gent. 


Aspects of a well-rounded sex symbol

   The sweet cream of Joe Dallesandro isn't the topping on the bittersweet honesty that is 1968's Flesh - it's fundamental to its constitution and values. As an assembly of intelligent ideas fleshed out by Dallesandro's adroit performance, it significantly improves when set against its dirty and dishonest Hollywood nemesis: 1980's American Gigolo. The former challenges all men to look at the value of their body, as it challenges all men to look at the true value of heterosexuality, gendered roles and marriage as well. 

With male prostitution as the common motif, the latter merely seeks to wallpaper over presumed immorality, in the name of morality rammed home via "high class" hooking. While Flesh dwells on Dallesandro's body beyond prurient interests like those aroused by art and pornography, American Gigolo seeks to make a male sex symbol of Richard Gere via Armani-wear and an affirmation of heterosexuality...dubious scents of Italy having again wafted in to L.A. from 1961's dubious The Roman Spring Of Mrs. Stone. The amusing upshot of it all may very well be that Gere as an undressed store dummy has no sexuality whatsoever, and that's exactly what's being symbolized.


The hustle..."You gonna be home for a while David?"

If one's "basically straight" like Joe, then turning male tricks to make a living requires some earthy aptitude for the being a man who enjoys sex. And if one's basically honest and not carrying a lot of homophobic baggage and contempt for other men, then his sexual identity becomes naturally more fluid and rewarding by virtue of familiarity and connection with what he's doing. What's revolutionary to one may just be common sense to another. And it's a step backwards to carve up Little Joe The Hustler into two conflicting identities, as Gus van Sant did with 1991's My Own Private Idaho - as worthwhile as that movie is.


Substance rebirthed as fetish (see Note 3)
   As in "real life", love's lines, angles and rhymes often intrude when men's sexual transactions are financial. A john usually concludes with "I like you and I'd like to see you again" and rarely follows through. Hustlers often develop affection for men who do, and the moral dilemma of Flesh becomes crystal clear when David invites Joe to move in with him. Joe declines, but not for the reason of independence which another hustler might crave...Joe just says it wouldn't be right to abandon his marriage. 

No such thoughts are shared by his wife however, and on arriving home he finds out exactly how little weight his loyalty, his manhood and his heterosexuality carry around the place. Flesh is sometimes dismissed as "probably of more interest to the homosexual", but that probably says more about the sexual shortcomings of those who'd say it. If a kid answers "Little Joe The Hustler" when asked what he wants to be when he grows up, he's probably more grown up than he's being given credit for.

Suppose They Had A Revolution And Nobody Could Get It Up?


 What's built up can be torn down, and iconoclasts will do their civic duty. Paul Morrissey, on behalf of Andy Warhol, decided his civic duty was to cinematically expand on his belief that junkies were human's real trash. Whatever room they were reading it was a highly moralizing one, and not one remotely sympathetic to the Summer of Love. 

The opening shot of Little Joe's blotchy ass getting head isn't pornography unless a flaccid dick gets you going. Fellatio fails, as does some exhibitionism from the lady. The theme of Trash runs to little more than Joe not being able to get it up because he shoots heroin. It's not for a lack of ladies (trans, or otherwise) who only want a hard dick from him either: Joe's degradation as both man and sex symbol is repeated across the assembly of longish vignettes which comprise the movie.

Little is required of the viewer apart from having the ability to look down their nose at a sub-species of reviled humanity, while acquiring "insights" about dirty hippies. Joe Dallesandro's acting performance - improvising on ideas thrown to him - is as inspired as it gets. His deadpan spoilage is real, from dirty fingernails to filthy feet. His ritual cleansing (for a MMF three-way) is but a precursor to an overdose. Shot from above, his Christ-like helpless nakedness presages no redemption but instead disposal as garbage who won't get it up any time soon. 

Filmed over a few weekends, Trash has made gazillions and delights critics and audiences to this day, who insist it's a "black comedy".


