Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Bavo Defurne | Particularly Now, in Spring

the man from france

by Douglas Messerli

Bavo Defurne (screenwriter and director) Particularly Now, in Spring / 1996 [8 minutes]

A young man on the very cusp of adulthood spends his entire spring days with his other male friends in the locker rooms and showers undressing and dressing before and after swimming, running, leaping, and other athletic engagements. The world Flemish director Bavo Defurne creates in hazy black and whites is a kind of nirvana of the homoerotic without any of the participants apparently being aware of one another’s bodies.

     In fact, except for the young man who narrates this story they seem to have no individual identity. We learn nothing about any of their personalities, emotions, thoughts or even names except for when the credits identifies the narrator as Olaf, naming the others as part of a group that includes Bart, Ignance, Sven, Tom, Adriaan, Johan, Werner, Alexander, Mark, Stefaan, Alain, Oswin and Geert. 

     Olaf describes them as his friends that function almost as a collective. “There’s something that bonds us together. It’s like a secret agreement that we’ll always be friends. We’ll always stick together,” who live daily as a unit is a kind of suspension. “I sometimes think time won’t move here. It’s just like everything will stay like it is right now.”

     They always sing in the shower, he notes, “just as if we all had one voice.”

     In other words, our Olaf seems to be describing a bubble of total male innocence in which the participants gladly join in a half-sleeping, half-waking spell of juvenilia from which none of them ever wants to be awakened. It is, in short, precisely what results in so many jocks’ inability to develop into mature adults. You see them in the bars, escaping the marriages they have agreed to because it is the local custom and their often unsatisfying jobs to which they have assigned their daily lives as they escape into televised sports competitions or join up in weekend scrimmages in desperation to relive those halcyon sports-minded days of their youth: the universal Peter Pans who almost intentionally never really wanted to grow up.

     Except that their bodies are no longer lean and sexually appealing, and their drunken mutual cheerleading for their favorite team can never replace the excitement and grace of pushing, pulling, rubbing, and wrestling each other with utter unawareness of their desperate desires to simply touch each other’s skin, their addiction to one another’s smells of sweat, piss, spit, and hair. Our narrator expresses it in terms of the showers themselves: “The showers have a special smell. It’s like the sea or a wood in the summer.”

     Like these faux naïfs, Olaf seems to believe that anything is possible. As he expresses it early in his narrative: “Everyone can make it in life. I think everything is possible.” A little while later he restates his near-absurd optimism “There’s nothing you can’t do that can be done. You need to work out really hard. And I’m not afraid of that.”

    Yet, we soon discover, Olaf is a liar, not to his friends or us who overhear his thoughts, but to himself. Or, if nothing else, he is filled with contradictions. I’d suggest that he is simply a person who has not yet come to terms with his own thinking or what he describes as “ideals,” or “beliefs.”

     In fact, the director’s images of this handsome boy also contradict his own naiveté. Although he speaks of the collective spirit of his friends, he is often shown apart and away from them, and hardly ever sharing in their singing, grabbing, and playful group activities. Although he describes their dependence upon one another, in the very next sentence Olaf  ponders: “Why is it that people are not always the people you want them to be? No matter what, we can’t miss each other. We’re alone, everyone.”

     During these comments, the boys are playing leapfrog, filmed in a manner that reminds one a great deal of the leaping games of naked males in Eadweard Muybridge’s 1887 moving photographs of athletes. In Defurne’s film, however, the moment that Olaf insists  “We won’t let each other down ‘cause we’re best pals,” one of the leapers crashes into him knocking both of them to the ground.  At another point when the boy is insisting on their shared commitment to one another, the camera shows two gatherings of the boys on opposite sides of a long rope, one group eventually toppling the others struggling to do the same to them. 

     At another moment when he is spouting his idealistic vision of the infallibility of will power, suggesting that, after all, “All my friends are there,” he pauses to express his fearfulness of their beating him to what he might be seeking: “I am just afraid a little bit of the idea of a lot of people wanting what I want.”

