1927 ā Kenneth Anger, American Underground Filmmaker, born; One of Americaās first openly Gay filmmakers, and certainly the first whose work addressed homosexuality in an undisguised, self-implicating manner, Kenneth Anger occupies an important place in the history of experimental filmmaking. His role in rendering Gay culture visible within American cinema, commercial or otherwise, is impossible to overestimate.
In 1947, Anger gained instant notoriety with Fireworks, a homoerotic nightmare/reverie in which a muscle-bound sailor enjoys posing for the protagonistās (Angerās) delectation, but then, with four others, bashes the youth in a public restroom. Despite the horrific scenario, the ending suggests redemption with milky fluid spattering Angerās body, a sympathetic sailorās crotch spewing white sparks from a Roman candle, and Anger resurrected, wearing a flaming Christmas tree headdress.
Some early Anger works never made it to the controversial screening stage because negatives were confiscated and destroyed by self-policing labs to which he had sent film for processing. Conversely, other viewers were overly appreciative of Angerās eroticism, pirating and showing his films in nightclubs during an era when Gay porn was largely unavailable.
Similarly, the pervasiveness of iconic Gay imagery in Angerās work, such as the leather-clad bikers of Scorpio Rising (1963), often caused his films to be grossly oversimplified as depictions of homosexual āpathology,ā rather than understood as critiques of American mass culture, particularly as it was propagated by Hollywood movies and the rock-and-roll music that Anger used for his soundtracks in pioneering ways, critically anticipating the music-video genre.
In unfinished film projects such as Puce Moment (1949), with its close-up sequence of womenās gowns, and Kustom Kar Kommandos (1965), in which a youth caresses a hot-rod with a powder puff, Anger inventories American cultureās most fetishized objects, evoking a profoundly camp sensibility. Elsewhere, in Eaux d'artifice (1953), whatever Gay content does existāAnger cites Ronald Firbankās novel Valmouth as inspiration and has likened the fountain imagery to sexual water-sportsāis subordinate to the filmās elegant visual abstractions.
Although Fireworks and Scorpio Rising had earned him a reputation as an underground Gay filmmaker, through the late 1960s and 1970s, Angerās films expressed less specifically Gay content. His longtime fascination with the writings of occultist Aleister Crowley, which had imparted a dark, ritualistic atmosphere to even his earliest films, propelled works such as Invocation of My Demon Brother (1969) and Lucifer Rising (1973). Collaborative projects with Mick Jagger and Led Zeppelinās Jimmy Page recalled Angerās earlier professional engagements with Jean Cocteau, AnaĆÆs Nin, and other iconoclasts, but the results fell short of Angerās expectations and, indeed, abilities.
Through the 1980s, Anger became known to a broader public through the film adaptation of his lurid book Hollywood Babylon (1958), which chronicled scandals of the film industry. Hollywood Babylon is, in essence, a counter-accusation of indecency and intemperance against Americaās self-righteous film establishment, an institution that at mid-century was so fearful of scandal that only underground filmmakers risked depicting overtly sexual content and exploring radical cinematic forms.
Al Lewis, radicalized by his immigrant garment worker mother at a young age, became a committed Socialist by the time of the Great Depression. When landlords evicted people, Lewis and his colleagues would break back into the properties and move the tenantsā furniture back in, and when unemployed workers were denied relief, Lewis would join others in storming relief centers and fight the police. Despite living through theĀ reactionaryĀ Reagan years, he kept his principles and remained realistic: āIāve been in the struggle over 70 years. It doesnāt bother me that I may not win. After doing X amount of time or years, donāt throw your hands up in the air because, you see, everybody wants āthe win.ā They want it today. It doesnāt happen. The struggle goes on. The victory is in the struggle for me, and I accepted that a long time ago.ā
Oliver Frey (1948- 2022) seemingly led a double life, the Swiss artist, who was based in the United Kingdom was well known for his book and magazine illustrations, especially for British computer magazines of the 1980s but under the pen name Zack, he became known for his erotic illustrations and erotic comics in gay male porn magazines of the 1970s and 1980s. It was first as a young man in Britain that he first discovered comics and was inspired to become an artist. His family later moved back to Switzerland, but after doing his national service in the Swiss Army and dropping out of Berne University, āOliā returned to Britain to study at the London Film School, where he supported himself working as a freelance comic artist. As āZackā, Frey pushed the boundaries of UK obscenity law at the time, bordering on (or directly crossing into ) hardcore imagery which resulted in not only raised eyebrows but subjected him to police raids where entire stocks of the magazine were destroyed. Ha work still technically illegal due to the wording of the laws that had only partially legalised gay sex. Some of his less explicit gay work bears his real name and he never actually tried to keep his adult work a secret ā itās just that the two worlds of āgayā and āstraight ā cartooning were kept very separate. The gay erotic art was the subject of an exhibition at the British Library in 2014 ā giving it a degree of establishment respectability. Frey died aged 74 in 2022, survived by his long term partner Roger Kean.
Marty Robinson (l) and Tom Doerr. Both were early Gay rights activists and participated in the Stonewall Riot. Doerr introduced the lambda as a symbol for the Gay rights movement. Both died of AIDS. From Robinsonās obituary for his lover Doerr: āAnything that I had been able to contribute towards human liberation (self-acceptance) came from his love.ā
Wrapped up in a bed sheet and with a rubber block between his teeth, 17-year-old Lou Reed was carefully placed on a wooden gurney for treatment. He was given no anesthetic and just a muscle relaxant to calm him as the two electrodes were placed on his head. Then a doctor flipped a switch and the musical genius who would later found the Velvet Underground convulsed in agony. Lou Reed had just had his first taste of electroshock therapy - a treatment he was given in part because of his sexuality. He, himself, believed that he was treated to dispel his homosexual feeling. As a teenager he began writing about sexual experiences with men, real or imagined in bathroom stalls, in his budding musician days when he would be playing or just hanging out in a Long Island bar called The Hayloft. The Hayloft was a favorite bar for a NY crowd and where Lou Reed would first meet the transgender actress Candy Darling, Reed would later immortalize Darling in his song āWalk On The Wild Sideā and right under white, Americaās middle class nose came the lyricsā¦āCandy came from out on the Island in the back room she was everybody's darling.But she never lost her head evenwhen she was giving head.ā