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Wednesday, September 23, 2020
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Arts + Culture Movies Looking for a hot gay connection? 'Ask Any Buddy'

Looking for a hot gay connection? ‘Ask Any Buddy’

Evan Purchell's vintage porn Instagram expands into an epic movie, melding dozens of skin flicks into one real big one.

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As titles go, Ask Any Buddy is evocative. On its surface, it brings up the idea of acquiring knowledge or answers through communication with friends. But there’s another element at play, one that foregrounds non-monogamy—the value of sexuality as a facet of friendship, and vice versa.

Ask Any Buddy the project has two forms. Online it’s the name of a popular Instagram account where devoted archivist Evan Purchell shares promotional materials for vintage gay pornography, conveying historical information through the visual hook of alluring imagery. More recently, Ask Any Buddy is also the name of en epic feature film by Purchell that combines dozens of gay porn movies from the late ‘60s through mid ’80s into one grand narrative. In general, such meta-projects tend to be long and lugubrious, but Ask Any Buddy clocks in at a brisk, provocative, humorous, informative and yes, graphically sexy 77 minutes. Not only is it an intensive archival work, there is something innovative or pioneering to its formal approach to relating a fictional story—and a nonfiction history—without relying on voice-over.

When Ask Any Buddy was picked up, as it were, by a popular genre movie distributor early this year, its commercial prospects brightened considerably, moving beyond personal pet project or intellectual curio status into the prospect of being seen by large audiences at film festivals and daring movie theaters around the world. In a sense, this crossover potential harkens back to—or brilliantly mirrors—the communal aspect of the early commercial porn that it is built from. Purchell performs a magic trick of sorts, not only rescuing porn from decay but bringing it out of the home video and internet realm into public experience.

Then COVID-19 hit. Needless to say, Ask Any Buddy’s future is in a state of limbo, to the point that it appears valuable if not urgent to honor the impetus of Purchell’s project by sharing it with readers and potential audiences. (Interested parties may inquire privately via Purchell’s personal Instagram as to the state of the movie’s release.) This interview with the Austin, Texas-based man behind the movie covers heady terrain while also allowing for fun. It is long, but like Ask Any Buddy, it has been edited. You’ll soon hear about about the hardcore cousin of Hellraiser. But it’s here, right now, in the intro that I’ll mention the existence of Edgar Allen Poe porn (Peter de Rome’s The Destroying Angel) and note than no-one other than Bruce Vilanch wrote the script and did sultry voice-over for an X-rated vampire flick (1983’s wonderfully-titled Gayracula).

48 HILLS How did the idea behind Ask Any Buddy take form, and how long did it take you to create the movie?

EVAN PURCHELL I was approached by the programmers of the Austin-based Contrast Film Festival to put together something for a mixed-media event that they were going to be doing for last year’s festival. I think the idea was to make a mix of clips from a bunch of different films that would run on a loop, but I wanted to do something that people wouldn’t be able to immediately dismiss as just ‘old porn’: I wanted to challenge their preconceptions of the genre and show its importance in a way that was fun and engaging.

So much of the academic writing about these films centers on their verite qualities and their value as ‘documentary’—I figured that if I had these hundreds of hours of documentary footage at my disposal, then I should be able to reconstruct a day in the life and see what that might look like reflected through the fantasy that these films frequently indulge in. Editing took about four or five months, and I toyed around with it a bunch in the months following that first screening. So I’d say nearly a year altogether.

48 HILLS What were your parameters, including historical, for what you would and would not use?

EVAN PURCHELL I only used titles that were shot on film and—with two small exceptions—played theatrically. Most of the films are hardcore, but a few are soft and one or two are more pure documentary than anything else. The reasoning behind this was a bit purist, but also practical. Once the adult industry started moving to video production, a lot of the exterior and non-sex footage that my film is built around went away.

48 HILLS In what ways does the archival work you do on the Instagram account Ask Any Buddy inform or differ from Ask Any Buddy the film?

