GAY FILM REVIEWS BY MICHAEL D. KLEMM

Sticks and Stones

Something Weird Video,
1969

Director
Stan Lopresto

Screenplay:
Tom O'Keefe

Starring:
Craig Dudley,
Jesse Deane,
Jimmy Foster,
Robert Case,
Danny Landau

Rated X, 85 minutes

The Meatrack

Something Weird Video,
1969

Director:
Richard Stockto

Screenplay:
Joel Ensana

Starring:
David Calder,
Donna Troy,
Jan Stratton,
Bob Romero,
Rodney Wheelock

Rated X, 65 Minutes

Two From 1969
by Michael D. Klemm
Posted online March, 2011



I've never pretended to have seen every queer film ever made, but it isn't often that I come across an older queer title that I've never heard of. Yet that is what has happened with 1969's Sticks and Stones from one-time director, Stan Lopresto. The film somehow escaped Vito Russo's radar in The Celluloid Closet (1986), and it doesn't have an entry in the comprehensive 1996 guidebook, Images in the Dark: An Encyclopedia of Gay and Lesbian Film and Video. I discovered the movie while writing about 1974's A Very Natural Thing a couple months ago. I was conducting a little online research for contemporary reviews when I found two that compared A Very Natural Thing to an earlier movie called Sticks and Stones. I had to find it. As always, Netflix came through. Sticks and Stones is the second feature on a DVD, paired with a 1969 movie about another hustler called The Meatrack (more on this title later).

I want to be clear from the outset that Sticks and Stones is not 1969's Brokeback Mountain. This is hardly a good movie - in fact, calling it amateurish is being polite. It is, however, an interesting oddity for its era - I don't need to point out the treatment of gay men on the screen in the 1960s. Sexploitation movies often offered lesbian action because it got straight men in the seats. Man on man sex, however, was pretty much unheard of outside from a few underground flicks by Andy Warhol, Kenneth Anger and Jack Smith.

It's party time on Fire Island and you are invited. Peter and Buddy (Craig Dudley, Jesse Deane), two bickering lovers, are the hosts. Peter is not looking forward to the invited guests and calls them a "freak show." Their first scene together is humorous. It begins rather sweet. The camera pans from the window to the two lying in bed together and this is presented without explanation (a rather refreshing diversion from the era's usual crude fag jokes). The phone rings and it is Peter's mother. Buddy kisses his partner all over to distract him while he is on the phone. This annoys Peter - who is still angry because he didn't get any the night before. He complains that Buddy was out until 5 in the morning and that he ignores him. Buddy has already started drinking and pays no attention to Peter's objections. This scene, which features a substantial amount of nudity, is a good introduction to the characters but, unfortunately, the film goes downhill from here.

The "freak show" includes a queeny middle-aged leather man named George who is mocked by his pals for his fashion proclivities (to be honest, he manages to make studded armbands look poufy). He arrives with a few friends in tow, including a newbie who flees the leather queen's advances. Early on, there is a painfully un-funny scene featuring two effeminate men who are clueless how to fix their flat tire. One of them, a blonde who resembles David McCallum in The Man From Uncle, struggles to fix the flat while the other, a hippie who looks like Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider, strums his guitar and sings "Oh Tire! Oh Tire! Oh Tire!" at the top of his lungs. A "guru" at the party babbles incoherently about dreams, death and sex while stroking the thigh of his young acolyte. We also meet two lesbians. The butch one wears a captain's cap, drinks beer and fishes on a pier while her beautiful blonde girlfriend sunbathes nude next to her.

Most of the first half introduces the guests and shows them journeying, by train and by ferry, to Fire Island. The "wild party" that takes up the remaining running time will look familiar to anyone who has seen a "groovy" 60's film (usually starring Peter Fonda) about sex and drugs. The only thing missing in this electric kool-aid sex fest is lava lamps and psychedelic music. A rather hot leather man - think Tom of Finland - has "performance sex" with a painted man for the guests' amusement. A handsome man plays guitar and badly lip-synchs the bad song that we heard during the opening credits. Jimmy the David McCallum clone performs a bad cabaret of the same song. Buddy openly flirts with the guitarist and then, for the climax, pisses off Peter further by dancing a long striptease.

Not enough is known about Peter and Buddy's relationship for the audience to know for sure whether Peter is the injured party or if he is just a whiny pain in the ass. (He seems to be a combination of both.) Buddy perhaps sums it all up when he channels Bette Davis and declares: "I'm a mess and you're a bore." At one point, Peter confides to a friend that Buddy hasn't been the same since his play flopped. Because we've seen Buddy act like a dick, we think we can side with Peter. But any sympathy that he might have generated goes out the window following his big confessional soliloquy. During this rambling "babble-logue," delivered to a shellshocked Jimmy, he recalls his beloved dog who barked too much. When his landlord ordered him to get rid of his pet, he reacted like anyone would - he put a rope around the dog's neck, tied the other end to the radiator and, "with the last of [his] strength," tossed the little dog out the window. "I loved that dog" he whimpers, giving out a little laugh. This unintentionally hilarious monologue is up there with Phoebe Cates' ridiculous confession about why she hates Christmas in Joe Dante's Gremlins.

