Jerovi / Testament / Confessions / My Hustler

Friday, Mar 18, 2022 - 7:30pm to 9:30pm
still from movie of person liking into their reflection

Part of the series: Pioneers of Queer Cinema

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UCLA Film & Television Archive presents free screenings at the Billy Wilder Theater at the Hammer Museum.

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In-person: Bradford Nordeen, Creative Director of Dirty Looks INC.

Jerovi

1965

Though somewhat overshadowed by contemporaries Andy Warhol, Jack Smith and Kenneth Anger, Puerto Rican-born José Rodriguez-Soltero (1943-2009) can claim the mantle as the foremost Latinx, queer, psychedelic artist of New York City’s mid-‘60s underground filmmaking scene—to wit, Warhol Factory superstar Mario Montez (who appears in another Pioneers selection, My Hustler, once pronounced Rodriguez-Soltero his favorite director. In a video interview from within the vaults of the Film-Makers’ Cooperative, the non-profit, avant-garde collective based in New York City, current Executive Director M.M. Serra weighs in on the filmmaker’s work and legacy: “He didn’t make a lot of films, but the films he made were his jewels.”

His second film, Jerovi, was shot in 1965 in San Francisco, where Rodriguez-Soltero had previously attended classes at SFSU. This erotic retelling of the Narcissus myth, muses film scholar Ronald Gregg, “mark[s] an important turn in the introspective and psychoanalytic use of narcissism by previous experimental filmmakers, such as Curtis Harrington [and] Willard Maas.” Saturated with Sirkian color and revelling in nature and adoration of the flesh, Jerovi is a singular, seductive vision.

This Narcissus, depicted here by the film’s financer, Jerovi Sanzón Carrasco, arrives upon the underground cinematic landscape immediately following the sexual revolution of the 1960s, which unabashedly endorsed shameless discovery of self-fueled pleasure. Even within a seemingly liberated cultural landscape, to depict a body engaging in self-love, notably a person of color’s body willingly self-subjectifying, was a groundbreaking act. As Gregg notes, “this Narcissus is clearly liberated and not in the least interested in doing therapy.” However, like other explicit films before it, Jerovi was censored at the time, rejected from film festivals and other opportunities for public exhibition for its “pornographic” content. At Rodriguez-Soltero’s dying request, the Film-Makers' Cooperative prioritized its preservation and restoration to 16mm, a progressive act that makes the film available for this landmark program.

K.J. Relth-Miller, with thanks to Bradford Nordeen.

16mm, color, 11 min. Director: José Rodriguez-Soltero. With: Jerovi Sanzón Carrasco.

Testament

1974

A pioneer of West Coast experiential film and a celebrated poet, James Broughton (1913-1999) was a central fixture in the San Francisco arts and literary community from the 1940s through the ‘80s. Inspired at the age of three by the profound, dream-like visitation of a queer muse, Broughton’s embrace of film for the fusing of the visual and the spoken word was born following his contemplation of suicide at the age of 30. Liberated by the expression allowed by the moving image, Broughton devoted the rest of his life to breaking taboos and exploring his own self-affirming philosophy that he called “Big Joy.” An out, gay underground filmmaker and poet during oppressive times, Broughton lived life boldly, by the example of his proud credo, “Follow Your Own Weird.”

Bestowed with the American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Experimental Film in 1999 (the year of his passing at age 86), Broughton left a beloved, symmetrical artistic canon of 23 books and 23 films. His activism was also notable, serving as a “charter member” of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a service group of queer and trans nuns that utilize “humor and irreverent wit to expose the forces of bigotry, complacency and guilt that chain the human spirit.”

Broughton’s autobiographical short film Testament is a gentle, humanist fever dream by way of an elliptical visual poem. With drama, humor and a deft touch of wistfulness, the self-portrait deeply mines the filmmaker’s unsurpassed creative arsenal of experimentation and prose as a means to illuminate his equally titanic love of life and living. A mélange of styles and forms (including flirtations with straight documentary and nods to the silent era), the acclaimed short exemplifies Stan Brakhage’s grand assessment of Broughton’s work as "an art of lifelong montage."

