June 29, 1989
by John Karr

Jack Fritscher

Porno wasn't feature films after all, and the presumptions of the Poole/Deveau era began to fade in the early 1980s. With the spread of AIDS and VCRs, a nationwide network of gay theatres dwindled in number. Even the number of production companies fell after the boom years, and without their distribution network, perhaps it is only the difficulties of marketing that has kept video from becoming the people's art, as Christopher Rage expected. Without research, I can think of only a few independents: Katsam Productions, whose videos range from technically crude S/M debauches to forays into the weirdest esoterica; Sirco, which has paired Grandpa with a dildo, and sex with bathroom functions; Man's Hand, which purveys unlimitedly dull spanking videos; and Michael Goodwin's sometimes artsy-fartsy, sometimes right-on Goodjac Productions of contemporary safe-sex exploration.

But there's an acknowledged leader in the "cottage industry" porn field, and that's Jack Fritscher, who informs us that his Palm Drive Video is not a slick studio shooting slick models. Instead, they go to the street, jobsites, rodeos, policemen's wrestling exhibitions, and biker's beer busts to bring you Real Life Guys.

Jack Fritscher: "I'm an iconoclastic visual artist. I like to make new icons of ordinary people. You get to look at yourself. We're at a period where we need education and growth, and Palm Drive Videos are doing it. We're not making the same video over and over again. Part of the thing of the post-AIDS film that a video artist has is the responsibility to not only entertain; but to show guys what they can do that isn't the old style stuff that's now out of place, but a new way to have fun.

"Creatively, I'll take anything on as a challenge--that is, make a dirty movie where they keep their clothes on. And so, in our videos, the clothing, the gear, the talk, that attitude and the strut is as much the erotic movie as when they finally flip it out and whack it off. So you may watch the first third of a movie before the guy actually gets his dick out, because we're not that dick-centric. Because to the clever homosexual, frontal nudity has never been required.

"What we're talking about is the total attitude about watching a guy walk through his version of what being an American male is all about, whether he's a Southern redneck cowboy, a carpenter, or whatever. I'm not reacting to the prevailing commercial style; I complement it for what it is. I think it's kind of silly to do a narrative for an erotic movie, because once you've seen the story, who wants to watch it a second time? So I just decided to approach real guys I find in real places, several of whom are straight as arrows when it comes to their own sexual quality, but are free enough, because this is California, to show it off.

"Fraternities of men have always fascinated me. If I have a mission, a personal quest, it's always been to penetrate further and further into the tighter and tighter circles of fraternity that men put together for their own rituals. That's what I've been trying to capture on screen.

"That's how we got on the TV show 'People Are Talking.' They wanted to follow up a show on women in the erotic arts who are proud of what they do, and our combination of straight guys and gay guys made us quite interesting to them. I said, basically, we're fighting the war on AIDS, because we're giving people an electronic sex partner, one who talks to them and them only.

"One of the things I've tried to do is give ordinary guys confidence that they can be hot. What you're getting at Palm Drive Video is people's individual passions. What we have received from all the slick studios is the tale of two blonds who supposedly are USMC, fucking each other with 9-inch dicks around the pool. Everyone is tired of that movie. Instead of going through the formula of, 'I went to the bar and a muscle man took me home and fucked me over,' what we do is find the carpenter or construction worker, and I mean a real one, who is smart enough to take being videotaped as a compliment.

"I think video art, particularly in the '90s, is going to have to help gay guys re-invent sex. And I think we are in a stage of transcending purely genital sex. Fetish exploration was there even without AIDS, but it's been accelerated as another way to get at somebody's sexuality. What it does is release people from the grammar school of suck and fuck to the graduate school of sophisticating their sexuality. We're seeing through fetish how one transcends flesh sex a bit.

"Here in San Francisco we invented sex in the baths on drugs from the Haight. Now, video has become the substitute for the drugs to expand the mind and show the individual. That's why there's an explosion of solo videos. The biggest stars have seen their peerage die, and they'd much rather be in a solo video, not only for the safety of it, but because I try to find out what the man's fantasy is and let him act it out in spades. That allows a personal vision, which means that the day of the gay studio production is no longer absolute. The independent productions are giving those studio productions a run for their money.

"And that will change the sexuality of gay men. I think art should primarily entertain; but if it's art, it will change you. Gayness gets you into places you wouldn't get into as just a [straight] person. And a lot of gay boys miss that point if they think the bar style is the only way to be. That sounds like I'm crusading, and I'm not at all. I'm just offering an alternative [to bars].

"Where's video going? It's going to be more fetish oriented, because sex is not only your dick and your butt. The point is to let them have a good time, and also diverge from just thinking about sucking dick and fucking ass. And censorship? That influence of the Meese Commission still rolls along under the principle that if somebody abuses something, you have to take it away. But the abuse of a thing doesn't take away the use of the thing. You can take that principle and put that on every adult video. Prohibition doesn't work. So we're going to see more gay films from independent artists.

"I think in the '90s we're going to see a resurgence of gays in the media, especially as the AIDS cases explode, and we serve as the model for the world on how to deal with this. People will turn to us, just like they always have to make their hair and house pretty, to make their lives pretty again. So instead of Golden Girls dropping their gay butler, you'll see gay people returning to the tube. And I think that will allow gay erotica to grow on a level of above-ground commercial television and video.

"And that's why I prefer the word erotica to porn, because these right-wing types are always quoting us chapter and verse from our own publications--they say we ourselves call it porn. If we would stop calling it the 'porn industry,' we would automatically click everything one more step toward acceptance."

Copyright: BAY AREA REPORTER, June 29, 1989 by John Karr

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Copyright Jack Fritscher, Ph.D. & Mark Hemry - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED