The curator of Instagram’s @AskAnyBuddy account, which explores the history of gay adult movies in print, Evan Purchell, has lovingly crafted a feature length companion film of the same name. Ask Any Buddy the movie expertly weaves together fragments of image, sound effects and music from 126 erotic gay films from 1968 to 1986 by pioneers of the genre such as Arch Brown, Jack Deveau, Joe Gage, Wakefield Poole and Peter de Rome.
Purchell’s film “takes you on a trip into a vintage homotopia with a kaleidoscope of hunks, hard-ons, hungry eyes, tight denim pants, muscle and moustaches.” Read James Kleinmann’s ★★★★ review.
Set to have its international premiere at last month’s BFI Flare London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival (cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic), Ask Any Buddy is available to stream in the UK on the BFI Player until Monday April 6th as part of BFI Flare at Home.
The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann spoke to film historian and Ask Any Buddy director Evan Purchell about what ignited his passion for vintage gay adult movies, both the on screen work and the way that they were advertised and represented in contemporary print, and how he approached selecting the material and creating the film. He also recommends several of his favourite gay erotic movies for those who what to do some further research.
James Kleinman, The Queer Review: Clearly you’re too young to have been around in the late 60s, 70s and 80s which Ask Any Buddy covers, so what got you interested in vintage gay porn? What was the first vintage adult movie you saw and how did you get to see it?
Evan Purchell: “My partner and I caught a screening of Wakefield Poole’s Bijou about four years ago. I’d seen a handful of hetero films from that era before — mostly titles by well-regarded filmmakers like Shaun Costello, Gerard Damiano, and Radley Metzger — but Bijou was a revelation and made me want to see what else might be out there. That led me to Fred Halsted, Curt McDowell, Jack Deveau, and on and on and on. I realized that there was this whole hidden history that nobody seemed interested in talking about and that’s what made me want to start digging deeper.”
What led you start your brilliant instagram account @AskAnyBuddy and where do you generally get the material from?
“The Instagram was originally meant to be something of a mood board for my ongoing research. I wasn’t sure whether the end result would be a book, a film, a screening series, or some combination of the above, but I wanted to get this material back out into the world and see if there was any interest. I source my materials from a bunch of different online archives, as well as from my own paper and video collection. As you’d imagine, finding back issues of regional gay magazines and newspapers isn’t always the easiest.”
Rather than focusing on the content of the films themselves, the Ask Any Buddy Instagram account is more about the ways in which these gay adult movies were advertised isn’t it? What intrigues you about that aspect gay movie history?
“I’ve always been fascinated by the way that films have been advertised and sold in general, but with these I think it just shows that these films were indeed no different than their more ‘legitimate’ mainstream counterparts. It’s all about making these movies bigger than they actually were and selling what exploitation legend Dave Friedman would call ‘the sizzle, not the steak.’ There’s also a scrappy underground quality to the advertising to these films that I find endearing. Unlike the glossier hetero industry where gorgeously painted full-color posters were the norm, gay film posters were almost universally cut-and-paste black-and-white affairs.”
Have you had any censorship issues with Instagram at all, like content being taken down and that kind of thing?
“I honestly don’t know of any queer Instagram accounts that haven’t run into problems with censorship. I’ve had posts taken down that don’t feature any nudity or sexual content. It’s frustrating, especially since I go out of my way to err on the side of caution about what I post.”
Who are the pioneering filmmakers of the era which you include in Ask Any Buddy the film whom you particularly admire and why?
“There’s a bunch, and I’m glad the film seems to have people interested in diving deeper into the genre. There’s a lot more out there than just Fred Halsted and Wakefield Poole. Arthur Bressan, Tom DeSimone, Jack Deveau, Joe Gage, and Steve Scott are all major filmmakers to me; auteurs, really, with distinct stylistic signatures and repeated social and political themes that run across their filmographies. DeSimone in particular really is a pioneer. His adult work only ever seems to be brought up as a joke when discussing his mainstream films like Hell Night and Reform School Girls, but he was one of the very first out there making these types of movies and titles like Catching Up, The Idol, The Harder They Fall, and Skin Deep really hold up as gay love stories and dramas.”
You include footage from 126 features, can you give us an insight into the process of sourcing and then going through those films and selecting material, editing it together. It must’ve been very intricate.
“The process was very modular. I had an idea of what most of the individual segments of the film would be; the piers, the subway, a tearoom, a movie theater. So it was all just a matter of going back through films I’d seen before, pulling the corresponding sections, and then finding a way to cut them all together to create a shared cinematic space where all these movies coexist. The tearoom sequence was probably the easiest because I quickly realized that about seven or eight of these films were all shot in the same public bathroom!”
