The he decade
Gay Sex in the '70s highlights Tribeca Film Fest's queer fare.
Thu Apr 14 2005
Among the excellent LGBT-themed screenings at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, you'll find docs on gay marriage, Charles Busch, George Michael, Broadway musicals and downtown icon Taylor Mead. Then there are the compelling features—about a pre-op trans woman and a young male hustler who go on a road trip, a pair of teenagers dealing with molestation by their Little League coach, a woman bringing her mysterious new husband to meet her mom and partner. But perhaps none will strike a chord with queer New Yorkers quite like Gay Sex in the '70s, a documentary by Joseph Lovett that celebrates the long-gone, pre-AIDS days of rampant, unbridled gay-male sex in NYC's bath houses, quiet streets, packed nightclubs, crumbling West Side piers and parked delivery trucks in the gritty Meatpacking District, which hosted nightly, impromptu orgies of mythical proportions.
"I was afraid to go west of Hudson Street, because I thought all those men in leather would kill me!" admits Lovett, 60, who moved to New York from Providence, RI, to attend Columbia University. But eventually, a friend led him over to the promised land. "We came across an outdoor orgy in broad moonlight," he recalls. "I'd never seen anything like it, and it was mesmerizing. There was something almost ritualistic about it."
It was this sort of reminiscing that led Lovett, a documentary filmmaker and former top producer for ABC's 20/20, to set his sights on making Gay Sex in the '70s. One night he and his friend Barton Benes (who appears in the film sharing wonderful anecdotes) had a thirtyish gay couple over for dinner, Lovett explains. The two older men, who had previously been chatting about the good ol' days of wild sex romps, had filmed their informal discussion and decided to show it to the younger pair. "They were astounded," Lovett says. "They had no idea what had gone on. And I thought, That's really interesting, how could they not know? Maybe we've got a film here."
Though the documentary does lead up to the inevitable heartbreak of AIDS, Gay Sex in the '70s succeeds in being a celebration of that free-love time, when years of pent-up frustration over abuse and oppression came pouring out during the sexed-up, post-Stonewall decade. "I wanted to show the joy and discovery of this period," the director explains.
Lovett relies on his old pals—Larry Kramer, photographer Tom Bianchi and activist Rodger McFarlane, among others—to help bring those days back to life through colorful remembrances of the city and summers on Fire Island. Adding amazing texture is the use of rare, evocative photos (by both Bianchi and Dan Eifert) from that time, as well as footage from '70s porn productions. It's a good representation, McFarland notes in the film, because back then, he says, "Life was a pornographic movie."
Among the many other noteworthy LGBT offerings at the Tribeca Film Festival are:
*Transamerica (Apr 24, 26, 28): Felicity Huffman portrays a genteel transwoman who takes a cross-country road trip with her biological son—without admitting that she's his father.
*Same Sex America (Apr 28--30): Henry Corra's documentary follows the tense series of rulings on gay marriage in Massachusetts, illustrating the ups and downs through three couples' journeys to the altar.
*The Reception (Apr 23, 29): No one is who they seem in John G. Young's thoroughly unique and seductive drama, in which a daughter introduces her new husband to her heavy-drinking mom and the man her mother loves.