Pat Rocco still walks the earth and he’s still out of control. Yesterday afternoon he thanked us all for our interest, thanked the UCLA Archive and Outfest for their work in preserving his movies, announced a new DVD compilation available for purchase, noted that the afternoon’s selections were NOT his choices, described how he was the first to transform a Pride Parade into a festival, urged us to see the complete version of The End because they were only screening a fragment (he's right), told how the filming of Disneyland Discovery got him banned from The Happiest Place On Earth for life, and concluded with a rendition of “You’d be so nice to come home to.”
PR is a force to be reckoned with, obviously. But when you sit down and analyze and estimate his scope and force, what result do you get?
The historical significance is undisputed. June 1968, at the Park Cinema near MacArthur Park, PR started publicly exhibiting movies that hitherto were disseminated to individuals through the mail. As Thomas Waugh observed, “at the time, Rocco’s short and sentimental danglie programs were so sensational that the premieres were covered by Variety ….”
Moreover, circa 1970 Rocco organized a SPREE, a Godardian Groupe Dziga Vertov-type gay film-making cooperative/production company. They didn’t bring down Hollywood, but they made interesting movies (the UCLA Archive has The Prisoner, from 1970, which is astonishing).
But what’s the aesthetic significance? Do his movies have any value now?
Yes, most definitely. I think they stand on their own merits—though I recognize that not everybody would agree. They stand outside of contemporary tastes and sensibilities. Completely lacking any kind of artiness or intellectualizing, they are goofy, sentimental, and—frankly—they don’t even qualify as porn anymore (no erections, no intercourse).
His work is from the early “Gay Is Good” era, presenting positive images at a time when simply depicting romantic affection between men without horror, outrage, mockery or patronizing sympathy was an incendiary act of revolution.
Beyond that, there is absolutely nothing edgy about PR’s sensibility. Today’s sophisticated tastes probably find PR too soft, too light, and—in a word—faggy, preferring darker, transgressive work like Rocco’s contemporary Fred Halstead. Halstead's elegiac L.A. Plays Itself seems more cinematic than goofball stunts like How to shoot a nude on the freeway (1969).
Even when Rocco handles hot subject matter like sex change (Changes) or an early demonstration against discrimination (Sign of Protest, 1970), or family resistance to coming out (Silent No More, 1977), he minimizes conflict, and emphasizes strength, solidarity, and love triumphing over all.
Characteristically, Rocco’s romantic tragedy The End (1969) stresses romance over tragedy. The clip of UCLA's new restoration they screened looked glorious: an especially trippy presentation of boys (at The Patch) dancing to a psychedelic rock band (it was prior to the invention of disco! Imagine!)
Well, I consider Rocco's optimism not an embarrassment but a rebuke to our own stupidity, complacency and naughtiness. It’s something we should reclaim.
I can’t imagine a more delicious utopian gesture than Boy on the Run (1968). It has the breakneck pace of a classic silent comedy short (which it is):
- Young man escapes from prison.
- Young man pauses to catch his breath in the woods.
- Young man undresses.
- Young man discovers underneath some foliage … a pogo-stick.
- Young man bounces happily up and down.
- Young man dresses ... and returns to prison.
This might have been presented in a spirit that was merely pervy and creepy, but instead it’s an expression of a very ardent and hopeful revolutionary spirit. The territory has been claimed, and on Rocco’s pogo-stick we are invited to share in the victory dance.
Big props to Outfest, the UCLA Archive, Todd Wiener, Alice Royer, and everybody who worked on this!