     What he seems to be seeking, moreover, does not appear to be what any of the others might even imagine him desiring. Olaf begins his long conversation with the camera with these words:

 “I think I can tell you now I want to be a movie star. I thank I’m no boy anymore. I’m ready for real life. I’ve heard a man’s coming from France. It’s for a movie. They’re going to make a movie about a young runner in the war or something. Anyway they’re looking for an actor. The leading part I think. I’d like to do that.”

      One cannot imagine a more isolating desire than his, something that might certainly require a kind of willed selfishness that would quickly take him out of the very circle of friends he defines as representing something outside of time and change.

      Not only is he quite aware of he own coming of age but of his necessary departure from the world in suspension that he pretends to embrace. Although all he describes is about a boyhood fantasy, he recognizes that he is “no boy anymore.” And despite his argument that they need to stick together in order to survive, he is absolutely ready to let a stranger guide him into a new universe. Even if, as he hints by the end of the day, that the stranger—critic Tim Isaac correctly associates him with Beckett’s Godot— has not and may never truly visit, it is clear that Olaf will remain a believer, that even if he never leaves his never-never-land of male sports camaraderie he will know there is another world outside of his to which he was hoping to enter. 

     That’s not to say, of course, that his views of that “outside world” are not hackneyed and doomed to failure. As his model for an “real actor” (“I want to be an actor. Not just any actor. A different kind of actor.”) he has chosen the outrageous Grade B figure Johnny Weismuller, mostly because he was a swimmer, and Olaf swims—although admitting he’s not sure he’s very good—with great seriousness. As the narrator says of the others, again putting himself at a distance from those with whom he proclaims an unspoken bond: “It’s just that the others are just messin’ about. They go swimming just to enjoy themselves. I like that too. But above all I want to be strong one day.”

     But the very fact that his fantasy figure is a male living for much of the films alone in a jungle with only animal friends, suggests that there is no woman in this boy’s vista. He never mentions a Jane nor any woman in his meandering confession. Rather, a bit like a gay body builder of the 1950s, Olaf projects himself into the world of athletic muscle builders, the perfect target when he is whisked away by the stranger to the Hollywood of his imagination for the beefcake photographers such as Bob Mizer and his Physique Pictorial, simply a less campy version, in fact, of the photographers Defurne referenced in his 1997 film Sailor, Pierre et Gilles.

      The poor boy, locked away in the embryo of Jean Genet-like compound of a locker room instead of a prison, has no idea what is in store for his slowly awakening sense of a world outside of where he begins to spend his Spring. If his longings are still incoherent and even laughable, we comprehend them as, just as he is beginning to perceive, something that will sever him forever from his sports-loving friends.

      Olaf suggests that “At the end of the day we say goodbye as if there were no end to it.” But as he grabs the hand of one departing friend and the others wave goodbye, we realize the end is nearer that he might ever imagine.

     “The man from France didn’t come today. Maybe tomorrow he will come. Maybe tomorrow will be the day. Maybe everything will be all right. I want to be a star. Or did I tell you this once before.” 

Los Angeles, June 29, 2021

Reprinted from My Queer Cinema blog and World Cinema Review (June 2021).

Monday, June 28, 2021

Louis J. Gasnier | Parisian Love

the thief of love

by Douglas Messerli

Lois Hutchinson (screenplay, based on a story by F. Oakley Crawford), Louis J. Gasnier (director) Parisian Love / 1925

Louis J. Gasnier’s silent film of 1925, Parisian Love is a highly crafted film that is also one of the strangest works of cinema of the period. Through the device of a sexual and class-structured ménage à trois of a woman named Marie (Clara Bow), her lover Armand (Donald Keith), and a doctor/professor Pierre Marcel (Lou Tellegen), Gasnier’s adaptation of a story by F. Oakley Crawford interweaves Apache dance and gangsterism with upper-class tangos of thievery that often seem to be indistinct except in the locations of where the dance is held. While all seek innocence and purity, the methods they use to obtain what they desire are filled with mendacity and violence. And finally, while the men seek out heterosexual love, they attain something close to what they most seek in their homosexual love for one another.