Taking out the trash


Renamed Hollywood for Germany

   TIME called it "a faggot rehash of Sunset Boulevard", and few of the millions who've found joy in the seedy camp of Heat would passionately disagree. Norma Desmond was ripe for the picking since a desperate old drag queen sensibility permeates the original. Joe Dallesandro as Joe Davis subbing for Joe Gillis was a no-brainer: eye-popping buff, and with no visible means of support other than what he packs into a brief swimsuit there's little chance of him being mistaken for a struggling screenwriter.

Dallesandro's West Coast take on being a male sex symbol is one-part not initiating sex, and one-part delivering semi-satisfaction if opportunity presents itself...that is, leave 'em wanting more if they probably will. Again the dialog is improvised, and despite a battery of extreme close-ups which would betray insincerity in the best of trained actors, Joe's cards stay played mighty close to his chest. 

 A passive and essentially decorative man-boy apparently at the mercy of all manner of perversion plus sexual hysterics presented as female is a good jumping-off point for a campish Sunset Boulevard. But Heat is pure pharmacy-grade camp, and if one's familiar with a pool, a staircase and the spirit of Norma Desmond then Joey-three-times as male sex symbol is ready for his closeup. 

The alternative Joe Gillis: arriving from the pool and departing for the pool...with the clothes

Joe Dallesandro Is The Sexual Revolution

  Dallesandro's films with Warhol and Morrissey weren't the beginning and end of his career or his life, or indeed his contributions to revolutionary approaches to sex. (See note 4) He's had a long life as a working actor, and as an unusual man who's had a good life by his own account. It just so happened that a not-too-ordinary Joe being himself found himself as an extraordinary male embodiment of The Sexual Revolution, when few other males were able to connect with it or trust themselves with sex. Maybe all it takes is just keeping it simple and not defining it by an actor's pretentious self-absorption. Joe claims he "just showed up", but any East Coast boy knows that old one which goes "Eighty-percent of doing a good job is just showing up".


Kenn Duncan portrait 1968 (New York Public Library)

   The "when" of it all is critical: Joe's Warhol films arc from pre-Stonewall to a downturn of gay activism. For homos it was a counterculture men's movement opposing homophobia, and when the socialist left wanted nothing to do with Gay Lib, the movement wisely allied with feminists since it was always all about sex anyhow. The "when" can't be history's prisoner when the times still haven't caught up with Dallesandro - regardless of latter-day fashion editorial efforts.

While gay and bisexual men may have veered far from what the Sexual Revolution still embodies (and still falls short of achieving), Little Joe Dallesandro stands as a potent reminder that liberated men can happily swing whatever way they like and be unstudied cool while they're doing it. And he documented it all before the age of twenty-three - hardly a sexless artifact of Pop Art created by Andy Goddam Warhol.

Grainy old film of an adventurously non-threatening fine piece of ass who showed up and couldn't be bothered being homophobic? Yep, but isn't that enough to make a man a revolutionary and enduring sex symbol?



1. "Hostility" is a relatively modern homophobic reaction which defies long-standing social norms i.e. society advantages good-looking young males, albeit in scattershot ways. Depending on his audacity and circumstances, an attractive male in his youth may be the first to intuit that homophobia is a superfluous luxury he can't afford, for both personal and professional reasons.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

2. The gay / trans-ploitation 'The Loves of Ondine' features 23 mins of dropped-in footage of Dallesandro wrestling Ondine in his underwear. He also appeared in the barely-released 'San Diego Surf ' - intended as a sequel to 'Lonesome Cowboys'.

3. In April 1971 'Rolling Stone' featured Dallesandro and son as its first non-musician cover boy. Superficially Contercultural, the lifestyle rag  for straight white boys was heavily influenced by the business of selling them straight white rock-and-roll. 

For three decades the industry cherry-picked homoerotic aspects of the Little Joe image and repurposed them for commercial gain and edgy but non-gay cred. The closest rock ever got was The Ramones' 1976  punk aka anti-rock celebration of turning male tricks, with "53rd & 3rd" being the New York spot where Joe wore down his shoe leather in 'Flesh'.

4. Banned and buried (and highly misrepresented) for decades, Serge Gainsbourg's wickedly subversive masterpiece 'Je t'aime moi non plus' (1976) hasn't been bettered in terms of outrages served while dispensing rough justice to the heart and soul of homophobia. Joe Dallesandro's Kras is one of those all-too-rare men in film - the inverted antihero, of the most superbly represented kind.


