IN SEARCH OF THE LOST GAY JESUS FILM

In 1979, Harry and Michael Medved released the book “The Golden Turkey Awards,” which celebrated what they considered to be the most outrageous bad movies of all time. The book created a new era of film appreciation, with a parade of so-bad-they’re-good flicks – most notably the Edward D. Wood Jr. canon and the anti-classics “Robot Monster” and “Terror of Tiny Town” – emerging from obscurity and into the popular culture.

But one film in the book failed to emerge: a 1974 gay porn film called “Him,” which the Medveds cited as the prime example of the “Most Unerotic Concept in Pornography.” Indeed, the Medveds did not lavish their snarky humor in describing “Him,” turning instead to a level of self-righteous indignation over the film’s contents.

“For sheer tastelessness, this film has no equals,” the Medveds wrote. “Those pathetic few who might want to see ‘Him’ ought to come to the theater dressed in plain, brown paper wrappers, that hopefully cover their eyes along with the rest of their faces.”

Ouch! And what caused that level of vituperative commentary? Well, it seems that “Him” was a gay porn film that incorporated the figure of Jesus Christ into its plot; the authors took particular umbrage over a scene where a priest pleasures himself in a confessional booth. Whether the Medveds actually went to a gay porn theater to see the film is not clear – columnist Andrew Sullivan openly challenged Michael Medved for an answer, which Medved never provided – though from the description of the film in “The Golden Turkey Awards,” it is possible that Medveds may have learned of the film from a brief Variety review of the production. (Yes, back in the day Variety and other major media actually reviewed X-rated films playing in porn cinemas.)

Over the years, no trace of “Him” could be found beyond the Medveds’ book; complicating matters was the Medveds’ mention of someone named Ed D. Louie as the director of this work – his name was nowhere to be found in any resource relating to adult cinema. The mystery surrounding this filmmaker led some Internet buzz generators to speculate that Mr. Louie was none other than Edward D. Wood Jr., who had ended his career making X-rated films under pseudonyms.

The Pimpadelic Wonderland website tried to find “Him” but had no luck locating a print, and in 2003 it listed the film as lost. In 2008, I included the film in a Film Threat article on what I considered the top 50 lost film films of all time. To my utter amazement, the inclusion of “Him” on that list set off a firestorm among several professional archivists that were members of the Archive of the Moving Image Association’s list-serv – those scholars claimed that “Him” never existed, and their evidence was the claim by the Medveds that they intentionally planted a hoax film in “The Golden Turkey Awards.” The anger of the archivists was the subject of an article on Fishbowl NY, an online site covering the New York-area media industry, which only perpetuated the concept of “Him” as a nonexistent work.

But I knew that the professional know-it-alls were wrong about “Him” being a hoax. Back when “The Golden Turkey Awards” came out, I corresponded with the Medveds and they informed me that their essay on “Dog of Norway” was the hoax element of their book. Perhaps the idea of a gay porn film about Jesus was too upsetting for some people to accept, hence the archivists’ fury.

So, what was the story of “Him”? What was it really all about? And what became of the film?

One person deserves credit for trying to piece together much of the mystery: a blogger that goes by the name Captain Obscurity. Writing on a website called To Obscurity and Beyond, this intrepid cinematic detective has been able to dig up a surprising amount of detail about this elusive title. Perhaps not surprisingly, Captain Obscurity also discovered “Him” via the brief mention on Pimpadelic Wonderland’s list of lost titles.

“In this age of DVD imports and online streaming it sometimes feels like film is immortal, like we have access to everything ever made and always will,” said Captain Obscurity. “Lost films remind us that that is not the case, which is sad, but there is an exciting side to it too; the mystery and intrigue aren’t dead. Anyway, of all the films mentioned on Pimpadelic Wonderland, ‘Him’ probably had the least info: just a newspaper ad and a note saying it was a gay porn take on the life of Christ. Initially I was no more interested in ‘Him’ than any of the other films, it was only after I found people on web forums and blogs claiming that it had never existed, that the whole thing was a hoax, that I really got into researching it further. At the time, Google had just launched its searchable scanned newspaper archive, and with some creative Google-fu I was able to track down more ads and even a few reviews.”