      The film sets the tone almost immediately in its first frames set in a seedy French bar which wealthy tourists haunt in order to catch a glimpse of the Paris underground Montmartre life.

        Marie, Armand, and their partner “the Knifer” (Jean De Briac) give them the performance of a lifetime, as Marie and the knifer begin a rendition of the Apache, he bringing her close to him in dance for a few moments before throwing her to the floor, pushing her off, kicking and dragging her, as she gradually staggers back to standing position, moving toward, and entering into a deep kiss as the seemingly jealous Armand pulls a knife and charges at the male dancer only to be stabbed to death, the police called in as the patrons rush out of the café in horror—returning to their meals when the “actors” have been swept “off” to backstage safety, where they change their clothes and gloat over their successful performances. One of them has also found a dropped business card of one of the patrons, Pierre Marcel, whose mansion they suddenly determine to rob that very evening, presumably because he appears to be spending a night on the town.

      The gang checks out the place, Armand and the knifer climbing to the bedroom balcony while Marie, dressed as a man, waits below on guard. Hearing noises, Pierre rises from bed and hides in the shadows as the two men enter his room, hoping by suddenly turning on the light he may scare them off.

       When he does so, however, “the knifer” pulls his switchblade ready to kill and rob Pierre, but almost inexplicably Armand stops him, fighting him to protect Marcel from murder as the knifer leaps out the window, now both he and Marie being chased by the alerted police. The police kill and shoot and kill the knifer, and think they have wounded Marie, who instead tricks them by returning to female garb and walking past them, hitting up one cop with a request for a drag for her cigarette.

       The police, meanwhile, attempt to arrest Armand, but Marcel lies for him describing his as a friend posing as a decoy; and indeed he does seem to recognize the young man, but also quickly discovers that Armand has been gravely stabbed in his attempt to wrestle away his cohort’s knife. Armand falls into a coma, and a doctor is called, a long period of recuperation following.


     From the very beginning there is a look of deep longing and sexual desire for the criminal expressed in Pierre’s facial gestures, glances that clearly Armand does not quite know how to interpret. 

      As Armand recovers, he admits that he had once taken a course with the noted scientist, but that his life as a student had radically when he was mistaken for a thief, choosing to become one in retaliation. And yes, there was a woman involved, a woman with whom he was still desperately in love.

      You can almost see Pierre (through Tellegen’s excellent acting) suffering with the revelation. This is no coded film, and he realize that he has quite obviously fallen in love with Armand, and has no intentions of giving him up to some woman from the street. Yet, perhaps just to satisfy Armand’s heterosexual desires, he does arrange for him to meet a proper lady of the upper class, a beautiful young woman whose attentions, if not directly leading to Armand falling in love with her, are nonetheless pleasant to him.

      When the young man has almost healed, Pierre “sentences” Armand to stay on with him another six months. And it is apparent that Armand is also willing to remain with Pierre, if not precisely as a lover, clearly as an intimate friend. Indeed, their deep friendship reminds me somewhat of that between the two men in Clarence Brown’s Flesh and the Devil of the very next year.

     Armand begs only a single hour of complete freedom before he commits to what appears to be a kind of conjugal relationship with Pierre, which the elder, with some hesitation, grants him.

      Meanwhile, Marie has taken a job as Pierre’s maid so that she might determines for herself what her lover’s situation is. Mostly she finds her job consumed by keeping away from the advances of Pierre’s socialite friends. When she sneaks into Armand’s room, she is interrupted by Pierre’s introduction to Armand of Jean D'Arcy, with whom, as Marie hides in the closet, Armand appears to strike up a relationship.

      When she hears from others in the Apache gang that Armand has been sent by Pierre to England in a business matter, and—as they joke about the obvious relationship that has developed between the two men—it wasn’t she who Armand kissed goodbye, she becomes furious, plotting revenge.

