Film Review: Ask Any Buddy ★★★★

One of our favourite queer Instagram accounts @askanybuddy delights in the rich history of how gay porn movies of the golden age of the 70s and 80s were advertised in print; the promotional stills, screening listings and cover stars. So our interest was aroused when we learnt that the curator of these treasures, Elizabeth Purchell, had created a feature length cumpilation, sorry, montage movie of the same name using scenes from 126 gay erotic theatrical releases from 1968 to 1986. Ask Any Buddy was due to have its European premiere at BFI Flare London LGBTIQ Film Festival this moth, but following its cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the BFI’s online streaming service came to the rescue. As part of BFI Flare at Home, gay adult movie aficionados, academics and horndogs alike in the UK can view the film in the self-isolated comfort of their own homes via BFI Player until Monday April 6th, 2020.

The film opens with a warning, not about the explicit nature of some of the sequences that are included (you already knew this was NSFW), but about the nature of the narrative: “For your enjoyment, do not try to understand this film, there is nothing to understand. It is only real people doing reel things and making them real together.” So just put on your favourite jockstrap, sit back, relax and let Purchell take you for a ride through gay city life in New York and San Francisco, largely during that period of emerging liberation post-Stonewall and pre-HIV/AIDS. Or at least the heightened version of how these filmmakers wanted gay life to be; with more sex, better lighting and hotter guys – there’s even some reverse queer bashing. Occasionally the lustful fantasies are interrupted by a disapproving glance from the straights, and at one point a police raid.

Ask Any Buddy takes you on a trip into a vintage homotopia with a kaleidoscope of hunks, hard-ons, hungry eyes, tight denim pants, muscle and moustaches. The loose structure of the film is the span of a day; waking from a surreal dreamscape turned nightmare, there’s showering, and some time at home before heading out for daytime urban adventures and later some nocturnal pleasures. Inevitably there are some steamy, sometimes literally, sex scenes, including hardcore action, with tea bagging, fisting, fucking, sucking and self-pleasure all represented, but there’s also some gentle, romantic lovemaking and lighter moments of humour, with snatches of great dialogue.

What emerges is not only a loving homage to the work of some of the pioneering gay adult filmmakers of that era like Arch Brown, Jack Deveau, Joe Gage, Wakefield Poole and Peter de Rome and their stars, but a celluloid celebration of gay love and sexuality in all its forms and the freedom and fun in the pursuit of pleasure. Depending of your age, there’s also curiosity or nostalgia in Ask Any Buddy’s revelling in the movie representation of the glory days of bustling tearoom glory holes, porn cinemas, nude beaches, video booths, bathhouses and bars – many shot at the real locations that no longer exist. Indeed, as eye-catching as the men are, one of the pleasures of the film is soaking up the atmosphere of the cities where the films were shot. There’s Times Square, the cruising haven of the Hudson River piers, the Village, Meatpacking District, and some great scenes on a crowded New York subway. There’s the exuberance of pride day parades and the fire of political activism. In fact a PG version without any sex would still make compelling viewing.

Not only are the images stimulating, but the soundscape provides some aural pleasure with groovy music that sometimes fits perfectly with the image while at others provides a striking contrast to the action. Occasionally, Ask Any Buddy lingers on the same film a little too long, and it might’ve been satisfying to see some of the themes or scenarios explored with more depth. But Purchell has created an always entertaining at times lyrical vintage gay pornucopia. Make sure you watch the end credits sequence for those 126 titles where the material was sourced. If Ask Any Buddy has given you a taste for vintage gay porn it’s a fine list of movies to watch in full.

By James Kleinmann

Ask Any Buddy is available to view in the UK via BFI Player until Monday April 6th, 2020.

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