Captain Obscurity’s initial findings confirmed that “Him” played in New York at the 55th Street Playhouse, a West Side venue specializing in gay porn titles, back in the spring of 1974. To his delight, he found that he was not alone in searching out this mysterious work.

“Another guy I met on a web forum – he calls himself Billy A. Anderson online, I don’t think that’s his real name – did a lot of work too, digging out Al Goldstein’s write-up from an old edition of Screw and also tracking down info on performances outside the 55th Street Playhouse. At first, the research was purely to satisfy my own curiosity, but given the amount of info we turned up – whilst the uninformed were still calling it vapor – I decided it would be smart to put all the evidence together in one place where people would see it.”

Al Goldstein’s review gives far more detail regarding the film’s plot – and it appears to contradict the Medveds’ claim that Jesus was the central character of the film. Goldstein noted that “the movie begins inexorably slowly and, for its first 40 minutes, it consists of some solid hard-core in the gay vein and the meaning of the title ‘Him’ eludes the spectator. Only deeply into the film does one get the necessary material to permit the audience to comprehend the meaning of the plot.”

Goldstein viewed the film with mixed emotions, claiming it was “bizarrely engrossing” yet complaining that it was littered with “mismatched shots, mishmash editing and [a] cheap budget.” But Goldstein gave no hint that the film’s detour into religion would spark outrage if those beyond its core audience would discover it – and Captain Obscurity offers a reminder that films like “Him” were not unusual for their time.

“There’s an interesting sociological aspect in there: if something like “Him” played in theatres today, there would be uproar,” he explained. “In 1974, no one batted an eyelid. The funny thing is, it’s not even the only hardcore Jesus movie made around that time. You probably already know about the European adult movie ‘I Saw Jesus Die,’ but when I was researching ‘Him’ I stumbled upon another gay picture called (ahem) ‘Loadstar’ which also, supposedly, features Jesus engaging in sexual acts with men. That one came out just a year or so before ‘Him,’ was shot in LA and also featured a scene with ostensibly straight bodybuilder (and associate of Arnold Schwarzenegger) Bob Birdsong. All these dirty Christ movies were doing the rounds in the 70s and there’s little evidence of protests or threats or anything like that. Five years later, ‘Life of Brian’ came out and almost sparked a holy war. What a strange decade!”

Mercifully, there were enough survivors of that strange decade who found their way to the Internet to confirm seeing “Him” when it was in theaters. And this includes a pair of individuals that had connections to the people involved in this film.

First up is Wakefield Poole, the pioneering adult filmmaker who scored the first major commercial gay porn success with the 1971 “Boys in the Sand.” In an email interview, Poole clearly remembered the mysterious Ed D. Louie, and he confirmed that he was not the celebrated Edward D. Wood Jr.

“The most I can tell you is that Ed Louie was the manager of the 55th St Theater at the time I four walled it to open ‘Boys In The Sand,’” Poole recalled “He was a relative of Frank Lee. who had the lease on the theater for years. With the success of my films, it turned out to be a gold mine for him. Of course, he never put any money back into the theater.  A few years later, Mr. Louie, as we called him, decided to make a film and cash in. Unfortunately, he was a little late. The theater was run down, with no air conditioner and loaded with pickpockets. There was no audience left.”

Poole also saw “Him,” and the experience did not overwhelm him.

“I saw the film the first day,” he continued. “I only remember it was painful to watch. It was underexposed, badly edited, obviously made to cause a fuss and make lots of money. Unfortunately, I don’t remember any moments from the film.  I must have been very drugged. I think it only ran for a few days. It didn’t make money, but still remains a great mystery in the history of porn.”

Actually, Poole is off concerning one detail: the 55th Street Playhouse run of “Him” ran from March 27 to May 23 in 1974.