      Angry about the turn of events and tired of living with the snuff-consuming, wine guzzling Madame Frouchard (Lillian Leighton) and her alcoholic husband, she takes off—at the very moment when Armand comes to visit her in the old apartment, hoping to find his lover and possibly to renew their relationship. He leaves on his business trip to England believing that his affair with Marie is permanently over.

      Marie, meanwhile, steals money from her gang to front Frouchard and herself as a wealthy aunt and niece, relative to one of Pierre friends who has just died. The two, living at the Regent, create a comical sequence of events wherein, despite a series of outrageous faux pas enacted mostly by Frouchard, she successfully seduces Pierre who, obviously without his male lover around, believes in her innocence enough to determine to marry her. Apparently, like so many other homosexually-inclined gentlemen of the day, a heterosexual marriage is still a necessary cover. And before we even assimilate the fact, the plot reveals their nuptials are completed.

      Marie now reveals to Pierre just how she has tricked him and the financial demands she will not expect to release him from her treachery.

     At that very moment, however, Armand, having successfully finished his business negotiations, returns to find Marie married to his new male companion. Both Armand and Marie quickly realize that they are still in love with one another, but once more it is apparently too late, as the Apache gang takes their revenge on Marie for absconding with their stolen money, shooting her while in Armand’s arms.

     As the somewhat ludicrous plot will have it, Pierre, realizing that he has himself become a thief, not of money but of love—having stolen both Armand and Marie for his own desires—goes on the lam, taking the first steamer out to America. Marie, although seriously wounded, must now also go through the long process of healing, but this time in Armand’s arms.

     Evidently, both of the younger, lower class thugs must symbolically die before they can be  reborn as wealthy people of wealth and class, provided to them by Pierre, who has left his house and fortune to the normative heterosexual couple.

     Parisian Love, at least in Gasnier’s hands, is not so very different from early 20th century English love or American eros: even if this film has been utterly honest about the homosexual desires of Pierre and Armand passive receptivity, true love, normative love inevitably must win out over the “perversity” of that love. Same sex love once more must be sacrificed to the sexual “normality,” the outsider culture must be abandoned so that the wealthy might survive. The queer is no match against the social order of the status quo, even if the lovely effete Tellegen gave it his best.*

*Not only does Tellegen appear as an effete aesthete in this film, somewhat like Oscar Wilde, but  the 1915 interview with Djuna Barnes, published in my collection of Djuna Barnes Interviews, reveals him to be precisely that; he even quotes Wilde.

Los Angeles, June 28, 2021

Reprinted from My Queer Cinema blog and World Cinema Review (June 2021).     

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Bonzo Villegas and Carlos Vilaró Nadal | En el mismo Equipo (On the Same Team) || Fabíen Cavacas and Camille Melvill | Passer les Champs (Beyond the Fields)

the ones who stayed behind

beyond the mountain

Bonzo Villegas and Carlos Vilaró Nadal (screenwriters and directors) En el mismo Equipo (On the Same Team) / 2014 [22 minutes]

Argentinian filmmakers Bonzo Villegas and Carlos Vilaró Nadal’s quiet film of 2014 En El Mismo Equipo (On the Same Team) is ostensibly another of the many fictional films about gay sports players who have difficulties, given the macho hetero-normative values attached to athletic activities throughout the world. Moreover, Emanuel (Pablo Delgado) plays rugby, the most touchy/feely male-groping sport in the whole world—except perhaps for wrestling. But wrestlers go after each other one on one, while rugby is a truly team sport depending upon the emotional bonding of the entire group. As South African director Chadlee Skrikker’s 2019 short film Hand Off reminded us, rugby is a difficult sport for a homosexual to play given that the entire team has to be comfortable with physical contact with the gay man.

      Yet Emanuel has evidently a fairly easy sexual relationship with another team player, Tano (Emiliano Monteros) with whom he still hasn’t completely come to terms. As the two escape to the woods after a game, he insists he’s not like his friend, that he thought Tano was the only one with whom he could share his feelings, but now realizes that they’re “different”: “I’m not like you.”