Thanks to:

  • Michael Ferguson's terrific biography - preview  HERE



Saturday, October 30, 2021

Why Josh Cavallo Matters



    "Does it matter when a young man who in a reasonable world shouldn't have to come out as gay does so anyhow?"


   Reasonably, that would depend entirely on the motivations underpinning whatever response follows, with murder being an outcome in many regions and territories - self-identifying as a male homosexual being especially egregious to any culture which courts homophobia to about the same degree as it seeks to reinforce extremes of male supremacy. All things are not equal within the paradigm: signalling intent to have sex with another man is quite specific, and quite specifically more dangerous.

Of course "coming out" itself in a progressive landscape has been a highly ritualized exercise in an individual's "journey" for some time now, with exactly no men of any importance - self-imagined, and otherwise - just declaring that they're looking to have sex with other men. But we've known for almost as long as the century-and-a-half of the male homosexual being specified that social forces will seek to do him damage, and usually do it quite successfully to point that the lives of few aren't severely impacted by self-doubt. Clearly, coming out has to be more than a solicitation for some kind of pity - even if it's encouraged by media which sees a victim with a sob-story as desirable reality entertainment. 

   A public coming out serves as spectacle for both the outed and the audience, and Josh Cavallo's is no exception. Interestingly, Peter FitzSimons - no doubt seeing himself as an authority on all things Queer as well as all things football - took it upon his magnanimous self to announce that homophobia is virtually over.  Cavallo's landmark achievement is only "interesting" news to him. What a guy...a non-gay man so full of himself he thinks he's entitled to invent a conclusive timeline of Queer male progress which doesn't call for more decisive action than ever! 

FitzSimons' niceness isn't all it seems and sadly we'll see more of it as non-gay men seek to nicely keep young gay men in their place...a nice twist on how it has been for far too long. In the microcosmic and indeed rarified little world of white men, "acceptance" of male homosexuals will stay conditional without our assertive and decisive claims on real power while demonstrating exemplary leadership. And that's necessarily predicated on having a clear understanding of two things: one's ability (and right) to do the job, and a realistic understanding of how we can be gaslighted by false ideas like equality having been almost achieved.

Cavallo matters because he's a unique global achiever - what's been done has well and truly been done

   Soccer (futbol) may not on face value be hyper-masculinity in sports, but in terms of its global reach the code probably encompasses the milieu better than most. The collective codes broadly known as "football" have long stood as bastions of masculinity inasmuch as they perpetuate the notion that true masculinity is a standard only achieved by non-gay men, and reinforced by a type of masculinity which equates strength of character to an aversion of homosexuality.

In the wake of Gay Lib, many footballers as well as many other male athletes have come out. But they've only come out post-career, and usually to help sell their memoirs or to just get on TV. Whatever accolades they seek need to be viewed in the context of their closeted years as much as their "bravery" in coming out. Josh Cavallo is another piece of work altogether: at 22 he's showing what male leadership is all about, as opposed to being what it's not. The support he's widely receiving needs to be viewed for what it is: recognition of a man who can take charge going forward rather than a gay who's worthy of a Certificate of Participation because he showed up. Goodwill becomes that much more meaningful and substantial when barriers are being torn down because it helps ensure those barriers will stay down. Goodwill is fundamental to an environment which nurtures high self-esteem in all who participate, and allows good psychology to effectively do its thing. 

Cavallo matters greatly because he's deodorizing the stench of Israel Folau, and because of his proactive shot across the bows of competitive male sport always will matter. More's the pity that do-gooders fail to see the disparity between how loudly the voices of Folau and Cavallo have been amplified, and their part in it. Homophobia hasn't been vanquished and will go on to fight another day in the dirtiest ways it knows how but Cavallo's unique achievement as an A-Leaguer bringing his A-game goes a long way to slowing it down.

One of the good things about a life well-lived is knowing that the consequences of the choices we make are never entirely predictable. Nobody - least of all Josh Cavallo - knows how many times he'll hear "Cocksucker!" yelled from stadium stands, or how many languages he'll hear it in. The man himself has options for how he'll experience it...perhaps he'll just smile to himself and play on better than ever with winning resolve. But more likely the audience narrative will pivot silently, with many a sports-loving man (or woman) similarly resolving that "No son of mine will ever be brought up thinking he's any less of a man for chasing cock."

All in all, the rules of the game stipulate that any player can take a goal just gotta be in the game. And Josh Cavallo is truly in the game, while leading the charge for a high self-esteem environment which will benefit more men than himself, and in more locker-rooms than he'll ever set foot in.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Marco Berger's Men Who Tango



 "I don't make films for 'gay' audiences, but for the general public, where coincidentally the characters are men. I look at it from that place. I don't think about making films to be seen in a cinema or rented by 'gay' viewers, who go to 'gay' festivals. No, I do... a movie." - Argentinian Film Writer/Director, Marco Berger


   Now what's that we hear? That could very well come out of the mouth of any garden-variety queerbaiter who knows too well that pissy nods to "inclusion" and "representation" might up the box-office gross a few percentage points - courtesy of gay men starved of satisfying movie entertainment which actually dignifies them at some level. We've been falling for it for a very long time, and two decades into the twentieth century we're still being regularly served up as objects of pity and subjects of cartoon, with little or no self-determination and perpetually doomed to unhappy endings. "Heroic" and "males in cinema" mean virtually the same thing, and to a man we find find none are homosexuals or even homosexually-inclined. And as Hollywood was quick to learn, with deft screenwriting and editing you can purge any film of homo content for homophobic marketplaces.

But it's Marco Berger uttering the words, as he assumes the Presidency of La Asociación Argentina de Cineastas PCI in July 2021. And when Mr. Berger talks "men" we're wise to know that The Berger Shot is but one of his welcome and long-overdue contributions to modern cinema, as they relate to the male mystique. For a screenwriter and a director to be relegated to festivals or niche recognition can't be good enough if his vision is broad enough for the mainstream. As things stand right now, the mainstream has much to benefit from Marco Berger's cinematic offerings: homophobia is still peddled as the given default, with reinforced trauma as cinema's ongoing subliminal message. The genre seeks to justify itself as LGBT cinema verite while obscuring its origins as dubious contrived fiction.

We're not to know how much Berger's vision will be broadened, constricted or compromised to accommodate the masses. What we are to know is that over a relatively short career he's both prolific and a highly intelligent visionary when it comes to the subject of men. And he's probably been around long enough to deal with the static from Neo-Puritanism, as it's fomented in queerish communities around his own back door. 

The Pornography Of It All

   Down Argentine way (and for over a decade) Marco Berger's been not only representing but celebrating maleness onscreen in ways we've only ever seen in art. Or more specifically, maleness as feeling and sexual rather than of essentially political representation. And it would be grossly unfair to subject Berger to a diatribe about artistic gaze, or to assume his audiences aren't entirely responsible for their own reactions to something like male bulges in their faces and center-screen.

From the perspective of sexual politics, a gay director's habit of pointing out that men in general can be quite schizoid when it comes to bashfulness or boldness around their genitalia is a rather powerful statement of fact if not gay insight. Suffice to say that Berger regularly smashes cinematic narratives about men and maleness which are predicated on perpetuating male sexuality myths. Even if we're thinking of buying into a concept like "bromance" as a valid state of fully-formed male relationship then Marco Berger has a few scripts and many a crotch shot to remind us that it's probably not.

Cinema's worst-kept secret is probably that it can't keep up with pornography. The men who make both aren't all that different inasmuch as their product is targeted at audience demographics, with pornographers being just bold enough and progressive enough to not let their biases get in the way of a good show and making a buck. We can be relatively certain that Marco Berger isn't on a narrow mission as a gay pornographer or gay artiste since his homoerotic takes on male sensuality are quite appealing to female tastes. The long and the short of it is that girls like to see fellas making out, and doing it without it just comes naturally. Or as we like to think Kinsey stated how it was and is a very long time ago.

