Guilty Pleasures: Film Noir, Gay Porn and Other Forbidden Flowers

Posted on May 2, 2017

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“The naming of hidden pleasures is blasphemous.” – Our Lady of the Flowers, Jean Genet

Straight porn (in my opinion) has all the emotional intensity of limp fish on Quaaludes. Gay male porn, on the other hand, is an animalistic orchestra of groaning, grunting and spurting amidst heated entanglements of hard bodies, boners and beautiful asses. Plenty of straight men love girl-on-girl porn. The same is true for straight women. Some of us (at least) love to watch hot naked men get it on. This piece, although inspired by my own reveries over gay porn, also explores ‘Film Noir’ as a transgressive act or space for art and crime.

Most of us will recognize ‘Film Noir’ as an evocative and stylish form of crime drama that emphasizes cynical attitudes and sexual motivations. Think of writers like Jim Thompson, David Goodis and many other dark masters of noir, where sex, however disturbing, is the very engine that drives the plot (rather than a dash of titillation to spice things up). Stirringly, the darkness of the genre is the ultimate hiding place for an array of misfits whose presence is disturbing, but also seductive in its cast of femme fatales, butches and gay males. Thus, it is the perfect setting (if only in subtext) for deviants or Queer characters — given the status quo with controversial characters, thus, creating a quivering ‘walk on the wild side’ and empowerment for marginalized viewers.

In 1992, the crime thriller-cum-passionate-love tale, Being at Home with Claude, debuted internationally in a quiver of shock and awe. The film, directed by Jean Beaudin, is set in the dark underworld of Montréal, based on a play written by René-Daniel Dubois. Edgy and aggressive, this dark psychological thriller centres on the confession of a gay prostitute, Yves, on the brutal slaying of his gay lover, Claude. Awash in the hues of steamy noir, the black and white flashbacks reveal the details of Yves’ crime of passion as a brutish homophobic detective interrogates him in a prominent judge’s office (one of Yves’ “johns”).

I vividly recall squirming, rousingly in my seat, as the opening sex scene erupted from the glowing, distended screen. On that eve, in the darkness of the theatre, I experienced the erotic disruption of gay porn on my burgeoning sexuality as a straight woman. The effect was unexpected. The scene – explosive and sexy as hell. The first eight minutes is one of the most striking sequences I have seen in a film to date. It masterfully evokes the sensations of electric sex as it moves towards an horrific, climactic end: Yves slashing Claude’s throat. The film is a disturbingly erotic tale of two men from different sides of the track. Yves is a gay prostitute, and Claude, a recently engaged, well-bred college student. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that their hot, clandestine affair was doomed from the start.

“I wasn’t stoned. It was worse than that. I was in love.” Yves wants Claude to die in his pleasure and so murders him at the very moment that Claude is writhing gloriously and ejaculating inside him. Yves loves Claude so much and Claude loves Yves so much, that Yves knows there will be a time when Claude has to face the harshness of being gay in an intolerant society. Yves wants Claude to live forever in his pleasure and innocence; he wants to face his fate, with Claude inside him, filled up with Claude’s love. Yves slices Claude’s throat during their mutual ecstasy because he wants to terminate their passion before it turns hateful, bitter or dangerous (Oh, the irony). Under the guise of steamy film noir, their forbidden love and sexy affair becomes a powerful, even sympathetic, motivation for murder.

Interestingly, the societal difference in attitude towards `promiscuity’ among gay men is starkly different from the general attitude toward heterosexual promiscuity. For `straight’ men, multiple sexual encounters are a sign of masculinity, and something to be proud of – say, like a modern Tarzan, swinging his swollen member through the Urban jungle. However, for gay men, it is the reverse – reviled and viewed as abhorrent. However, even more poignant for me, is the parallel to similar behaviour in women — tragically viewed as “abhorrent” and “deviant,” condemning “loose” women to purgatory as “prostitutes” or “whores” if they  prowl through the night.

Even today, but to a lesser degree, many gay men (or those who buck against sexual norms — pun intended) can’t be open about their sexuality. They remain within the closet and resort to secret ways of seeking out mutual stimulation and adventure. In the 1960s, a vicious extortion ring rose in New York City (famously referred to as “The Chicken and The Balls”, where men posing as police (bulls) and bait (chickens) preyed on prominent gay men. The “johns” were baited by the “chickens” and entrapped by the “bulls.”

Once caught in compromising positions, the bulls would explain the penalties for violating sodomy laws or corrupting a minor, and then demand an outright bribe to avoid their arrest or imprisonment. The necessity for gay men to live double lives (work by day and carouse by night) made them especially vulnerable to exploitation or arrest. During the 70s and 80s, many “family” men( like my father) were gay or bisexual. They resorted to the anonymity of cruising to avoid exposure and the loss of family life (despite the risks of bashing or arrest). Exposure might mean job loss or concentrated homophobia from colleagues and former friends, particularly in small towns where “everyone knows everyone else.”

It is not surprising that over the ages, sexual deviancy has (and continues to be) criminalized in the form of sodomy laws or other public “obscenity” laws. Despite open protests to sex in public places, cruising is not new and won’t stop. It’s part of the history of our culture, cities and public spaces. As cities grew and populations became more anonymous, new opportunities for chance encounters arose, for straight and queer people alike, and the figure of the stranger took on an erotic allure. Parks have always been places where strangers meet for overlapping and divergent reasons. By day, children play, families’ picnic, tourists take respite, neighbours walk their dogs and joggers jog. By night, teenagers park cars to make out, hookers and hustlers ply their trade, lovers swoon under the moon, and gay men get it on.

Recently, someone introduced me to the work of Jean Genet, which my friend described as “the ultimate decadent crime fiction.” Just as ‘Film Noir’ celebrates the “sexual otherness” of its more deviant characters, so does Genet. Immersed inside his masturbatory prose of criminal and homosexual acts with an imagined cast, his secret world erects itself like a delicate lotus rising out of the muck.

In the 1940s, Jean Genet’s film “Un Chant d’Amour’ (A Love Song), was banned in the U.S., charged with being cheap pornography calculated to promote homosexuality, perversion and morbid sex practices.  It’s an extraordinarily film that is erotic, sensual and unsettling. Un Chant d’Amour focuses on two inmates who live in adjacent cells and are in love. They communicate by blowing cigarette smoke through a hole in their shared wall. The prison guard secretly watches them fantasize about one another and becomes increasingly jealous of their lust (and ultimately sexually abuses the older inmate). The film successfully explores not only themes of forbidden love, desire, homosexuality, and fantasy, but also desperation, captivity, and repression.

Our Lady of the Flowers, was written while he was in prison. Interestingly, his introduction to prison turned out to be one of depravity and lust as he suddenly had access to an endless “dark hole” of male sex. His prose is a poetic revelry of his lust, but also a remarkable expression of frustration and how the “pen” can release the depravities of the soul by dragging human sexuality out of the shadows and into light of sensuality and love.

“But this hoarse, hasty, scrupulously careful voice that is panting with incipient pleasure, suddenly breaks. Genet’s hand puts down the pen; one of the scenes is hastily finished off: “and so on” another ends with a series of dots. The next moment, Genet, still in a swoon, moans with gratitude: “Oh, I so love to talk about them! …

… I dream of the lovers’ garret. …

This time the word is subject; Genet wants to be heard, to create a scandal. This abandoned “where I am I can muse in comfort” is the giggle of a woman who is being tickled. It is a challenge.” – Our Lady of the Flowers, Jean Genet

 

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Posted in: Crime