         “Who says?” Tano counters, arguing that Emanuel simply has to relax, to accept life as it is, which will make all the difference. The two make love, but we sense a deep frustration, even anger remaining in Emanuel’s thoughts as we see him in his room later slugging his rugby ball as if it were a boxer’s heavy bag.

        A dinner conversation of his family members concerns, among other things, a friend who has gone away to Buenos Aires and come back as a gay man. Although a couple of those at the table argue something to the effect that it’s not so unusual these days, several, including Emmanuel’s father, appear to feel it’s still “unnormal,” and most of the women side with the gay man’s local ex-girlfriend. One quieter sister, Laura (Verónica Paz) observes her brother and seems to sense his troubled state of mind, particularly when he suddenly leaves the table.

       She too appears on the small porch apparently ready to talk with him, but he has been greeted by a another of rugby buddies passing in a car who insists that he join them in the evening’s pre-game night, since the next day they are playing the team from Santiago. He agrees, although the long shower he takes in preparation makes clear even that choice has involved a painful sense of conflict.

       He arrives at the party only to see his sister is there as well, already fairly drunk, and he is surprised by her presence. Meanwhile his friends force him to speak with a girl, Agustina, of whom he has previously commented. He briefly talks to her and her friends, but soon excuses himself “for a moment” to get a drink; he never returns to continue their conversation. Wandering around the lawn, observing others of his teammates involved in heterosexual flirtation and love-making, including Tano, he seems lost, and finally pulls away from the party, standing apart from the others. He is soon joined by his sister.

       She speaks to him simply: “I don’t know if you know this, but there’s a lot more beyond the mountain. The world doesn’t end at Tucuman or Yerba Buena. The house is not the only place you could live in. Or rugby isn’t the only activity you could do. These parties aren’t the only place you could be at. You could live a life completely different if you decide to do it. But yeah....you’re gonna need a lot of balls.” Not a great English language translation of the Spanish original, clearly, but wise observations nonetheless.

       Through several frames Emanuel has been seen carrying an airline add advertising freedom, which now makes it clear that what has been holding him back is not rugby, or even his inability to accept his homosexuality. He is after all different from his friend Tano, not in his sexual orientation but in his desire to escape from the small town restraints in which he is entrapped. Many of the problems facing young gay people lies not so much in their inability to accept themselves as gay individuals but in the inertia of having to break with and move away from the normative heterosexual pulls of their lives. It is simply easier to fall into the patterns of nearly everyone else in the world in which you’re born and raised. Some gays can’t come out because it takes the energy of determined self-will to escape what everyone around you defines as the preferable way to survive.

       But in the end, Vilaró Nadal and Villegas’s small gem is not a “coming out” movie nor a movie about the difficulty of escaping from the heterosexual demands of playing sports, but a story about a young man coming to terms with adult life, of defining where and how he wants to live that life whatever it might bring.

     Clearly Emanuel (which means “God with us”) does not sleep that night. And the next morning we see him wandering a wooded road before standing on a small stone wall to stare out over the valley at the rising sun. The camera pans down to see the small travel ad slip from his fingers, and intercuts with a few faces from his immediate past life. When the camera pans back up to the wall, Emanuel is no longer there, having gone only God knows where.

Los Angeles, June 23, 2021

Reprinted from My Queer Cinema blog and World Cinema Review (June 2021).


howling with closed mouths

Fabíen Cavacas and Camille Melvill (screenwriters and directors) Passer les Champs (Beyond the Fields) / 2015

After writing the above essay I came upon another film just a few days later by French directors Fabíen Cavacas and Camille Melvill that was so similar in its thematic—particularly since that film, Passer les Champs (Beyond the Fields), also related to the consideration of gay brothers and gay sports that I had also just been exploring—that I was almost startled by its relationship to the piece I had just titled “Beyond the Hills.”