Mark Quigley

16mm, color, 20 min. Director: James Broughton.

Confessions

1972

Trailblazing queer artist and filmmaker Curt McDowell (1945-1987) moved to San Francisco during the Summer of Love and worked there prolifically until his death from HIV/AIDS, churning out nearly three dozen works as director. A close friend of fellow iconoclast George Kuchar, with whom McDowell would frequently collaborate, McDowell’s variably explicit and playful works evoke several contemporaries, primarily Jack Smith (Flaming Creatures, 1962) and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, whose queer melodrama The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant was released into the world the same year as McDowell’s third 16mm film, Confessions.

McDowell shot Confessions in his apartment in San Francisco. Employing the confrontational method of direct address, he discloses his carnal sins to his parents. “Graphic in its sexuality both visually and verbally,” writes gay rights historian and activist Bob Hawk, “the filmmaker manages to maintain a drolly humorous humanity in this pre-AIDS ‘underground’ document.” This outrageous 11-minute work was conceived and executed while McDowell was a graduate student at San Francisco Art Institute, where experimental film luminaries Craig Baldwin, Stan Brakhage and, later, George Kuchar served as faculty.

According to Kuchar, “life for [McDowell] was a fast track to fast times that included devilish detours into forbidden erogenous zones. He explored all those zones with a zealous zeal: painter, pornographer, poet of the plebeian and the perverse.” George Kuchar often invited McDowell to contribute that unique energy to his own films: along with Ainslie Pryor, who also stars in Confessions, McDowell would star in one of Kuchar’s few features, the bawdy melodrama The Devil’s Cleavage (1973).

Notes Glen Helfand in Artforum, “like so many artists of his generation, [McDowell] indulged in the era’s carnal abundance, and his appetites and experiences are reflected in the work.”

K.J. Relth-Miller

16mm, b&w, 16 min. Director: Curt McDowell. With: Carla Cooper, Ted Davis, Mark Ellinger, George Kuchar, Ainslie Pryor. Restored by the Academy Film Archive.

My Hustler

1965

Andy Warhol’s brilliantly bitchy masterpiece of voyeurism, desire and boredom unfolds on a lazy afternoon on Fire Island where a threesome of libertines compete for the attentions of a buff, dipped-blonde “Dial-a-Hustler.” Middle-aged “Queen Ed” (Ed Hood) plays resigned beach house host for a boozy impromptu gathering of his lithe neighbor Genevieve (Genevieve Charbon), who has a history of swooping on his tricks, and the “Sugar Plum Fairy” (John Campbell), a storied hustler in his own right, who interrupt his plans for Paul America’s naive hunk out sunbathing on the sand. In the film’s first half, the camera whip pans between long takes of the trio swapping innuendos on their patio lookout to America down on the beach in a trim bathing suit applying lotion, glancing at a book, and self-consciously posing. Weiner’s Southern-inflected patter carries us through the loose set up of a bet to see who can bed the bathing beauty peppered with a panoply of queer witticism and droll commentary on the layers of contesting power relations roiling the summer air. An abrupt cut inaugurates the second half of the film which unfolds as a single, static shot of a shirtless America and Campbell discussing business while taking turns grooming themselves in front of a bathroom mirror. Unheard and objectified in the first half, America here sounds out the old pro about his own potential value in the marketplace and the dynamics of power seem to shift again. Perhaps Warhol’s most explicitly entertaining and accessible film works, My Hustler casts a sharp eye on gender, sexuality and the commodification of desire while passing as lightly as a summer divertissement.

Paul Malcolm

16mm, b&w, 79 min. Director: Andy Warhol, Chuck Wein. With: Paul America, Joseph Campbell, Genevieve Charbon. Print courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art.

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