By Phil Hall | November 25, 2005

If “American Idol” had a big gay uncle, it would be “Mr. Leather.” Jason Garrett’s easy-going but often spotty documentary follows the nine contestants in the 2003 Mr. L.A. Leather competition, from their respective victories in the local gay leather bar tournaments to the citywide championship.

Unlike “American Idol,” the Mr. Leather contest does not require musical ability. Or perhaps we should rephrase that: just like “American Idol,” Mr. Leather does not require musical ability. Nor is this a beauty contest, which is just as well since the nine contestants have faces that only a mother (or, in this case, a daddy) would love. The competition itself is rather odd: posing in leather clothing, trading R-rated bon mots with judges, and trying to give a sincere explanation of how one can use the title of Mr. Leather to help the gay community.

We meet the nine contestants, albeit in a vaguely evasive way. We get to hear about their sexual peccadilloes and their involvement in the leather world, and we meet their lovers and pets. Yet we never learn who these men are beyond the leather circuit. One guy is supposedly a rodeo rider and a cop, but his non-leather life is never discussed. Another was an ordained minister, but we only learn that in passing and we never get the details of his theological career. No one has family or a full-time job, or at least none of those messy facts are raised here.

Also, the film goes into a bit too much graphic depth regarding the jollier aspects of leather life. Nothing is left to the imagination when the film details the joys of boot licking, fisting and bondage play. I viewed “Mr. Leather” from the festival cut and the film is supposed to be getting a trim – perhaps the more graphic elements of these scenes can hit the cutting room floor?

Throughout “Mr. Leather,” the men on camera bemoan how the leather community is marginalized within the gay culture. The sole African-American competitor in the contest also notes how too much of the leather world is “homogenous” (translated: milk white). It is a shame these issues didn’t get more examination, as it would’ve provided much-needed scope to the subculture on display here.

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