      This work also contained a young man involved in amateur sports, in this case soccer, who had stayed at home apparently out of a sense of stasis. He seems unmotivated even to pursue the job his parents have hinted that a friend is willing to offer him, refusing to even make the call. Indeed, except for his younger brother Théo (Pierre Prieur), Lucas (Maxime Taffanel) seems to shun women and have surly relationships with his parents and his soccer friends, the latter for whom he may soon serve as their coach.

      Like Emanuel of the above film, Lucas seems trapped in the community in which he lives, and bitter about that fact. But at least the Argentinian rugby player has a local friend with whom he engages in sex. Lucas, who appears to be heterosexual has no apparent girlfriend and even his seeming soccer buddy Nathan (Théo Pittaluga) irritates him, particularly when he shows interest in befriending Théo.

      We perceive this not as a form of jealousy, but a fear of sorts that his brother may be hurt through their friendship, since Théo is openly gay—only to his brother. And Lucas evidently has assumed the role of his protector, despite the fact that in the small farming village in which they reside there seems to one to protect him from. As Théo confirms, there are no “faggots” in his class, which explains why he has been chatting online with an older man, who he wants to meet when the man comes to town on business, a meet-up which Lucas warns him may be dangerous.

      Thus, it appears that Cavacas and Melvill have set us up for a situation very similar to the one I wrote about in the Norwegian film of 2003, Precious Moments, about a young gay man whose having sex with an older man ends in his partner’s arrest—although the sexual age of consent in France is 15, and even if Théo, since he’s still attending school, is clearly not the age he claims to be when he meets the stranger, 20, he is certainly of legal age.

      But before that, this far too subtle tale—almost as if afraid, like characters, to tell its own story—seemingly first takes us down a kind of dead end, which perhaps clarifies both Théo’s and Lucas’ long  silences and apparent frustrations.

       The morning after the brothers’ discussion Théo drops his Lucas off at soccer practice, meeting briefly with Nathan, to whom the boy has loaned a book to read, Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. Nathan, in turn, invites Théo to a team party they are planning for that evening, telling the younger boy that he would particularly like to have him attend.

     It is after that meeting, moreover, when Lucas becomes even more incensed about Nathan and, by the end of the day, decides against even attending the party which his teammates are throwing. Théo does attend, clearly out of place since most of the players are entertaining their girlfriends, including Nathan. But near the end of the evening, sitting alone, Théo is joined by Nathan, telling his girlfriend that he’ll catch up with her. There is no real conversation between the two, but when Théo asks Nathan if he wants to go somewhere, Nathan stating that he can’t—beholden as he is to her girlfriend of 3 months—we can only presume that something sexual has been going on between the two, something in the nature of Emanuel and Tano in Vilaró Nadal’s film. 

     The only alternative for Théo is to meet up with the stranger in the hotel.

     From the moment the boy encounters the older man, who when he enters is on the phone with his wife, we recognize that this is not a good situation, particularly when the elder orders Théo to strip and not “play around” like a kid. We never discover precisely what does happen. The directors only show us a sense of rising tension: Lucas at home in bed—reading, incidentally, Ginsberg’s Howl—obviously worrying about the time and the whereabouts of his brother. And, finally, a call from Théo, who having motorbiked to the hotel, is now asking for Lucas to pick him up.

     What has happened in that room is never explained; but we do observe a cut on Théo’s lip and can only suspect that the boy got cold feet and attempted to leave, infuriating the older man. The boy refuses to say anything about the event. Théo simply asks can they stop somewhere before they return home. There is no other place, we realize, in this village. They stop at the soccer field, where one drunken survivor of the party lies like a dead man in the middle of the open space.

     The brothers, sitting together, stare out over the fields around them, Théo suddenly blurting out a question that might have been in our minds as well: “Why don’t we leave?”

     The brothers, sitting together, stare out over the fields around them, Théo suddenly blurting out a question that might have been in our minds as well: “Why don’t we leave?”

