Star Wars in Leather: A Lost Movie Review, and Some Notes on Smut-Mag Print-Media Historiography (!)

Okay, I confess: I haven’t seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I’m not a hater; I’m too old to relive my sneering Teenage Adorno years of smug condescension toward anyone who engages with mass culture for such sniveling epiphenomenal pleasures as, oh, entertainment. Nah, I appreciate populist film, even from Hollywood, and thought Creed was great. I just can’t be arsed on this one, I guess (also, apparently we’re supposed to collectively pretend the great river of crap known as episodes I-III never came along and destroyed our—my—goodwill?).

Nonetheless, I thought it was great when Samuel Delany’s original review of Star Wars from Cosmos Science Fiction and Fantasy popped up online, so in my already-faltering effort to post a few quick-hit archival treasures with minimal blathering, here’s this: the review of Star Wars from Drummer.

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Drummer was a gay leather magazine that ran from 1975 to 1999, and featured the work of everyone from Fred Halsted to Tom of Findland to Robert Mapplethorpe. Thanks to the magic of Wikipedia, I see that there’s a nicely-scanned set of early issues available online at Scribd, well worth scrolling for anyone interested in the history of gay culture (and much better looking than my quick shots that were intended just for personal reading–though they should be readable if you click and zoom in)—as Robert Dewhurst recently pointed out in a great essay on Gay Sunshine in the collection Porn Archives, gay print media of the 1970s has gone drastically underutilized by historians. I think this is partly because it’s hard to access and rarely digitized or even indexed, and partly because there’s just so much of it. Every major city had gay and lesbian papers in the 1970s, and when you browse the holdings at the New York Public Library’s International Gay Information Center, it’s just breathtaking—there’s no way to work systematically through this! And yet, it’s crucial, especially to recover queer histories that depart from the NYC/LA/SF nexus that still so often dominates LGBTQ history—check out, oh, I dunno, Omaha or Cleveland or Jackson, Mississippi and dig up those histories!

None of which has anything to do with Star Wars, so here (full text pasted at the very end):

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No one’s going to confuse critic Ed Franklin for Pauline Kael, and I’m not even sure he’s right about “sexily cynical Harrison Ford’s impersonation of a wholesome Burt Reynolds,” but he brings a nice Seventies-dude leer to his complaint that “everyone is excessively overdressed (don’t let that central figure on the ads fool you—no such male cleavage appears on the screen).”

Beyond that, not much going on in this review. But what’s interesting is how it’s situated—next to the generally forgotten Jesse Vint flick Black Oak Conspiracy, sure, but then joined by the heterosexual hardcore film Eruption, featuring John Holmes, whose “enormous organ [is] as familiar a filmic landmark as Elliot Gould’s hairy shoulders”—kind of an odd comparison, but maybe Dirty Harry’s giant pistol seemed too obvious. Franklin calls out the sexism of the film’s threesomes, and expresses concern about the corrosive beach-sand in the opening scene on the performers’ tender parts (something I recall thinking as well upon encountering Eruption as a youngster!).

More often, Drummer paired films like this: Marathon Man (which Franklin disliked) with Joe Gage’s classic Kansas City Trucking Co. (more favorably received: “a voyeuristic audience of healthy homosexuals will definitely not be bored unstiff”)

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While he rarely achieved a distinctive critical voice, Franklin was often good about calling out what we’d later call heteronormativity, as when The First Nudie Musical (snooooore) remained “relentlessly heterosexual” with a case of “cockophobia” (despite “a quick peek at two or three singularly unimpressive phalli”):

 

 

IMG_1427.JPGHe didn’t go for Drum despite its pseudo-SM imagery, and appreciated the drowsy virtues of Lifeguard, something of the ultimate Seventies movie in my mind—though even then, he noticed that only female flesh, and no male, appeared: “is this what makes a PG rating possible? Oh, wow.”

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Rocky earned a really perfunctory review, and James Toback’s Fingers—arguably one of the great gay-panic films in the history of strained masculinity—was received with ambivalence (fairly enough).

 

 

IMG_1431IMG_1444When Franklin returned to hetero-smut with V-The Hot One, he knowingly alluded to the fact that it had been pseudonymously directed by Orson Welles cameraman Gary Graver, and also highly recommended it: Do yourself a favor, don’t be turned off by its heterosexual orientation, and see it!”

