Friday, April 22, 2011

Piccadilly Pickups (Millivres Multimedia, 1999)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Unfortunately, the movie Charles and I watched Tuesday night, Piccadilly Pickups, was one of the worst we’ve seen in some time, an attempt at Gay sexploitation that failed on all counts — as drama, as satire and as erotica. I had bought this DVD at the Auntie Helen’s thrift shop along with Get a Life, an independent Gay production from Chicago that had been shot on video and bore the tackiness of a limited budget but, within those limitations, was a quite nicely done bit of satire on Queer male life that offered real poignancy and pathos as well as the campiness that seems to be the default setting for most Gay humor. Alas, this movie wasn't anywhere near as good!

The advertising copy on the DVD box for Piccadilly Pickups actually promised a pretty good movie: “Jake’s exams didn’t go too well, and it’s time to leave home. He heads for Manchester’s Piccadilly Gardens to earn money for a trip to the bright lights of London’s Piccadilly Circus, where the living’s easy as a rent boy … but where are the punters [customers]? Money’s tight — but to the rescue comes [porn director] Henri de la Plus Oooh Arrgh” (played by American Transgender actress Alexis Arquette, sister of Rosanna, Patricia, Richmond and David Arquette — though Alexis didn’t complete her transition until 2006 and therefore she was still technically a male when she made this film). The blurb promised a nicely picaresque entertainment, a sort of Gay male version of Tom Jones or Fanny Hill in which the hayseed from the country would lose his innocence and ultimately find joy in his own sexuality.

No such luck; instead writer/director Amory Peart, who apparently graduated — so to speak — from actually making Gay porn to making this movie about Gay porn, made Henri (whose name seems to be a parody on the real-life American Gay porn director Chi Chi LaRue) the central character and framed the movie as an interview a TV newscaster named “Tristram Hand Shandy” (Chris Green) is supposedly doing with Brad (Spike St. John), another rent boy in Henri’s porn stable. Jake’s story turns into a mere subplot — a real pity, since the actor who’s playing him, billed as B. J. Wallace (all too many of the names by which these people are billed sound like porn aliases), is one of the best-looking men in the film and is one of the few who isn’t the hairless barely-of-age twink type that haunts most Gay male porn today. (U.S. law requires that porn producers have birth certificates on file that document that all their performers are 18 or older; I’ve joked about some Gay porn movies that the producers should probably certify that the actors just turned 18 ten minutes before shooting began.)

The film is a series of sketches, some mildly amusing, most just boring, and the main gag is the humiliation Henri wreaks on his performers, forcing them to dress in bras, women’s panties, high heels and nothing else, and advertising them as “Lesbians.” It’s not a particularly funny joke to begin with — indeed, the truest emotion in this movie is the humiliation these men, most of whom realized early on in their lives that they were totally Gay and completely turned off by anything even remotely feminine, feel when Henri dresses them up and casts them in these preposterous gender-bending scenes. The film is billed as “Sexploitation” rather than hard-core porn — you see dick but you don’t see erections or penetrations, and in order to suggest they’re having sex the actors have to arrange themselves in positions almost as contorted as the ones used to suggest sex in mainstream movies — but it’s not particularly erotic any more than it’s particularly funny, and one suspects you’d have to be as sick as Henri is drawn in order to find it sexually stimulating.

There are some nice-looking guys — including a charismatic fellow billed only as “Mason” who plays T.F., and who frankly did more for me aesthetically than anyone else in the film — and there’s a cat who, like previous members of his species stuck in bad movies like Ring of Terror, shows more intelligence than any of the humans on either side of the camera by continually trying to get away. Amory Peart closes the film with a sequence in a porn theatre, for which he uses a previous production of his called Straight Acting, but as far as films by Gay porn directors about Gay porn is concerned, at the top of the heap is Wash Westmoreland’s genuinely moving and dramatic The Fluffer — and at the bottom is Piccadilly Pickups.