Wednesday, September 2, 2009




While the history and impact of straight, ‘mainstream’ adult cinema has been well covered and documented in the past decade, via films such as Boogie Nights, documentaries like Wadd (about the legendary John Holmes) and in the pages of several books (The X Factory and The Other Hollywood are two excellent tomes that immediately come to mind), early gay hardcore cinema has remained consigned for the most part to the dark back alleys of film history. In fact, many people still seem surprised that these films even existed at all, so obscure have they remained over the years.

The origins of modern gay porn cinema can be traced back to the strengthening of the gay rights movement in the late 1960s, when open and proudly homosexual characters began to appear more regularly on film, although it was mostly via the work of underground filmmakers like Kenneth Anger (Scorpio Rising) and Andy Warhol (Bike Boy, Blowjob). Some low-budget exploitation filmmakers tried to cross pollinate genres, but the result was not always a success (the 1971 flick The Pink Angels, about a gay biker gang who get lynched on their way to a drag ball, was a miscalculation that appalled homosexual viewers and alienated the straight drive-in crowd).


Loosening censorship laws and the increased distribution avenues for independent cinema in the early seventies saw the emergence a run of grimy, softcore gay features with titles like Stud Farm, Meat Rack (a Freudian tale of a mother-hating male hustler) and Sticks and Stones. Mostly these films would be screened in the small number of adult cinemas that were cropping up across the United States with the aim of catering to an exclusively gay clientele.

Gay porn became of fully-fledged genre unto itself once the door to hardcore cinema was kicked in by the likes of Deep Throat, Behind the Green Door and The Devil in Miss Jones. The demand for gay sex films became so strong that New York alone had over a dozen cinemas devoted to screening all-male features. Of course, many of these cinemas were of the ‘storefront’ variety (small shops that were cheaply converted into makeshift movie houses), and had names like The Gaiety, The Jewel, Eros, The Kings and The Ramrod.

It was within the darkened confines of these tiny, musty cinemas that one room weekend productions like Midnight Geisha Boy, How to Make a Homo Movie, Gay Guide to Campus, Confessions of a Male Groupie, Hold Your Piece and Swap Meat were screened, usually on rickety 16mm film equipment, the whirr of the sprockets providing an additional aural accompaniment to not only the onscreen soundtrack but the illicit action that was often taking place between anonymous audience members.

While the seventies didn’t produce a landmark gay porn classic on the level of Deep Throat or Debbie Does Dallas, a few interesting gems did spring up to distinguish themselves from the pack. Boys in the Sand and L.A. Plays Itself, both released in 1972, managed to break through and receive some positive attention in the mainstream entertainment press, inspiring even some chic hetero couples to venture into the cinema to wallow in their ‘decadence’, while 1977s Heavy Equipment, starring Jack Wrangler (one of the decade’s biggest names in gay porn and currently a prominent producer of musical theatre) has the distinction of being the first hardcore feature to be filmed in 3D.

Naturally, like their straight counterparts, most of these cinemas offered not only live stage acts, but also encouraged patrons to get together after (or during) the film in one of their special rooms they had furnished either out the back or upstairs. The Ramrod had its Stud Room (‘Always Open!’), the Rendezvous had its After Dark Lounge, while the Gaiety promoted its Apollo Room (‘Where Boy Meets Boy!’). The Night Shift cinema (situated on New York’s 8th Avenue) outdid them all, setting up a prop subway car, park bench and a few fake trees to try and re-create the Big Apple cruising experience.


For those people who were unable (or too embarrassed) to attend a gay adult cinema, release could be sought in the form of 8mm ‘loops’, short films that were usually shot without sound and lasted on average around eight to ten minutes and were sold via ads in the back pages of gay (and the odd straight) sex publications, to be viewed in the comfort and convenience of your own lounge or bedroom. For those without access to a projector, the mail order companies (who were invariably based on the fringes of Hollywood) offered little plastic handheld movie viewers for a few bucks a pop, or would throw one in for free if you purchased three or more loops at once.

Today, original 8 and 16mm reels of early gay hardcore films are considered important cultural artefacts, and are highly sought after by collectors and historians, while those who want to recreate the heady and somewhat illicit atmosphere of those long gone early days can do so thanks to pioneering companies like Something Weird, who offer up a lot of these vintage films on VHS and DVD (visit them at For those who really want to experience the full gay grindhouse experience, Something Weird even offer up copies of Heavy Equipment that comes with two pairs of 3D glasses – one for you, and one for your bud!

Copyright John Harrison 2009