Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Sexplosion !

"Sexplosion: From Andy Warhol to A Clockwork Orange - how a generation of pop rebels broke all the taboos" - this fascinating tome by Robert Hofler is an easy read, particularly for those of us who lived through those heady years. Let's see: "Rich, funny, and comprehensive SEXPLOSION takes you inside the tumultous, energizing years of 1968 to 1973, when artists, film-makers, and writers defied authority and challenged every taboo to create a sexual revolution that reverbates to this day. This is a superb evocation of an era" Patricia Bosworth says. or "Hofler pays tribute to the trailblazing artists who paved the way for the freedom on screen that we take for granted today", according to Jeffrey Schwarz.

It is a different world now looking back to those late 60s when censorship was still in full force - how much society can change over 40 years! Gay liberation and Women's Lib were still in their infancy - equality seemed a long way off then; unlike now, the newspapers were virulently anti-gay - in England the tabloids hounded closeted gay celebrities like Kenny Everett and Russell Harty to their deathbeds, and then the Aids crisis began .... Back in the '60s in America homosexuals were routinely called 'fags' or 'faggots' (it was 'poofs' here in England) even by the likes of liberals like Billy Wilder or John Huston (and in films like VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, THE LOVE MACHINE) - lots of straight men hated women whom they saw as castrating, dominating tyrants. 
Philip Roth certainly felt so - he refused to complete his manuscript for PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT as his hated ex-wife was getting half of what he earned, after tricking him into marriage with a fake pregnancy, as she had bought the urine sample from a pregnant woman, so he was not going to hand her another fortune - then, conveniently for him, not so for her, she was killed in a car crash, so heigh ho, and off to the printers !!! and that very funny book became one of the defining texts of the era, along with John Updike's COUPLES and Gore Vidal's MYRA BRECKINRIDGE, which we loved with a passion. Even the trash-but-fun movie did not dent our affection for it. How we howled at Mae West's line as she arrived at her office crowded with studs: "one of those guys will have to go..!"and poor Rusty gets it in the end, we had seen nothing like it !
Hofler goes into the genesis of all these, and in the theatre the problems with getting Mart Crowley's BOYS IN THE BAND, Tynan's OH! CALCUTTA! and Rado & Ragni's HAIR on stage with their nudity and depiction of gay life and those new freedoms. It seems critic Kenneth Tynan was more an unmitigated shit than one had realised. We knew about his S&M fetishes and caning women, but he was also rabidly anti-fag, and wanted nothing gay in his revue, and even wanted to hire only heterosexual actors! 

Also in the cinema, John Schlesinger was pushing boundaries with MIDNIGHT COWBOY, which featured some of the Warhol crowd, like Viva, also busy in Warhol products like LONESOME COWBOYS. Warhol's own films, as created by Paul Morrisey - FLESH, HEAT, TRASH - also raked in the money, though they would not pay for Holly Woodlawn to get bail from prison to attend her film opening!  Ken Russell meanwhile was getting the British film censor John Trevelyan (who was a regular on tv and in discussions on censorship I attended at the BFI), to pass his WOMEN IN LOVE (Olly and Alan had their own problems with that nude wrestling scene...) and the even more notorious THE DEVILS, while Visconti ran into problems with Warner Bros over his Nazi orgy in THE DAMNED and DEATH IN VENICE .....  which to the Warner Bros executives was about a middle-aged man chasing but never quite getting his hands on a knowing thirteen year old boy who seems to be leading him on. No wonder they wanted Tadzio changed to a girl called Tadzia !
Hofler though does not mention Fellini's SATYRICON or Antonioni's ZABRISKIE POINT, two other hits of the counterculture era, as we zoon on to BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE (which earned Natalie Wood more than any other film she made, as she had a percentage deal) and CARNAL KNOWLEDGE, DEEP THROAT and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (right). Amusing story about that - arch-manipulator Kubrick stayed at home in England but persuased Malcolm McDowell and Anthony Burgess, the book's author, to go to America and handle the interviews for ORANGE. Then Burgess realised he was not making anything from the film's success as he had earlier sold the rights for a few hundred dollars ....

Schlesinger ran into more trouble with his next one, SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY, but was now an Oscar-winning director, so got his way, having to replace his initial choices Ian Bannen and Hiram Keller which was not working out, with the more laid back Peter Finch and Murray Head. Princess Margaret though hated the film with its depiction of "men in bed kissing" - surely she knew enough gays! The kinky sex and violence of PERFORMANCE (left) also frazzled Warner Brothers who did not know what to do with it. STRAW DOGS with its brutal rape was also causing lots of problems. Then there was the notorious making of LAST TANGO IN PARIS ....

A fascinating era in all, as the new freedoms slowly became commonplace- as covered by "Films & Filming" and other magazines.  Another discussion I attended in 1970, when 24, at the BFI was on the topic of 'Actors & Nudity' - a hot topic then with more and more actresses and actors too, having to get their kit off. 
I remember Billie Whitelaw being vocal at this, and Zeffirelli's naked Romeo, Leonard Whiting, in a crushed velvet blue suit. He was standing next to me afterwards at the gents urinal  ... not a suitable moment to chat though.
Censorship still raged in Ireland then, a look at WOMEN IN LOVE at the local cinema I grew up in, in 1970 or so reduced us to helpless laughter - the wrestling scene had been reduced to a few shots of them panting on the carpet, making it even more suggestive. They were running MIDNIGHT COWBOY the following week - I wondered how much of that was left ...
How times change: Finland is now issuing quite explicit Tom of Finland stamps! 

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