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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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)