In July 2012, Captain Obscurity snagged another big breakthrough: a New York artist named Vinny Parrillo saw his online research on “Him” and identified the actor that played Jesus as his late partner, a muralist named Gustav Von Will that was also known by name Tava. Parrillo also offered a photo of Tava in character, which presented the first (and, to date, only) production still from “Him” to emerge (shown here with a tastefully censored covering of a certain part of the title character’s anatomy):

HimPic

At the moment, “Him” remains missing. One adult DVD distributor informed me that a rumor persists of a “Him” print in a private collection somewhere in New York – of course, no one knows the name of that collector. It seems unlikely that more than one or two prints of “Him” were struck back in 1974, as the number of venues showing gay porn in the United States was limited – there were even fewer commercial outlets overseas – and the film’s poor reputation apparently resulted in its neglectful disappearance.

But even if it did turn up today, Captain Obscurity would not be eager to view what he has been searching out for years.

“Personally, even if ‘Him’ was found tomorrow and turned out to be some gay porn masterpiece, I’m not sure I would go out and buy a copy,” he stated. “I’d be glad the mystery was solved, but if someone sent it to me I’d probably fast forward through the screwing; I’ve never been a big hardcore fan, I don’t consider sex a particularly interesting spectator sport, plus I’m straight, so it’s not even my favored brand of sex. It’s the search I enjoy more than anything – the film is just a McGuffin.”

This article is an excerpt from “In Search of Lost Films,” Phil Hall’s latest book, which is due to be released later this year from BearManor Media.

5 responses to “IN SEARCH OF THE LOST GAY JESUS FILM

  1. Nice piece Phil! I love your thoroughness in researching the piece, and perhaps it will set off another firestorm on the AMIA listserv. One correction: our archival group is not the Archive of the Moving Image Association but the Association of Moving Image Archivists (www.amianet.org). Reading your article reminds me of the detective work I did researching some of these same porn films for the American Film Institute Catalog project back when I was younger. That series of books, originally published from the early 1970s to the late 1990s is now only being updated in its online version at http://www.afi.com/members/catalog/. The bound volumes DID contain a fake film in each decade set, which they claim was done for copyright protection purposes. It seems most of the pornography titles, identified under the all inclusive “sex film” genre, that were included in that printed 1960s volume have been exorcised from the online database by the puritan authorities at the AFI. Can let the kiddies read about the history of porn, when they can easily watch tons of it on the web.

  2. Thanks for the input, Elias! I will fix the archivist reference for the book, which I hope to have out later this year. And funny to hear about the AFI – a lot of people don’t know or don’t recall that mainstream and alternative media routinely published ads and ran reviews of X-rated films in the early 70s. Sometimes, I really miss that silly decade!

  3. Well, knock me down with a feather. I’d long been under the impression, like many people, that this was an urban legend, not a real film. Imagine my surprise to find out it wasn’t the only film of ill repute in this vein from that era. The early ’70s were certainly a different time.

    What is unsurprising, and amusingly so, is the vituperation from the Medveds. Michael, as I’m sure you and many of your readers knows, has gone on to make a name for himself as a right-wing pundit of the relatively-less-rabid variety, with a specialization in movie commentary. His best-known book, after Golden Turkey Awards, is certainly “Hollywood vs. America,” a title apparently typed with a straight face. I checked it out from the library once, out of curiosity. It’s about as factually-challenged and sloppily-reasoned as you might expect.

  4. I clipped many of those ads back in the 1970s and have them down in my basement. It’s a large, heavy collection I’m hoping will find a nice home (outside my house) someday. Proquest has digitized lots of papers (including The New York Times), and its nice to know you can actually pull up items like the advertisement at the top of your article without much difficulty.

  5. @Michael: Indeed, the Medveds seem to have been pretty bad researchers. Part of my upcoming “In Search of Lost Films” includes a section on two lost films by Phil Tucker (of “Robot Monster” fame). Now, either Tucker deliberately gave the Medveds incorrect information (which seems highly unlikely) or they wrote down whatever the hell they wanted, because their coverage of Tucker’s “Space Jockey” and “Pachuco” appears to be wildly wrong.

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