I love the soundscape you’ve created; there’s heavy breathing and birdsong and some fantastic music. Initially I thought some of it might’ve been music you’d had composed for Ask Any Buddy, but all the soundtrack elements are taken from the films themselves aren’t they?
“I didn’t add anything to the film — everything in there, including that title card at the very beginning, comes from my sources. The audio track was really an easy way for me to blend all of these different movies together by establishing a shared mood, though — especially in the bar sequence, where each of the source films has a completely different, but very music-heavy soundtrack.”
What were your guiding principles when it comes to showing sex in the film? Had you ever considered making it non-explicit?
“I’d thought about trying to make a softer version of the film, but I just don’t know how it’d be possible. The sex isn’t necessarily in there to be erotic or titillating, but to remain true to the source films, the intentions of their filmmakers, and the sorts of activities that went on where they were shot. I didn’t want to neuter these films or to make them ‘safe’. There’s an inherent danger and excitement to the public sex that so many of them depict, and I think simply cutting away would kill that tension. At the same time, I didn’t want the film to get bogged down with sex, so there’s an intentionally fleeting quality to the way I cut them together.”
LGBTQ+ representation is pretty easily accessible these days, with LGBTQ+ sections on most streaming services, but back then porn was often the only place where gay men saw themselves represented on screen wasn’t it? Do you see these films as the queer cinema of their day?
“These films were very much the queer cinema of their day. At a time when Hollywood had no intentions to make or distribute films that dealt openly and honestly with queer themes, adult was the one genre that allowed gay filmmakers to do so themselves and nearly always be guaranteed a return on the investment. These were some of the first films to tackle subjects like coming out and gay relationships, and they were heavily covered and treated much like ‘normal’ movies in even the most mainstream of gay publications like The Advocate.”
In general, what do you see as the difference between the reality of gay life at the time that these films were made and what’s depicted on screen?
“The films certainly have documentary qualities, especially their frequent use of actual queer spaces and pride parades as shooting locations, but they’re otherwise pure fantasy. They depict an almost mirror universe, where homophobia largely doesn’t exist and sex is easily available anywhere and everywhere. It’s a contradiction that’s central to the genre, and one that I find fascinating. These films have real people performing real acts as fictional characters in a fictional story. I feel weird when people say the film is nostalgic, because I’m not a nostalgic person and because what the film is depicting didn’t really exist. It’s the idealized version of what actually did, and there’s a few moments throughout where I try to puncture that illusion.”
I think Ask Any Buddy will be enjoyed by people who know this era and the movies you include well already, but it’s also a great introduction to vintage gay porn that I’m sure will get a lot of people wanting to see more. From the 126 films you draw from could you recommend three features that our readers watch in full and tell us why you’d recommend them?
“Drive (1974, dir. Jack Deveau) — This second feature from Hand in Hand Films owner Jack Deveau was an early gateway film for me. It’s very much the midnight movie that never was: a spy parody that mixes overtly highbrow homages of everything from Josef von Sternberg to Jonas Mekas with lowbrow raunch in a way that’s totally entertaining and irresistible.”
“Catching Up (1975, dir. Tom DeSimone) — This was something of a breakthrough film for DeSimone, who was so proud with how it turned out that he actually put his real name on it. It’s a romantic comedy about a monogamous relationship that suddenly opens up, leaving the younger man to try to ‘catch up’ to his older, more experienced partner; a subject that still feels relevant 45 years later in the age of PrEP. One of the highlights is a lengthy, and very funny, sequence shot at Los Angeles’ Vista Theatre, then the city’s most popular (and cruisiest) gay theater.”
“Kansas City Trucking Co. / El Paso Wrecking Corp. / L.A. Tool & Die (1976, 1977, 1979, dir. Joe Gage) — Okay, this is maybe cheating a bit, but I would say this trilogy of connected films by Joe Gage is perhaps the very peak of the all-male genre and queer cinema in general. Each of these films stands on their own on both a stylistic and thematic level, but the combined narrative arc of the trilogy — from sexual awakening in Kansas City, to male bonding and friendship in El Paso, and finally aging and settling down in L.A. — is timeless and almost epic in scale.”
Evan Purchell’s Ask Any Buddy is available to stream in the UK on the BFI Player until Monday April 6th as part of BFI Flare at Home, following the cancellation of last month’s BFI Flare London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival where the film was due to have its international premiere. For updates on future chances to see the film follow Evan Purchell on twitter @SchlockValue and on Instagram @SchlockValue. And follow Ask Any Buddy on twitter @AskAnyBuddy and Instagram @AskAnyBuddy.