While many gay men are ridiculously ensnared in fetishes about other men, imaginary and real, we might be tempted to think the same of Marco Berger. His camera dwells on male body parts and maleness long enough and regularly enough to arouse prurient interest. But it's only a device: for all the titillation the real "money shot" clearly is all about knowing the sweetness and humanity of the man you're looking at.

Marco Berger's Men As Originals

Taken as a whole, Pedro Almodovar's contributions to world cinema are quite encompassing. Known especially as a director who loves women enough to let them elevate themselves to unforgettable and unique personages on a screen, he's also no slouch when it comes to men from a Latin perspective. More influential than he's ever been given credit for, there's a strong case to be made for Almodovar passing a baton to Marco Berger. Clearly the latter loves men in a way that's not exclusively driven by a desire of the kind which comes with some misandry - Berger encourages us to like men as much as we desire them.

Like Almodovar's gays, Berger's men are matter-of-fact men for the most part. They're not usually defined by what they do for a living and refreshingly not struggling with "identity issues". Ignoring the easy ride of revisiting dubious American suburban middle-class neuroses while appropriately acknowledging internalized homophobia with a light touch, Marco Berger steps up to create men who hold our interest, and he does it with style and intelligence and then some. We gladly go to more introverted places with these guys, without being assaulted by extraneous events and contrived "action". Nor are the men contrived action figures of gym buff-ness and cosmetic enhancement: the bodies we peruse are worn by the men themselves, and not vice-versa.

Neither too young nor too old, the males Marco Berger present for us seem less actor-ish than even documentary subjects. Berger as auteur miraculously draws us into a circle of trust with his actors and does so at the paces of how life is truly lived. Berger's camera is unforgiving, his dialog is sparse and unsnappy and he's not relying on jump-cuts to sell what's counterfeit. In short, his men have to really act, and do it with body and soul. He makes it easy for us then to just be happy in the knowledge that the tango was originated by male couples, and watch three very sexy dances which might just take our breath away.

    Marco Berger’s much-loved debut feature is an arresting one for sure. A “caper” movie, it takes the time-worn Hollywood trope of faking gay to get what you want while consistently reinforcing heterosexuality as never before. Except Plan B goes exactly where the notion should have gone last century: Bruno’s hare-brained plan to win back his girlfriend from Pablo involves seducing him because he's heard that Pablo might swing both ways. We just know where Bruno’s pot-addled machinations might take him even if he doesn’t.




The director’s well aware that much hinges on The Kiss…the thing that homophobia reviles more than actual male-on-male sex…with non-consenting being the more acceptable kind. Bruno of course hasn’t really thought things through at all, and after initiating a fast friendship with Pablo tests the waters by telling gal pal Ana that he and Pablo are now boyfriends. Ana demands that he kiss Pablo to prove it and the passionless peck convinces nobody at all. Plan B is failing: it’s obvious that Bruno isn’t sexually attracted to him at all.




The moral of the story becomes apparent quite early: dig a hole for somebody and you’ll probably fall in it yourself. And so we’re enjoined to watch Cupid aim a big one at Bruno, and see the insincere seducer become the sincerely seduced. It’s in that state where it finally dawns on Bruno that a loving relationship of real value has grown in spite of himself. As the enemy of chastity, none but Cupid can take what has its genesis in deception and create that which we crave as truth.

Berger has us hooked to the point that we've completely forgotten that these two men are in essence not gay nor are they confused teens. Male humanity just seems to have overtaken identity, as well it should. We're quite aware that ineptitude reigns and honesty is in short supply. Calling time on a pretense of "just friends" to serve an essentially homophobic resolution just isn't good enough for two guys we've really come to like.

We like them and wish them well because they access our childlike part which often forgets but nevertheless holds to be truth. We know what true sweethearts are because we've all been compelled to partake in the rituals of gift-giving which communicate in ways that words just can't. Most importantly, we know what they need to do to seal the deal because we've seen enough of their bulges to know it's time to play grownups.

    While “tall, dark and handsome” may be a default of male sexual attraction as per Eurocentric sensibilities, something like the opposite applies to Latin machismo. A blond man reads as something else…something different. And onto that difference is projected both desirability and a tendency to sexual submission. No surprise then that Gabriel is introduced, identified and objectified as “the blond one” when Marco Berger takes on macho masculinities, and all that's inherent when machismo meets homosexual attraction.

