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THE EROTIC FILMS OF PETER DE ROME
DVD. BFI.

The Erotic Films of Peter de RomeIn their justification for passing this film with an 18 certificate, the BBFC stated that the film is,”in tone and treatment, is distinguishable from a sex work”. It’s a frankly ridiculous claim, and perhaps shows up the nonsensical situation that the British censors have dug themselves into with their facile distinction between ‘sex works’ (erotic films they disapprove of) and ‘non-sex works’ (erotic films they do approve of). Because, as Peter de Rome himself cheerfully admits in the excellent documentary included here, his films are porn, made with the express intention of being masturbatory material – the very definition the BBFC use to declare a film to be a ‘sex work’ and so banished to the sex-shop-only R18 category if it contains real, explicit sex – which this does, extensively. The Board also claim that the film has “artistic, cultural and historical merit”, which is true – but moreso than, say The Opening of Misty Beethoven, passed R18 several years ago? I don’t think so. However, it may be that there has been a change of attitude to 1970s porn in general – after all, the openly erotic Caligula also passed uncut with Bob Guccione’s hardcore scenes intact. Perhaps the BFI or some other ‘respectable’ distributor can pick up the rights to Through The Looking Glass, or The Devil in Miss Jones, or Memories Within Miss Aggie, or Café Flesh… or even a bunch of 8mm loops from the 1970s… and submit them for an uncut 18. Certainly, anyone releasing those films and being refused an 18 certificate would have a pretty strong legal argument based on this release…

Now, don’t misunderstand me – I’m glad the BBFC have passed this for general adult release. I just wish they weren’t such blatant hypocrites. Because while The Erotic Films of Peter de Rome certainly does have historical value, the arthouse credentials of what are effectively a collection of 8mm silent hardcore loops seem a little dubious. Let’s be honest – you could show most audiences this and, say, a Joe Gage gay porn movie from the Seventies and I suspect few viewers would see a discernable difference in content or intent. Hell, even the title lays it on the table what this is. And notably, in the US, this is sold as porn, not art. That doesn't mean it isn't both, of course.

The Erotic Films of Peter de RomeThat’s not to say that these films are disposable. Far from it. A collection of eight short films, this was one of the first gay hardcore films to play publicly in the early 1970s, and the movies are a fascinating time capsule. Being shot on 8mm, they have a visual connection to the underground films of the Sixties, and a similar feel – these are stories told through sometimes disjointed visual narratives, where there is a set-up leading to a sex scene that feels like an extract of someone’s fantasy. By most standards, there’s no plot to these films – instead, they take a snapshot of a time and place, a home movie feel that then segues into the explicit sex scenes. Some feel almost innocent, not unlike the sex-free gay film loops that would masquerade as ‘physique’ films, while others have a heavy, sleazy, very 1970s feel – a casual encounter on a New York subway train, a BDSM-styled gang bang, a crucifixion that would’ve certainly pushed at BBFC liberalism had the blasphemy laws still been in force. And of course they represent a world before AIDS and ‘safe sex’.

While these films often follow the same basic structure as modern porn, what’s notable is just how different they are from modern product. Not just being shot on film, but the look of the performers – as with straight porn, 1970s gay porn is notable for the hairiness of the cast and a natural look that is perhaps lost in its current descendents. It that sense, the BBFC are correct – this film is hardly going to appeal to the modern porn viewer. Most people who buy this now won't be doing so in order to jerk off over it. But exactly the same could be said about Deep Throat.

Making up this package are extensive special features. The afore-mentioned documentary (Fragments – The Incomplete Films of Peter de Rome) is the highlight – ideally watched before the main film, it’s a fascinating, always entertaining look at the life of the remarkably chipper 87-year old director and his archives of unfinished films. It’s excellent stuff, and a feature length version is now planned.

Also included are four of de Rome’s shorts – only one, Scopo, is anywhere near as explicit as the main selection, and the films have new scores by Stephen Thrower and Steve Moore –and a ten minute horror film produced by David McGillivray and directed by the infamous Nathan Schiff: Abracadaver! Stars de Rome as a Wizard of Gore style magician. There’s also a pretty essential 44-page booklet that covers de Rome, his films and the history of gay porn. Oops, there's that awkward word again...

DAVID FLINT

 

 

 

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