EVAN PURCHELL The Instagram feed is focused on looking at the ways these films were advertised and their roles in helping to develop a mass gay social and media culture. That latter point informs what I was trying to do with the film—to show how these films simultaneously documented and projected fantasies onto these real spaces and aspects of so-called ‘gay life.’

48 HILLS Both of the accounts you have on Instagram are so thoroughly archival, and even from your Twitter accounts I’ve gotten a sense of you doing deep research. When were you drawn to it, and do you have a huge collection?

EVAN PURCHELL I’ve always had an interest in collecting and researching things. If it wasn’t the gay stuff, it would be movies, and if it wasn’t movies, it would be books. It’s an impulse for me. If I get interested in something I want to know all about it.

48 HILLS I get a sense that you’re driven by a desire to share rather than a completist urge.

EVAN PURCHELL Sure. I’m very much about making this history more accessible to people, rather than keeping it locked up in archives or private collections.

48 HILLS Do you have a favorite movie or two among the many dozens you’ve drawn from to make Ask Any Buddy? What are some of their roles or places within the film?

EVAN PURCHELL There’s too many, so I’ll just say Michael Zen’s two Falconhead films are big for me. They’re his vaguely kinky, vaguely occult takes on the Narcissus myth, or as Bradford Nordeen from Dirty Looks calls them, “the gay porn version of Hellraiser.” They’re each completely different, but both are beautifully shot, very artsy, and have killer soundtracks. The dream/nightmare sequence that opens Ask Any Buddy was really conceived of just so I would have a place to put these and some of the more fantastical scenes from other movies.

48 HILLS This might be an obvious question, but in a lot of instances did you sit down to watch thinking, “What am I going to use from this movie?”

EVAN PURCHELL I’d seen or at least scrolled through most of the movies that I ended up using, so I already had an idea of what they contained. At the beginning I was sketching out these shared situations, like the piers, or a movie theatre, or a bar, or a party. I went through my mind and my hard drive for anything I might use in these certain situations.

48 HILLS Were any other montage or meta-films an inspiration to you while making this one?

EVAN PURCHELL Everything is Terrible has been such a big influence to the way I approach manipulating found footage, especially their feature-length works, like their all-dog remake of The Holy Mountain. Rather than just throwing random clips together, their editing establishes rhythms and through-lines that put each of these disparate pieces into conversation with each other. A few people have compared the film to [Thom] Andersen’s Los Angeles Plays Itself and [Christian] Marclay’s The Clock, neither of which I’d seen before putting mine together.

48 HILLS To what degree were you interested in film editing before you made Ask Any Buddy? Do you feel like you’re an expert now?

EVAN PURCHELL I’ve been interested in editing since I was in middle school or high school. But I’d never gotten to pursue it much as much more than a hobby. It’s still a hobby. This is the first feature-length movie I’ve edited. I’ve done similar projects in the past, but those have all been 20 or 30 minutes long. It was very daunting to try and do something like this that is feature-length and also make it have a good pace and not get dragged down or become boring.

48 HILLS You don’t shy away from the sex.

EVAN PURCHELL The funny thing about that is that I kept thinking that maybe this would have more exposure if it didn’t have any of the sex in it. But then when I started thinking about it, how would I cut that stuff out? What’s the point of showing pier cruising if you can’t show what actually went on in those places?

48 HILLS One edit that I love seamlessly shifts from the sky blue of a toilet stall up to the actual sky. Do you have any particular favorite edits within the film?

EVAN PURCHELL I’m very happy with the way the whole porno theater sequence came together. I had a lot to work with because so many of these films had scenes shot at actual theaters, so the final edit is I think pretty seamless and conveys the correct, kinda hot but kinda drab, atmosphere. As far as individual cuts go, there’s one in that sequence involving a dancer with a special trick that I’m a little proud of.

A still from Evan purchell’s ‘Ask Any Buddy’

48 HILLS Were there any movies you wanted to include in Ask Any Buddy but couldn’t because they didn’t quite fit? 

EVAN PURCHELL I would’ve loved to have included footage from some more titles by Jaguar Productions, which was one of the first major gay adult studios. They’re responsible for some of the better early films in the genre, like The Experiment, which is one of the first films ever about coming out. I couldn’t figure a way to work them in, though, and I’d already pulled from enough films.