The blond one...Gabriel / "Gabo"
The subject of fatherhood arcs The Blond One. “Gabo”, a widowed father himself, takes lodging in workmate Juan’s flat. The spartan room’s been vacated by Juan’s brother who’s knocked up his girlfriend, and it’s not long before the hyper-sexual Juan is sending signals – mixed or otherwise – of sexual availability to the passive and apparently introverted Gabo. The director locates them in a small apartment where breathing space is confined to watching television in the company of Juan’s heterosexual friends: a perfect set-up to pressure-cook the sexual tension that’s Marco Berger’s specialty.


The other one...Juan
Neither Gabo nor Juan appears to have any emotional intelligence whatsoever – be it good, bad or indifferent. They’re simply men and not boys. With no regard for “gay relationship” considerations, they’re soon screwing to the point that intimacy takes its natural course and demands to be addressed. As is usually the case in these serendipitous arrangements which fall like manna for men from time to time, homophobia intervenes in the form of Juan’s desires to pursue heterosexist imperatives.

It’s long been said that two men lack the glue to sustain a relationship, and despite 'the glue' never having been articulated for what it is there’s ample evidence that this is often the case. Of course it takes two to yield to what kills love, and Gabo lacks the balls to man up and assert his rightful place as the primary love partner of sorts. He’s revealed as having being gay all along, and it’s probably gay self-doubt which causes him to not protest too much when relegated to being just a fuck on the side. Some modicum of self-respect at the critical point where it mattered may have caused the blond one to bluntly state “Lose the female, amigo”, and stand his ground on that rock.

And it’s in not losing the female nearly soon enough that Juan loses everything. He too is on his way to unplanned fatherhood and it’s at the expense of all he has with Gabo. While we’re perhaps robbed of a happy ending for now, Marco Berger certainly isn’t stating that M2M relationships are doomed. The most reasonable takeaway from The Blond One is suggested by its coda: to the loving and open mind of a child, shame is just something very silly. 

    Corny romances about men and women of different classes falling in love are a predictable go-to, and often constructed as period pieces dressed up with lots of plummy dialog. The genre has never really explored or updated itself to the serve two men. Yet such stories are probably most applicable to two men because a limited pool of available men necessitates abandoning class considerations if one's serious about finding love, or something like it.

So it's with all stops pulled out that Marco Berger launches high romance on an epic scale. Co-producer Pedro Irusta's elegant score slowly transports us to exposition - where the undying past lives in the present, as if in a bucolic dream. We find Eugenio ensconced in a rural old home as a bookishly attractive man living in silence.


Eugenio...a latter-day Lord of The Manor


Martin...the perhaps Itinerant  

By the time Martin shows up at the old house looking for summer work Berger's camera has made it obvious that two attractive and possibly lonely men are destined for an assignation, and probably one of exploitation - mutual or otherwise. Muddying those waters a whole lot more, it transpires Martin and Eugenio were boyhood friends a very long time ago. The apparently earnest Martin is not quite a drifter: despite his diminished circumstances he has plans for summer's end. He's just dropped back into the area looking to assemble a self he can live with from a fractured past, rather than seeking opportunity beyond survival.


Unsurprisingly, injury occurs near a bulge.


For Eugenio's part, the conflicts come thick and fast. His pragmatic uncle bluntly reminds him to think of what lies beyond a summer romance...this being high romance after all. While materially generous and kind, the respectful Eugenio can't or won't "take it to the next level", as he fails to read Martin's genuine tenderness. Or indeed even Martin's reference to pineapples. Marco Berger knows the score (and the stakes) well enough to not just throw them in the sack for some recreational fun. He also knows men well enough to restate the fact that few are able to negotiate mature relationship. Therein lies the tease.

Hawaii delivers by the bucketload: beautiful to experience and sexy enough to elevate a tired genre to superb entertainment of the classic kind. As it's intelligent enough to open newer and better pathways for men and women to think about men. 

