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Arts + CultureMoviesScreen Grabs: SF Porn Film Festival kicks off with...

Screen Grabs: SF Porn Film Festival kicks off with the Bay’s erotic history

Plus: Welcome evolution of Hollywood's Black protagonists via 1972's 'Blacula' and Edris Alba's new action-horror 'Beast.'

Many a movie has hung on the bittersweet finiteness of a “summer romance,” but it being nearly the end of August, we’re willing to personally admit the real-life thing probably ain’t gonna happen this year. However, it’s not too late to enjoy the (generally) less-romantic-yet-otherwise-rewarding virtual carnal pleasures offered by the San Francisco Porn Film Festival, whose 2022 edition will be held both in-person at Brava Theater on 24th St. and for streaming on PinkLabel.tv.

Running Wed/24-Sat/27, the fest kicks off with 24 hours of “FORE/PLAY,” a program featuring On Demand availability of titles highlighting “the sexual history of the Bay Area.” That will encompass documentaries Submission Possible: San Francisco, MadisonYoung’s tour of local kink communities and leaders, plus Ryan A. White and Alex Clausen’s Raw! Uncut! Video: The Story of Palm Drive Video, about the company that produced over 150 primarily gay male fetish films for mail-order sale between 1985 and 1997. From cigars to rope to mud-wrestling pillow fights and the “Cheesiest Uncut Cowboy in West Texas,” Palm Drive specialized in “the weird and unusual,” boasting “Our camera goes where you’d like to put your nose.” It’s an oddly-endearing tale—the two founder-operators are still together as a couple. Also streaming during this window will be new efforts from local BDSM porn producers.

Thu/26 pm brings an official “opening night” online bill of two erotic classics. Fred Halsted’s 1972 L.A. Plays Itself is the early gay hardcore feature that remains pretty much the only film of its type in the permanent collection of NYC’s Museum of Modern Art. Its first half a sensuous nature idyll, it then gives way to an experimental-cinema bad trip whose fragmented domination interlude is redolent of LSD and Kenneth Anger. A quarter-century later, the mostly B&W short Hey, Sailor … Hey, Sister from pseudononymous duo MTV / TCH finds another gamut of sexual expression pursued in greater Los Angeles, this time between an on-leave Navy officer and her sexy landlubber pickup (or is it her role-playing girlfriend)? Their explorations double as a demo of safer-sex techniques.

Fri/26 brings diverse shorts programs to both Brava Theater and live streaming—see 48 Hills’ interview with represented director Vanniall here. There’s more of the same late Sat/27 afternoon, followed by closing feature This One’s For the Ladies. Gene Graham’s documentary profiles an African-American male stripper scene in Newark, NJ that is creative, familial, and very raunchy—a lot more hands- (and sometimes tongue-) on than you’d get at a “white girl show” like Chippendale’s or Magic Mike. Both the dancers (whose ranks include one butch female) and their fans are given ample airtime here.

SF Porn Film Fest also includes some Q&As, panels, social events, and a continuation of streaming access Sun/28-Sat/10, after the on-site events have wrapped. For full program and other info, go here.

Speaking of sexy Black masculinity, this week will mark 50 years since the release of Blacula, which was not exactly one of 1972’s most critically-heralded releases (in fact L.A. Plays Itself got more flattering mainstream reviews amidst the brief “porn chic” vogue), but was indeed among the year’s bigger box-office titles. Tall, debonair, plummy-voiced William Marshall played an 18th-century African prince who thinks he’s negotiating an end to the slave trade, but instead is bitten and entombed by a certain Transylvanian count.

About 250 years later, his coffin is among “camp” antiques shipped to modern Los Angeles by two very swish interior decorators, who needless to say regret their purchase in a hurry. Freed, Blacula discovers an apparent reincarnation of his late wife in Vonetta McGee, whose presence turns his quest (however bloody) into more that of a lover than a fighter. Others appearing in the well-above-average cast include Thalmus Rasulala, Denise Nichols, Gordon Pinset, Ketty Lester and Elisha Cook Jr.

Somewhat cloddishly directed by William Crain (a more mainstream-inclined graduate of the “L.A. Rebellion” of UCLA-schooled African-American makers), this blunt if enterprising entry in the then-red-hot “Blaxploitation” genre still has its charms. The gay stereotypes are not among them. But the implied Black Power politics are otherwise pretty cool, as is the inevitable funk-soul original score. We also get some excellent nightclub-scene performances from The Hues Corporation, a vocal trio who were still two years away from their one big hit, “Rock the Boat.”

If drive-in specialists American International Pictures weren’t exactly aiming high here (unlike Bill Gunn’s very arty Black vampire tale Ganja & Hess the next year), they nonetheless more or less started a subgenre with Blacula, and Marshall—who’d been an acclaimed stage Othello, among many other career highpoints—helped make it among the best of its class. The film is readily available from various streaming platforms, as well as SF Public Library.

In 1972, it was highly novel for a horror movie to feature a Black lead, or primarily African-American cast. Now no one blinks twice at Idris Elba starring in an action-slash-horror film like Beast, currently in theaters. Its major overlap with Blacula is emphasizing pride in African cultural heritage, with Elba’s hero an American doctor returning with his daughters to the South African game preserve where he’d met his wife (now dead from cancer) years earlier. Old friend Martin (Sharlto Copley) gives them “the VIP tour” of local fauna. But then a rogue lion whose pride had been decimated by poachers attacks, leaving the visitors perilously stranded in their vehicle.

Beast’s ad line is “Fight for Family”—possibly the cleanest imaginable distillation of our era’s dominant sentimental narrative cliche. So you can guess where all this is headed, with Dad battling ferociously to save his offspring. The latter are irritatingly argumentative; this is one of those movies where you alternate between thinking “Shut up already” and “Seriously, you’re going to separate from one another now?”

At just over 90 minutes, Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur’s film is taut enough nonetheless, even if Ryan Engle’s screenplay doesn’t always help. Of course Elba makes a formidable opponent to any man or beast—he’s got star charisma to spare, though it’s used rather more interestingly in next week’s Three Thousand Years of Longing.

As for the Beast itself, this one both benefits and suffers from being computer-generated imagery. Yes, it’s good CGI (unlike the usually-cheesy critter FX in Sharknado-type joints), but vivid as it is, we also see too much of it, and knowing it’s an ostensible maneater made of pixels does rather lessen the terror after a while. This is a solid-enough B movie that tries to convince us it’s prime big-screen material mostly by being very loud, as if what we missed most from the theatrical experience during COVID was Dolby thundering in our ears. It is currently playing theaters nationwide.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

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