Pat Rocco screening, International House, Philadelphia, Friday 1/31 !!!

I am excited beyond words to introduce a screening of Pat Rocco shorts this week at the International House in Philadelphia, as part of the astonishingly great Free to Love: Cinema of the Sexual Revolution series. It’s at 7pm Friday, and I hope people will attend—Rocco’s films are extremely rare and hard to see, so this is a unique opportunity.

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I first came across Rocco’s work as a grad student at UCLA. Though I was in the history department, I spent as much time as I could watching obscure, otherwise-unavailable films in the Film & Television Archive. Though Rocco is glossed over in several histories of gay film and erotica, I felt his work deserved more attention—he was a pivotal figure in bringing a proud, gay eros into the public sphere, beginning with the early screening of his short films at the Park Theatre in downtown Los Angeles in the summer of 1968. He’s best known for his beefcake-inspired films of naked men engaged in all sorts of frolicsome pleasures, but he also made striking documentaries that captured the early gay liberation era like few others.

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one dapper documentarian!

When I discovered that Rocco’s papers were at the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives, at USC, I became even more certain I had a meaningful project on my hands. It took some years of sporadic viewing at UCLA, working my way through dozens upon dozens of short films, as well as Rocco’s few feature-length narrative works, but eventually I published an article on him (“Mondo Rocco: Mapping Gay Los Angeles Sexual Geography in the Late-1960s Films of Pat Rocco”) in the Radical History Review. It might be my favorite thing I’ve ever written; the cover image of the journal is certainly my favorite:

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I won’t rehash the whole thing, but my basic argument is that Rocco mapped a very concrete gay Los Angeles geography in his films, which he shot, guerilla-style without a permit, around the greater metro area. He’s important as a pioneering gay filmmaker, but also as a Los Angeles filmmaker, period (even though he’s also largely disregarded in cinematic histories of L.A.). His location shooting on Hollywood Boulevard, Griffith Park, Echo Park, Disneyland, and even the Hollywood Freeway—where he improbably managed to film a naked man dancing, as you’ll see if you can make it to the I-House—is, for my money, the single most vivid body of L.A. location work from this era, period (sorry Antonioni, Roger Corman, and New Hollywood brats!).

It’s a shame that Rocco’s work is nearly un-seeable outside the UCLA Film & Television Archive.  Stylistically, a lot of it is pretty rudimentary, but there’s a joyousness to much of it, and its historical significance is undeniable. The only home-viewing release that I’m aware of was a VHS tape of his 1970 omnibus Mondo Rocco that came out and rapidly disappeared in the 1990s (it’s currently unavailable on Amazon). I’ve taken some crappy screencaps from that, as a taste of Rocco’s work—the I-House screening will look much better!

So, a preview/celebration of some of Pat Rocco’s work:

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with Troy Perry, founder of the Metropolitan Community Church

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note the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) sign!

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These next images are particularly amazing: Rocco capturing police harassment of a gay bar on film as it occurs! I wrote more about this for the Free to Love catalog, which I’ll post more about soon–but to the best of my knowledge, there is nothing quite like this in the history of film.

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Hope to see people at the I-House Friday!

(edited to add, I made a similar plea at the awesome Pop-Up Museum of Queer History tumblr, and also located some rare cat-and-naked-men images from Rocco’s work at my beloved OMGcatrevolution… pulling out all the stops on this one, clearly)

Baraka, Godard, and the Lost Films of Newark: 1 PM (1972)

Amiri Baraka passed away yesterday, a great loss to American culture. I’m not looking forward to the fair-and-balanced reporting of the mainstream media—the obits at the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and NPR have been informative but rather milquetoast, handling with delicacy the jagged edges of Baraka’s life and work—but I suppose it’s all better than, say, the comments at NJ.com, which I’m not even going to link to because they’re gross as usual.

There are surely a million ways to write about Baraka (hell, Pitchfork even gave a nice musical spin), a complicated figure whose homophobic, misogynist, and anti-Semitic comments inevitably draw more attention in the mainstream press than his striking plays and poetry, his foundational role in the Black Arts movement, his brilliant and important political organizing in Newark and the nation, the reasons for his turn to Marxism-Leninism after the exhausting struggles of the 1970s, or the dynamic, evolving nature of his ideas over time.

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also rarely acknowledged: his light, charming touch.
here with Maya Angelou, 1991 (courtesy NYT)

I don’t aspire to address all of that (though here’s a quick favorite short poem), but I want to pay tribute in my own way, by bringing Baraka into the fold of Newark’s cinematic history, which is an angle that has not been much written about, as far as I can tell.

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This image is from the strange, muddled, mostly forgotten film 1 PM. In the foreground, Baraka; in the deep backdrop, Jean-Luc Godard, who shot it in 1968. Godard had rushed to America, apparently believing the revolution was imminent. When it didn’t come to pass, he let the footage sit, until cameraman and documentarian D.A. Pennebaker edited it into something resembling a movie a few years later. It came out in 1972, and pretty promptly disappeared from memory (the New York Times, for instance, basically shrugged).

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Vintage Sleaze, Target Smut, and Temple of Schlock: an internet catch-up

I’m thrilled to have Obscenity Rules featured today on Vintage Sleaze, one of my favorite blogs, and a tremendous archive of images, texts, and stories from the sordid midcentury smut world. I’m not sure exactly what Jim Linderman’s research methods are at VS, but they’re impressive—we’re not talking Google image searches here, we’re talking deep collector knowledge. So it’s an honor to be included in its ranks; for my part, I shared a few images that were previously unpublished, to the best of my knowledge, including mug shots of David Alberts and his wife, Violet Stanard.

Alberts was the Los Angeles smut-merchant whose local case was fused with Samuel Roth’s federal case in Roth v. U.S., so that Justice Brennan’s opinion would apply at all judicial levels. I sent Jim a mugshot of Alberts without glasses, which I found in the records of the smut-busting Kefauver Committee at the National Archives; for variety’s sake, here’s one with glasses:

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Speaking of Brennan, I discussed him a bit more in an interview last month—apparently I’ve been doing a somewhat crummy job of updating here, because Obscenity Rules was the December pick of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, which was a delight. Interview here, talking about Roth, Brennan, and the ongoing, if dormant, threat of obscenity laws.

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While I’m getting caught up, one more moment of real personal excitement came last month when I contributed a guest post at Temple of Schlock, the long-running zine-turned-blog. I’ve been a reader for years, so when I came across some archival material related to the lost 1968 Citizens for Decent Literature antiporn film Target Smut, I compiled it into a long-form narrative piece for TOS. I submitted archival images from my years spent chasing CDL’s paper trail around the country for my dissertation, and editor Chris Poggiali (a stone expert in lost films and their paper trails) added some great images, too. I was pretty happy with the piece, “Target Smut: In Search of a Lost Anti-porn Classic.”

It’s one thing to publish a peer-reviewed academic journal article (I actually considered trying to spin Target Smut into one, but then decided to just have fun with it), but a whole different (and frankly, more satisfying) level of squee to write for places like Vintage Sleaze and Temple of Schlock (and their “endangered list,” at that—my favorite posts there!). My thanks to Jim and Chris, and the folks at the ABFFE.