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I’d say that sort of cross-sexuality endorsement was unmatched in the straight porn-mag world, but I don’t actually think that’s true; Screw, for instance, devoted a great deal of coverage to gay and lesbian topics, including porn film reviews. Yet the world of hetero-smut print media is, if anything, even more challenging to recover historically than its queer counterparts, since from the early 1970s on, a conscious effort to preserve LGBT periodicals was undertaken by at least some activists such as those who put together the IGIC. In contrast, I do not believe that one can locate Screw from the early 1970s even on microfilm in all of New York City (NYPL holds it on its catalog, but 1970 at least is currently lost), much less magazines of less note–at least, aside from privately held collections.

So, from Star Wars to smut historiography: perhaps as good a place as any to end. Though if anyone can explain to me why Wakefield Poole’s already-then-forgotten, mostly-straightish, softcore Bible adaptation occupied the cover of Drummer six years after its catastrophic release, in 1979, please do!

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PS: full text of Star Wars review, transcribed by my awesome friend Amanda:

I am told audiences are applauding the crawl of technical credits at the end of George Lucas’s Star Wars, and I am only mildly surprised. Seeing most films, as I do, at private studio screenings, I am accustomed to hearing dutiful smatterings in homage to everyone from Gaffer to Best Boy. But ovations by a paying audience are usually reserved for scenes of mass mayhem or quadruple car crashes. Still, as implied, Star Wars provides the most spectacular special effects ever seen on the silver screen [2001: A Space Odyssey not excepted], and the public’s spontaneous acknowledgment of that fact is gratifying.

In all, there are 363 different effects, as compared with 2001’s 35. An entire planet is blasted into multi-colored cosmic dust before your very eyes, space ships breathtakingly cavort in supersonic dogfights, motion beyond the speed of light is indicated, an entire city dwarfs New York’s World Trade Center twin towers, a space-port bar caters to nightmarish mutants that put the most outrageous of Muppets to shame, holographic projections beguile the eye and mind.

Yup, what we have here is a real something-for-everybody-type flick. For the kids (of all ages) there is the simplistic comic strip, hero vs. villain plot. For the adults (ditto) there is the wonderment of all those effects. For boys (of all sexes) there is Carrie Fisher, Eddie and Debby’s lovely, if low-busted, daughter, interestingly flawed by what appears to be a bungled nose job in the Nannette Fabray traditions. For the girls (ditto) there is either the gee-golly-gosh teenager portrayed by 25-year-old Mark Hamill or sexily cynical Harrison Ford’s impersonation of a wholesome Burt Reynolds.

Finally, for the intellectuals, there is a sub rosa history of cinema featuring memorable moments from Melies to Milius, with special bows to Lang, Fleming, Eisenstein, Ford and Huston. Or, you cerebral type can cogitate about the actual identity of the mysterious “Force” (Godhead? Pure Energy? Abstract Thought?) that shotguns for the good guys, and delight in the showdown between Alec Guiness’s philosophic sage and David Prowse’s Ming-the-Merciless take-off as Lord Darth Vadr [sic], whose ultimate escape would seem to presage an inevitable sequel.

The script – Lucas’s fifth rewrite – is heavy on plot, but heaving on dialog (“Will this never end?” and “This is madness!” characterize the flittering Tin Man-like robot, Threepio – 3PO – feyly enacted by Anthony Daniels). The score of John Williams, if traditional, is blessedly understated and splendidly played by the London Symphony Orchestra over a superlative sound system. Seventy individuals and five firms are listed in the awesome technical credits, to say nothing of nearly half a hundred “creators”, as opposed to a mere 25 actors.

To give credit where it is unqualifiedly due, primary kudos go to Production Designer John Barry, followed, in no particular order of importance, by Gilbert Taylor’s incredible cinematography, John Dykstra’s supervision of Special Photographic Effects and John Stears’ supervision of Special Production and Mechanical Effects, Stuart Freeborn’s inventive Make Up, Peter Diamond’s Stunt Coordination, Roger Christian’s amazing Set Decorations, etc., etc., etc.

Unfortunately, in this “long ago and far, far away galaxy,” everyone is excessively overdressed (don’t let that central figure on the ads fool you – no such male cleavage appears on the screen), even in the intimacy of their Solari-like desert habitations (courtesy of Tunisia). But this is a small price to pay for the fastest two hours in recent movie history. Twentieth Century Fox, we thank you for taking this gamble on George Lucas. But, as Variety would have it, boffo B.O. is its own reward! – Ed Franklin

 

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2 thoughts on “Star Wars in Leather: A Lost Movie Review, and Some Notes on Smut-Mag Print-Media Historiography (!)

  1. As the founding San Francisco editor in chief of Drummer, and author of countless reviews, stories, articles, and photographs, I can tell you why The Bible is on this cover of this issue in which I interviewed Wakefield Poole. Let’s be in touch. www DrummerArchives com Cheers, Jack

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