48 HILLS Do you have any particular favorite porn directors and actors, within and outside of the movie?

EVAN PURCHELL Really, I’m a fan of most of the major directors—Arthur Bressan, Tom DeSimone, Jack Deveau, Joe Gage, Fred Halsted, Wakefield Poole, and Steve Scott, especially. The tearoom sequence in the film is almost a tribute to Scott, who by all accounts had a personal obsession with cruising them and often included them in his films. I think five of the films I used to put that together were directed by him?

48 HILLS Ask Any Buddy contains movies by many auteurs of gay porn. Are there any less-known diamonds in the rough you’d like to point out?

EVAN PURCHELL He’s known more for his mainstream films like Hell Night and Reform School Girls, but Tom DeSimone truly is a pioneer. Not only was he one of the first filmmakers working in the genre, but he put his real name on the gay films he was proud of and still didn’t have any problem crossing over into major ‘legitimate’ work. Films like Catching Up, The Idol, The Harder They Fall, and Skin Deep all hold up as some of the earliest films dealing openly and honestly with gay relationships and coming out.

48 HILLS How about actors? Al Parker, Casey Donovan are two who have major roles. Are there any others who you would consider stars of Ask Any Buddy, performers who have a large presence or special magnetism within the film?

EVAN PURCHELL Daniel Holt and Keith Anthoni were both very active performers in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, and they both show up over and over again throughout the film — especially near the beginning where Holt’s appearances in four of the first major sequences helps to establish a sort of continuity. There’s actually probably less of those big name performers in there than most people would think.

48 HILLS I like the intersection between gay private and public life — sequences devoted to morning domesticity, interior bathhouse and tearoom outdoor pier cruising, freedom parades. porn theaters, discos. How did they emerge?

EVAN PURCHELL The film was constructed as a series of discrete sequences based around different locations and situations, like piers, streets, parades, bathhouses, and so on. It wasn’t until after I started linking them together that I really began to notice a pattern — that the daytime sequences were mostly set outdoors and featured risky and dangerous public sex, while the nighttime sequences were interior and more socially-oriented. It’s a real contrast between ‘public’ and ‘private,’ and different types of socialization, which I find interesting.

48 HILLS I like that there’s a sort of geographical specificity within the movie, where there’s a sequence that represents San Francisco, another sequence that showcases New York, or one that feels like LA. Were you able to ID locales from archival work or were they simply recognizable?

EVAN PURCHELL More recognizable. Each city has its own mood. The New York films are more grimy and urban, the LA films are in nature or indoors, and the San Francisco films are just weird and very hippie-ish. For example, the scene from Peter Berlin’s That Boy that I used has a cameo from the Cockettes.

48 HILLS Other traits shared by several films — pocket pinball, weed-smoking — seem more like spontaneous  discoveries. Were there facets of gay porn of the era you only found through viewing it to construct your movie?

EVAN PURCHELL I think the weirdest one was realizing that seven or eight of these movies had scenes that were shot in the same public bathroom in Los Angeles! I actually went back and found a 1978 Bay Area Reporter review of one of them by John Karr where he complains about seeing the same bathroom popping up in so many movies!

48 HILLS The soundtrack is both nuanced and very varied — heavy breathing, disco classics and obscurities, dialogue, abstract electronics, city sounds, Village People, piano pop and more. To what degree is it synced or not — to what degree are you overlaying different soundtracks onto these older films?

EVAN PURCHELL I didn’t add anything new to the film. All of the audio is taken from the source materials, though they have been occasionally mixed up and blended to help with continuity. My original plan was to not mess with the audio at all, but all the cutting between these very music-heavy films would just be distracting.

48 HILLS This is definitely a work of gay history constructed from many pieces of gay history. Are there any elements of gay life of the ‘70s and ‘80s that you find to be absent today, that you wish might still be around?