The director saves the very best for last, and if we noticed the sweethearts' exchanges in Plan B we're again reassured by a View-Master that love has a past and a present, and a future if we choose to make it so.'s even the same actor making apparently broken things work again, as Eugenio comes to know what "Hawaii" really means. When it comes to how to wind up a great story, Marco Berger's on the same page as Sam Shepard: "The most authentic endings are the ones which are already revolving towards another beginning".


Friday, January 15, 2021

Visconti 1943: Secret Men's Business vs Obsession



    Ken Anderson does extensive research for the films he features at DREAMS ARE WHAT LE CINEMA IS FOR... and often draws attention to the facile quality of contemporary reviewing and analytical film writing. He recently drew attention to Luchino Visconti’s maiden voyage into film-making (“Ossessione” (1943) on social media, by way of the leading man’s sensuality. And that’s an excellent point of entry into accessing a homosexual director’s approach to the art. All things are not equal, all things are not the same: what’s been did and what’s been hid are the domain of insightful analysis.

Also known as “Obsession”, the early masterpiece of Italian neo-realism is often best known as the earliest screen adaption of James M. Cain’s “The Postman Always Rings Twice”…which of course also became the ultimate American film noir classic of the same name. That film’s adherence to the standard sexual noir theme (red-blooded American hero pays the ultimate price for a bad girl’s machinations) certainly wasn’t what was on Visconti’s mind when he brought a finely-tuned gay sensibility to the property. In Gino Costa, the hero would pay dearly for his many sins, with none of them being his propensity to follow the siren song of a homosexual relationship in order to improve his lot in life. Visconti boldly added an original character (Spagnolo) to his screenplay to make his points on homosexuality and politics quite clear to his audience, and all who’d undertake analysis thereafter…should they take him up on the offer.

While Luchino Visconti had the set of balls his entitled background of nobility endowed, Italy in 1943 under Fascism was no place to openly suggest that a homosexual alliance with a probable Communist was a good (and virtuous) move for a fella wanting to escape a destiny of hard times. That didn’t slow Visconti down at all: unless you were looking for it he was clever enough to hide it in plain sight. What he couldn’t hide is what he’d learned from Renoir and the French Existentialists: a meaningful story might always factor class into whether true freedom is vigorously pursued as an existential birthright beyond circumstances of birth.


The shell & the sound of the sea...freedom

The drifter is probably everyman, or at least he is when we project our less inconsequential middle-class selves upon him. We're seduced by ideas about freedoms, and opportunities of all kinds with others of all kinds. And so Gino is thrust into making a tenuous grab at freedom - albeit in a climate of the adultery he's drifted into. But Giovanna - another man's woman / the object of his obsession - doesn’t wish to pursue freedom with him after all,  preferring to stay with her by-now cuckolded husband. 


The wheels of fate are however turning for the penniless drifter in holey trousers. For Italians to whom presentation is everything he's not a good looking guy down on his luck - he's a public disgrace, an offense to bella figura. His choice to ride a train to no particular place with no ticket however brings him an opportunity few of his class ever see come their way. Or - more likely - the kind of opportunity that only males of virile beauty ever get…the type of male beauty which becomes most attractive when gaze considers it in repose, and presenting no threat.

 A bum on a train with no money knows how things play out. He’ll be gracelessly thrown off at the next stop as a discarded man, and he’ll need to go politely. However, the intervention of a stranger who pays Gino’s fare to the end of the line while chastising the conductor for his treatment of “a gentleman” elicits more than a “grazie” from Gino: he grabs his case and joins Spagnolo, the former stranger. In no time at all a cigarette ritual has transpired and with an only partly apprehensive “Why not?” has accepted lodging for the night.