      In coming out to his brother and in his obvious search for sexual gratification the younger brother has already made clear that he is no longer able to survive in the emptiness of the small village in which the brothers live. But Lucas, apparently, still unable to define his own sexuality or to even comprehend his entry into adulthood, seems permanently infantilized like so many young males who settle down with the first woman they meet and hang on by a thread through the rest of their lives without waking up to who they are or might have been. Like Emanuel’s sister, Lucas will be defined by staying behind.

Los Angeles, June 27, 2021

Reprinted from My Queer Cinema blog and World Cinema Review (June 2021).

Saturday, June 26, 2021

John Scott Matthews | Boot Camp

musical torture

by Douglas Messerli

Marco Martinez-Galarce (composer) John Scott Matthews (screenwriter, lyricist, and director) Boot Camp / 1996 [6:06 minutes]

I have never much been interested in gay Sado-Masochistic sex and the images surrounding it. First of all, I love sex far too much to have to suffer and plead for it. And as Bette Midler quipped, the idea of having to lug all those accoutrements everywhere I go doesn’t thrill me. Finally, although I once dreamed of becoming an actor, I’m just not very good at role-playing. So when it comes to writing about S&M gay sex films, I’ll admit I approach it was a somewhat suspicious outsider.

     But there are some seemingly S&M gay films—I’m not speaking here of porno—that make it somewhat easier for the tyro. The 2016 film by Julián Hernández, Boys on the Rooftop, in which after a great deal of terror and torture the two S&M lovers realize they simply want to change roles, is at least a more humorous rendition of such serious love and hate making. But perhaps the most embracing of them all is John Scott Matthews 1996 short (of just 6 minutes), Boot Camp.

     The film begins with a motorcycle vrooming up an alley to park next to a brick wall. In his review mirror the leather-jacketed, ponytail-wearing man catches a glimpse of a handsome all-American boy peaking around the corner at him. When he turns his head to look, the boy just as quickly snaps out of sight, a process repeated a couple of times before the macho S&M number removes his jacket to reveal a suit of leather straps, puts on his hat, and moves toward the front of the building to the bar, the boy behind.

     Once in the bar, the boy sits off to the side, witnessing one man bending down to another at the counter in rapt readiness for his command apparently for a blow-job, while another man leads his lover through in manacles. A third couple move off into a jail-like setting where the dominant one hooks up the other to the cellbars, rubbing the end of a whip across his face.

     The moment our original leather boy, in the credits named the Master (John Cantwell), spots the new kid, he snaps his finger, as the bartender (Alex Benjamin) hands him his beer. Moving forward, he approaches the boy, the Novice (Matthew Solari).

     Standing near the boy, who immediately rises, he waits for a musical swell and breaks into song: 

In this kind of place

a sweet handsome face

sends my mind on a little spree.

Though it’s never been tamed

my heart feels ashamed

of the thoughts that occur to me:

(a vamp for the chorus)

I’d like to dress you up in leather

and pierce your nipples, put them on a tether.

(The Novice responding)

That sounds delightful, we should get together

but not while we’re dancing dear.       

        The Master continues:

 I’d like to strip you to your undies

and slip to mine and give each other grundies.*


I’ll check my date book and clear my Sundays

but not while we’re dancing dear.

     So begins a whole series of clever lyrics, eventually involving all the bar patrons, one of whom attempts to steal the boy away from the Master, but is choreographically blocked, as the Master pulls him back into a kind of S&M tango.

    They sing another chorus or two in harmony before finally the Master, bending his dancing partner toward the floor sings:

I’d like to leave here if we’re able

heat up the wax and strap you to a table...

...while the Novice, pausing, suggests that he perhaps appears somewhat “unstable,” but nonetheless quickly leaves with the Master, joining him on the back of cycle as the two ride off into S&M paradise.

     With music by Marco Martinez-Galarce, lyrics by the director, and choreography by Bill Fabris, this is a true musical tongue-in-cheek gem of the long list of short LGBTQ films of the 1990s that lives up to its name, representing a campy song-and-dance tale about men in boots.

*Slaps of the scrotum against the thigh.

Los Angeles, June 26, 2021

Reprinted from My Queer Cinema blog and World Cinema Review (June 2021).