EVAN PURCHELL I maybe miss the sociality and centrality of spaces like bars and theaters, but I’m also not a nostalgic person. I think that type of thinking can be dangerous, especially since the footage I’m working with is more representative of fantasy than real life.

48 HILLS There’s more story, dialogue, exteriors and themes in vintage porn. I was also struck by the naturalness of the bodies in comparison to professional porn today. Would you agree?

EVAN PURCHELL Sure, and it’s really not until the mid-‘80s and the AIDS epidemic that you begin to see the industry’s move towards ‘healthier’ and ‘cleaner’ looking bodies. Many of the people who appeared in these films were actors, dancers, hustlers, and ‘regular people,’ and I think the types in Ask Any Buddy reflect that.

48 HILLS Near the final climax of the film, there’s an intense strobed passage. Soon after there’s a shared glimpse and smile between two actors in bed that is both cinematic and poignantly intimate. Can you tell me about finding those clips and more about their original source?

EVAN PURCHELL That whole strobe sequence is from Arthur Bressan’s Daddy Dearest and the blond performer is New York nightlife legend Dean Johnson in his one-and-only adult performance. The film is a sort of hardcore version of Day for Night or 8 ½—a comedy/drama about a sex film director who keeps projecting himself and his ex onto the actors in the film that he’s making.

Bressan is one of the best gay filmmakers, hardcore or otherwise, of the era, and that scene really blew me away the first time I saw it. He’d actually previously shot another version with different actors for an abandoned project (the footage wound up being sold to Toby Ross), so it’s obviously a visual idea that he was proud of.

48 HILLS What would you say you’ve learned about pornography and its intersection with gay life through the creation of this movie? 

EVAN PURCHELL While I think my Instagram work makes a better case for showing how these films absolutely were a major part of the development and spread of gay culture during their day, I think the Ask Any Buddy film shows how these films constitute the beginning of what we now call ‘queer cinema’ and a sort of direct contrast to the homophobic garbage that Hollywood was only capable of producing until the ‘80s.

48 HILLS What’s the response been like when you’ve shown the movie?

EVAN PURCHELL We’ve done a couple of screenings. But the only ones I’ve actually been to [were] in Austin. One was a come-and-go gallery event at Contrast, and the other one was a very DIY screening we did a couple of weeks before everything started locking down. The reception to that was very good, but I haven’t gone to an actual theatrical screening.

48 HILLS That’s a drag because you deserve to be able to do the festival circuit.

EVAN PURCHELL It’s frustrating because I’d just teamed up with AGFA—the American Genre Film Archive—to distribute the movie back in December. We spent January and February and the beginning of March doing all this planning. We had something like nine or 10 different screenings confirmed and a bunch of other festivals lined up. Then literally one by one all that wound up getting canceled or rescheduled. Our two BFI Flare screenings had sold over 400 tickets before the festival was moved online. My film was the fifth most-watched on BFI’s entire streaming platform the week that it was available, which is amazing and confounding at the same time.

48 HILLS I’m a bit ADD and I prefer the dark theatre experience for watching films, but I watched your movie all the way through in one sitting at home.

EVAN PURCHELL I’m very much the same way. I just can’t concentrate when I watch stuff at home. Part of the appeal of putting this together was that it was something that could be watched communally. Not necessarily trying to recreate the environments that those films were originally shown in, but just the idea of these films being brought back out into public as opposed to private home viewing.

48 HILLS It has commercial appeal. That’s why I was happy to hear that American Genre Film Archive had picked it up.

EVAN PURCHELL When I was done with it, I thought maybe it would play at a few arts spaces and that would be it, so I’ve been shocked by the level of interest. I’m just glad I could bring fisting to the BFI [laughs]. The fisting scene is the one part I want to see with an audience, because it’s almost like a jump scare.

48 HILLS Can you see yourself doing work in other areas outside those explored by Ask Any Buddy?

EVAN PURCHELL I’m very much interested in exploitation and genre film history in general. The two things I’m most interested in are archival research work and film programming. I’ve been trying to get into programming, but who knows how that will turn out, considering what is going on right now.

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