Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Unerrated '78 - Evan Purchell ""

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Unerrated '78 - Evan Purchell

Evan lives in Austin and can be found on Twitter and Letterboxd.

There are so many great films from 1978 that I’m sure will wind up on other lists, so I thought I’d try something a little different and focus on some of my favorite gay-themed films from the year -- all of which I’d say are underseen. 

EL DIPUTADO (dir. Eloy de la Iglesia)
Eloy de la Iglesia's homosexuality and his staunch support of socialism had always existed in his films, though it wasn't until the end of the Franco regime that he could express both openly. EL DIPUTADO is the film where everything comes together, mixing the bisexual melodrama of his previous LOS PLACERES OCULTOS with a blackmail plot reminiscent of Dearden's VICTIM as a means of criticizing the continuing criminalization of homosexuality even after the end of the dictatorship. Made during Spain's transition to democracy, the film is fascinating not just for its frankness, but for how Iglesia uses his narrative to document the country's history in real time, using real protests and marches as the setting for his character's simultaneous sexual and political awakenings.

The second in Joe Gage’s trucker trilogy is perhaps the ultimate ‘buddy’ film, teaming returning star Richard Locke with macho icon (and LA PLAYS ITSELF director) Fred Halsted for a road trip that’s as openly inspired by Argento and Truffaut as it is Tom of Finland and Boyd McDonald’s STRAIGHT TO HELL zine. Gage’s early films were a sensation upon release, heavily advertised in mainstream outlets (including TV!) and birthing a sexual ethos and fashion style all of their own -- the freewheeling, masculine Gage Man. His explorations of sexual fluidity, male camaraderie, and voyeuristic lust have held up remarkably well and are just waiting to be rediscovered by a new generation. They haven’t had the best treatment on home video -- many VHS and DVD editions of EL PASO are missing nearly 30 minutes -- so let’s hope that Vinegar Syndrome or some other adventurous distributor will step up and give them the care they deserve.

GAY USA (dir. Arthur J. Bressan, Jr.)
Made as a direct response to Anita Bryant’s anti-gay crusade and the ongoing threat of the Briggs Initiative, Arthur Bressan’s document of six simultaneous Pride celebrations across the US manages to be as politically-minded as it is celebratory. Parades were nothing new for Bressan, whose erotic drama Passing Strangers climaxed at the 1974 Gay Freedom Day parade in San Francisco, so he knows not to focus on the spectacle, but on the community itself -- here newly-energized and dealing with issues of identity, language, and public opinion while still learning about its past. To say that it’s still relevant is an understatement. Streaming for free through Frameline here.

A hardcore travelogue made by a group of French filmmakers on a visit to America, NEW YORK CITY INFERNO is the gay equivalent of an Agnès Varda film (really!). Using a thin fictional narrative as the webbing for a series of vignettes, director Scandelari takes the audience on a tour of all of New York’s major cruising spots: the Piers, the Meatpacking District, the Spike, the Broadway Arms Baths, and a finale at the infamous Mineshaft, all set to a throbbing Village People beat. French directors like Scandelari and Norbert Terry saw their sex films as tools for gay liberation, and it shows here in the unscripted interviews with American gay activists and French expats that break up the action. Who says you can’t educate AND titillate at the same time?

Scandelari’s follow-up, NEW YORK AFTER MIDNIGHT (aka MONIQUE) is no less compellingly inexplicable, reflecting what I imagine was his creeping disillusionment with America -- the grungy, utopian sexual paradise of his earlier film reimagined as a claustrophobic, paranoid nightmare of past sexual trauma and its strobe-induced reverberations into the present. Written by Louisa Rose, whose only other screenwriting credit for DePalma’s SISTERS should clue you in to what to expect from this -- well, maybe not the musical cameo from straight-for-pay porn-star-turned-soap-star Wade Nichols.

NIGHTHAWKS (dir. Ron Peck)
One of the first British films to focus on gay life, rather than just use it as a plot point, Ron Peck’s NIGHTHAWKS follows a grade-school teacher trapped in London’s cruise scene, closeted at work by day and hitting the clubs for fleeting hookups by night. Peck’s film fully embodies the repetition of the scene it depicts, but his intention isn’t to cast judgment on its participants, but rather to highlight the claustrophobia of living a double life. German director Frank Ripploh lifted the scenario for his own TAXI ZUM KLO a few years later, but his take is more outrageous and comic than Peck’s. Both are very much worth the watch.

A biker film that owes more to PLAY IT AS IT LAYS than it does to STRAY CAT ROCK, Hôjin Hashiura's deeply nihilistic debut feature follows a trio of depressed, glue-sniffing youths cast adrift in a Japan torn between generations. Although the main two character arcs are compelling enough, it's the third that's most interesting -- that of the effeminate gay teen whose drug abuse and suicidal urges stem directly from Japan's repressive society and his wealthy family's desire for an heir that he can never produce. A well-worn stereotype (and one played by Anthony Perkins in the Frank Perry film), sure, but Hashiura and only-time actor Kazuhito Takei imbue the character with a level of sympathy that you just don't see in Japanese films from the era.

SEXTETTE (dir. Ken Hughes)
Mae West’s swan song is like the television special from hell, a parade of regrettable cameos and unfortunate musical interludes chained together by a constant stream of smutty jokes and cornball hijinx. Something like this is beyond camp -- a bawdy farewell that's as cheap as it is extravagant, like the vaseline that's frequently smeared on the camera lens to hide Mae's age. Dom DeLuise tapdances on a piano, so there's that, too? Pair with Tom DeSimone’s CHATTERBOX for maximum effect.

Eight other recommendations:
THE ALIEN FACTOR (dir. Don Dohler)

DESPAIR (dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder)

JENNIFER (dir. Brice Mack)


ÓPALO DE FUEGO (dir. Jess Franco)

THE REDEEMER: SON OF SATAN! (dir. Constantine S. Gochis)

THE WHOLE SHOOTIN’ MATCH (dir. Eagle Pennell)
-->s new roman" , serif;">REMEMBER MY NAME (dir. Alan Rudolph)

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