Speaking of porno culture, Fred Halsted's L.A. Plays Itself (1972) screens this weekend | Bleader

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Speaking of porno culture, Fred Halsted's L.A. Plays Itself (1972) screens this weekend

Posted By on 01.24.13 at 04:15 PM

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A prequel to Das Boot?
  • A prequel to Das Boot?
On Saturday night at the Nightingale and on Sunday at Chicago Filmmakers in Andersonville, White Light Cinema will present the 1972 hardcore feature L.A. Plays Itself from a new 2K digital restoration. The film covers a variety of approaches in its 55-minute running time, at first coming off as experimental collage (with artful superimpositions of pastoral imagery that recall Maya Deren's work) before expanding into documentary (in its portrait of Los Angeles neighborhoods and subculture) and finally something resembling performance art (with an extended—and oddly aestheticized—demonstration of gay S&M rituals). Director Fred Halsted maintains an impressionistic style throughout, cutting between landscapes and bodies for poetic rather than narrative effect; his combinations of sound and image are striking as well. (And his portrait of L.A. subculture was strong enough to inspire Thom Andersen's monumental film-history documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself.)

This is too ambitious as filmmaking to be written off as mere pornography. As Patrick Friel explains on the White Light Cinema website, it comes from a short-lived era when hardcore filmmakers aspired to more than titillation:

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.

The history of L.A. Plays Itself may come as a surprise to those who have encountered hardcore imagery only through online pornography, which seldom makes any pretenses towards art. For those viewers, the movie might seem less like the product of a different time than a different planet.

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