the disappearance of the posing strap
by Douglas Messerli
Robert Henry Mizer (writer and director) Why the Wooden Indian Wouldn’t / 1969
Robert Henry Mizer (writer and director) My Sister, the Brother / 1970
By the late 1960s Bob Mizer was doing films that definitely might be described as porno, although many of them still maintained a lacquer of innocence simply because they involved simulated sex and the production values were so low, the acting so awful, and the humor so silly that they seemed more like home productions than the increasingly more sophisticated porn films by Peter de Rome and Wakefield Poole among others.
The night janitor (Philip Morrison) at a museum displaying a statue of a wooden Indian (Eddie Scott) is busy at work doing some light dusting. Phil grows curious about the beautiful rendition of an American Indian, commenting aloud to his beauty and carefully checking out whether what lay under the Indian’s loincloth is as beautiful has the rest of him. He is surprised to learn that everything is anatomically correct.
Suddenly the Indian comes to life, shocking the young janitor, who seems to think at first that the miracle is related in some sense to his being a kind of Aladdin, since the Indian also offers him his immediate wish, providing him with a great deal of money and quickly moves on to dance a rain dance.
But what Philip really wants is sex with the beautiful representation of American natural beauty, and when the Indian pulls a muscle from doing a dance he has not practiced for a very long time, the boy offers up a massage, soon with the Indian lying on the floor face down with Philip straddled on top of him, ready as we all recognize for full sexual penetration.
The Indian, clearly ready to go through with the act, however, suddenly attempts to stand and return to his pedestal, fearful that if he remains in that position any longer he will return to wood. Presumably, the pun here is on the graphic metaphor of a man getting a “woody” or an erection.
In fact, the Indian has begun to return to wood the moment the boy begins to insert his penis, and Phil is hurt in the process of attempting to enter the Indian’s ass, later pulling out a nail as proof of the source of his pain.
Meanwhile the Indian has, indeed, turned back to wood. All Phil can do is to continue with his chores and hope that some other night he will find the Indian “in the flesh” once more.
The joke, obviously, is that the beautiful rendition of body as a representation of manhood is far better than taking him off his pedestal and engaging him in real sexual acts.
Yet, the film clearly recognized that things had changed and its showing at the Los Angeles Park Theater in 1969 represented one of the first films to display full male nudity in a public forum, implying that Philip actually penetrated Eddie during the massage, despite the fact that we recognize no male-to-male action really took place.
By the following year, Mizer recognized there was no turning back. And in his color short, My Brother, the Sister Mizer had recognized that the posing strap was a thing of the past and on-screen male-on-male sex, which he had helped to effectuate, was here to stay.
And almost as if to prove himself up to the task Mizer let loose a grand array of gay sexual tropes. The short begins with Jim Lee entering dressed vaguely in drag, wearing a white blouse with an outline of a bra and breasts and chartreuse pants, being advised that according to the fraternity initiation rules he has to remain on the park bench open to public view for a full half-hour, perhaps even encountering people whom he may know in his drag get-up. Accordingly, Mizer has begun his film, as he did his 1963 work Military School Initiation as part of the trope of sexual control over the new would-be members of it freshmen pledges, while at the same time hinting of cross-dressing themes.
Almost before the fraternity senior has left, a man arrives wanting to pick-up the female before his eyes, an offer which Jim immediately and emphatically rejects. Soon after a woman appears from the same off-stage “glen” of the park to ask if she might hook him up with other men, willing to serve, evidently, as a kind of female pimp who Jim also sends packing, commenting on how he had never before realized how weird were the folk in his town.
When eventually the half-hour has expired, Jim gets up, and since the sailor insists on staying, walks off.
The sailor, however, follows him home and enters his apartment, looking it over and approving, begging him, even though he apparently recognizes that Jim (still inexplicably in drag) is really a guy, to give sex with him a try.
Unable to rid himself of the insistent predator, Jim gives in and finds the whole sexual event, including the fuck the sailor finally accepts as payment for his permission for the sailor to stay on, to be quite pleasurable, the sailor enjoying the new sexual sensation so much that he decides to stay for the two further days he has left of his leave.
When the credits are shown and the two Lees hold up signs stating their names, a voice asks if they’re related, but the apparent brothers refuse to deny or confirm their relationship, suggesting that Mizer has also tossed in a bit of sexual incest into his sexual stewpot.
It appears that the boys are simply simulating their anal sex, but they do verbally agree to cum simultaneously, and one even sports for a few on-screen moments a full erection. Yet, as I began this piece, the Lees’ acting is so awful, the plot so ludicrous, and sex so unstimulating that we look back with almost sexual longing for films like 42nd Street Hood and Tijuana Bandit.*
*I find it absolutely fascinating that after all those years of Bob Mizer’s having basically been able to escape censorship by the US and local governments and seeing in a new era of cinematic male sexual representation, I was censored on Facebook, banned from its pages for a full month, because their visual recognition machine interpreted my picture of two men, wearing posing straps, wrestling on the streets of New York from 42nd Street Hood as representing men engaged in nude sexual copulation. It appears we’ve gone backwards in the notion of what the media is permitted to say or visually present to the public.
Los Angeles, August 14, 2021
Reprinted from World Cinema Review (August 2021).