Fred Halsted’s Gay Experimental-Porn Classic in an Ultra-Rare Version


The Nightingale Cinema, 1084 N. Milwaukee
January 4th, 2013

White Light Cinema is pleased to begin its fifth year with a very rare presentation of a new high definition transfer of the complete and uncut version of Fred Halsted’s famed and infamous 1972 gay porn film L.A. PLAYS ITSELF. Although a part of the permanent film collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, this rare version has never been released on home video and has been screened publicly less than half a dozen times in the past 30 years.

The film was released at a rarified time in the history of x-rated cinema. Pornographic films had only been legal to screen publicly for a couple of years and both gay and straight variants had been looking to “legitimize” themselves through consciousness artistic flourishes. Wakefield Poole’s Boys in the Sand (1971) and Bijou (1972) led the way for gay adult films and Gerard Damiano’s Deep Throat (1972) exemplified the short-lived “porno chic” era in heterosexual porn that L.A. Plays Itself attempted to capitalize on, though Halsted’s film was conceived of and in production well before any of them. Halsted hired a publicist for the film, held VIP advance screenings, and had remarkable success for a low-budget, gritty, and very graphic gay porn film. It was even screened at the Museum of Modern Art in 1974.

Part of the success of the film, and part of its controversy, is Halsted’s unflinching portrait of the leather and S&M scene in Los Angeles in the second half of the film. But, like the Poole films and the straight porno chic straight films of the time, the film also had artistic ambitions. The first half is a lyrical ode to lesser-seen sections of Halsted’s beloved Los Angeles and the surrounding “countryside,” which was rapidly disappearing to development. The film can be viewed almost as a city-symphony of sorts, a film of landscape and cityscape, a film heralding some changes and lamenting others. Throughout, it is also a film that plays with form-experimenting with structure, editing, and sound in particular. While Halsted was not a trained filmmaker and the film has a definite roughness, it is a roughness that amplifies its themes and content, that functions like a queer art brut rather than simply as poor craftsmanship. Hasted was too smart for that. He knew his limitations and worked with them.

Program Details:
L.A. PLAYS ITSELF (1972, 51 min, New HD Transfer of 16mm) by Fred Halsted

“Fred Halsted clearly is the Ken Russell of S&M homoerotica.” (Variety)

“This film breaks all the stereotypes! I recommend it for all audiences.” (William S. Burroughs)

“New information for me…” (Salvador Dali)

“In 1972 Fred Halsted released–perhaps unleashed is more apt–his hardcore gay S&M porn film L.A. Plays Itself, a pioneering work of the genre and one that surprisingly crossed over to achieve some mainstream attention and acclaim for its aesthetic vision (it even screened at the Museum of Modern Art). …While L.A. is still known and discussed among scholars and cinephiles, it is virtually impossible to see, apart from bootlegs of an out-of-print and incomplete VHS release. For most people, it resides in distant memory or speculative imagination.” (Patrick Friel, Afterimage)

“Born in Long Beach in 1941 and raised all over the state of California, Fred Halsted rarely left his adopted city of Los Angeles. Capturing the city as few other films could, L.A. Plays Itself (1972), Halsted’s first film, has come to be regarded as a classic within the genre of gay porn. Its images of beautiful young men in sylvan Malibu Canyon and boy hustlers on the mean streets of Hollywood gained for Halsted the kind of celebrity than simply isn’t possible today. Fred Halsted never held a regular job; he didn’t teach; he had no gallery representation; he had no agent; he didn’t shoot commercials or advertising campaigns; he didn’t even have a social security number. He made films and performed in them, published a magazine (Package), ran a sex club (Halsted’s), and became a legendary sex radical and provocateur.” (Light Industry)

Note: This film plays a second time on Sunday at a different venue!
Sunday, January 27 – 7:00pm
At Chicago Filmmakers (5243 N. Clark St.)
Introduced Via Skype by William E. Jones – Author of “Halsted Plays Himself”

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