A gentlemen considers his options

 Spagnolo’s vaguely Marxist lecturing to Gino about the circulation of money may be lost on Gino, but the fact that a male couple can share a bed in a pensione for a discounted cost isn’t. Spagnolo’s response to Gino’s confession of his obsession for the woman he’s left behind is as Existentialist as it gets: “Leave. Choose freedom.” Spagnolo gazes upon his new companion while he sleeps, lit only by a match he holds. He’s gone in the morning when Spagnolo awakes, and we find him on Ancona’s dock. But he won’t be shipping out as a free man working on a ship: with a change of heart or mind he returns quickly to the pensione as Spagnolo is departing. No questions are asked - by now the terms of courtship are falling into place. The deal is predictably sealed over that predictably metaphoric cigarette: Gino accepts a light from Spagnolo in violation of masculine manners between peers, and in lingeringly cupping his hand over the other’s consents to intimacy. For Spagnolo’s part he seems a little unsure about what he’s acquired. For Visconti’s part he films the whole secret ceremony with no eye-contact or revelatory close-ups…we observe, but not as invited voyeurs. Not without its charms, the waterside scene will be revisited later.



    But “Ossessione” isn’t about privately resolved homosexual relationships which underpin approved presentation – it’s about obsession. While it’s obvious the Gino / Spagnolo 'arrangement' is working out quite well - they’re together, they’re making a living together, Gino is better-dressed – heterosexual obsession shows up unexpectedly in the form of Giovanna. Obsession is a harsh master with no morality, and Gino’s abandonment of Spagnolo is but the beginning of his own decay. Spagnolo soon finds him in a bad way, and reminds him there are still happier choices than obsession. In repeatedly claiming he doesn’t want to “travel” any more we’re again reminded that The Other was invariably a commie homo..a fellow traveler. Visconti again reminds us that a truer love between men requires each supporting the inherent freedom of the other...something which obsession destroys.'re free

Too far gone – and just too guilty to change his fate – Gino knocks Spagnolo down with a punch for suggesting he knows of Gino’s participation in a crime of obsession. The crime of passion against Spagnolo may or may not be homophobic, but all too late Gino realizes he’s lost Spagnolo. In a masterful statement, Visconti bookends the story of Gino and Spagnolo with another duplicated set-up. As it began with a long shot of Gino carrying his small case towards freedom without looking back at the obsession he was leaving, so it ends with Spagnolo similarly abandoning Gino.


Meanwhile, in another time and place...


...we meet another man unable or unwilling to say "Please stay".

 Sydney J. Furie's "The Leather Boys" (U.K. 1964) is picking up status as an important queer film. Deviating from the book's out homosexuality, the guts of Reggie and Pete's relationship as directed appears to precisely underscore what Visconti suggested for (and about) Gino and Spagnolo: that two men can get along fine without a woman. As a couple, and as themselves. Furie however doesn't beat around the bush but instead lays it right on the line. If not the respectably compleat homosexual, Reggie is certainly a failed heterosexual by most reasonable measures. His identity crisis seems to lie somewhere between delusion and an underlying obsession with heterosexuality...quite possibly a throwback to Gino.


Though different types, Reggie's rock'n'roll beauty is no less attractive than Gino's. And as with Gino, beauty on a man's calling card isn't apparently valid currency when it comes to sustaining love. At crunch time, only Pete knows whether he's respecting Reggie's wishes or just finding him too needy for the long haul.

  Borrowed storylines aren't a film however, and director Furie pays further homage to the visual Visconti with the Chaplinesque motif of a man probably worth keeping heading off alone with one small it was once upon a time with Gino and Spagnolo.





1.   Luchino Visconti’s restricted on-screen homosexualities didn’t apply off-screen. He managed to convince leading man Massimo Girotti that an affair would help with the film. It certainly didn’t hurt: Girotti easily carries the film with panache despite being a relative newcomer - his long and stellar career would be significantly substantiated with "Ossessione". His “Gino” is a satisfyingly perfect creation of raw masculinity and uncalculated naiveté…the reward an auteur must surely hope will emerge from the vagaries attendant to assembling a satisfying film. With no apparent help from costuming or makeup departments, the young Girotti plays dirty, ungroomed and entirely un-actorish. We're told there's no such thing as the male muse, but perhaps Visconti would beg to differ.


2.   "The Leather Boys" wasn't an entirely forgotten movie - its locations and vintage cycles have probably enjoyed more subculture resonance than its queerness. In a sideways 1986 nod to or from queer art, The Smiths celebrated Reggie's beauty on one of their memorably stellar 45 picture sleeves. 


An exceptionally good deep-dive into "The Leather Boys" can be found here.