The final scene is a display of histrionics worthy of Valley of the Dolls. Both men are shirtless because the film is obviously designed to titillate. Again, the drama induces laughter as Peter channels Patty Duke's Neely O'Hara by having a hissy fit and throwing candy at his drunk partner. "I'm re-decorating," he snarls. Buddy, who just wants to go to bed and instead finds his chest covered with candy, tells him he's been reading too much Tennessee Williams lately. Peter fingers a curtain rope during much of this scene, making you wonder if this movie is really going to go over the edge and end with Peter choking Buddy. Why else include that inane canine confessional? But no, instead - with equal parts intercourse and violence - they wrestle on the floor and Peter repeatedly yells "Is there any left for me?"

It would be easy to dismiss Sticks and Stones as junky trash, but there is a lot going on that is interesting, even if it's not always successfully realized. (And it usually isn't.) The film opens with home movies of two young boys playing on the beach, building a sandcastle, and chasing away a girl who wants to play with them. Are we supposed to surmise that these boys grow up to be gay? The next beach we see is on Fire Island and so you can draw your own conclusions. A little social commentary is thrown in. Our boys draw stares on the street. The dynamic duo with the flat tire watch at least two cars go by. The drivers look at them, disgusted, and speed away without stopping to help. Peter has a conservative image to keep up for his clients because they judge him by his taste in art and by the friends he keeps. His concerns that this party could compromise his standing fall on deaf ears. This would be politically incorrect now, but the circle of gay friends bandy the word "faggot" about constantly.

The film is rated X and is soft core explicit. What do we make of Sticks and Stones? One is tempted to think of it as porn from the period but there is too much plot in the movie for it to be porn. Even so, there's a lot of flesh and a lot of sexual coupling. No XXX rated close-ups but it's pretty clear what is going on. The leather performance guy at the party offers a close-up of his Prince Albert. Buddy's striptease goes the full monty.

This may have been quite the "family affair" because the co-producers are also the cameraman and the writer. They, and the director, attempt to be artsy with stuff like shots in mirrors and through windows. Some of it is effective, but a lot of the cinematography screams late 60s - early 70s. This is especially true during scene transitions that point the camera at out-of-focus, glittering objects. There are lots of bad zooms and quick pans. A lot of the dialogue is unintelligible. The acting is stilted. The film is primitive but, you know, it adds to its charm. At the very least it becomes documentary; in the same way that a few other movies from the 70s did (A Very Natural Thing, Johan: Mon et 75, Nighthawks, Saturday Night At The Baths). It documents the party scene in 1969 on Fire Island; a post-Stonewall and pre-AIDS halcyon summer of sexual freedom. A post modern Eden.

This movie corners the market on screaming queens but they appear to be actors who are just being themselves - as opposed to, say, Cliff Gorman's over-the-top portrayal of Emory in The Boys in the Band. Also, none of these guys wallow in self loathing and hate themselves like the cast of The Boys in the Band would the following year and this is a plus. Some may still find the cast annoying but their portrayals are honest. More problematic is the lesbian couple. For some inexplicable reason, the pretty blonde and the hot leather man get it on during the party, stripping completely naked and surrendering to Dionysus.

Quite honestly, the basic plot (a party with an assortment of butch and queeny men - strangely no drag queens - a philandering husband and his put-upon partner) really hasn't dated in the least. Only the setting, the clothing and the hairstyles fix this film in 1969. (Okay, and the photography.) You can argue that the film features a pile of maladjusted, promiscuous gay men or you can revel in the fact that the movie neither judges or ridicules them. It's just a bunch of guys who happen to be gay appearing in a film that was no better or worse than the other low budget midnight shows of the era. If this was meant to be shocking, John Waters was next on the horizon - making Sticks and Stones almost seem quaint.

The main feature on the DVD is another low budget film from the same year entitled The Meatrack. This one, directed by Richard Stockton, is the home movie remake of Midnight Cowboy, right down to the over-exposed abusive parent flashbacks. J.C. (David Calder) hustles with guys and gals, but mostly with men. He trawls movie theaters, street corners and the baths to make a living. "Ten dollars," he tells a man who grabs his crotch in a movie theater. "I said ten dollars or I'll break your hand." Wearing a sailor suit, he makes dreams come true for a self loathing middle aged man who is dressed like an Old West madam. Afterwards, the old queen complains about how unhappy he is and whimpers, "Gay... what a laugh." The Meatrack is a little heavy on the self pity, typical of its day. Like Sticks and Stones, it does a nice job documenting the era, preserving on celluloid the porn theaters and the baths. I especially liked the movie house that showed "Experimental Homosexual & Lesbian Art Films."

This is another film that tries. It's not completely terrible but it isn't very good either. The cinematography is a mix of too-dark night scenes and washed out black and white interludes. The acting is pretty bad, as is the dialogue. Calder, as J.C, is easy on the eyes. He is naked frequently and the camera lingers on his hands washing his crotch in the shower on two occasions. Aside from the guy in the Can Can dress mentioned earlier, most of this johns are ordinary looking men rather than the degenerate types who usually populate hustler movies.

Our main character is barely a cipher - from the persistant flashbacks we learn that his mother has taught him that money is more important than love. For a brief time, he enjoys a relationship with Jean (Donna Troy), a lost young woman. He rescues her from being raped by a sleezy man who was photographing her in the nude and then turned nasty. J.C. appears to kill her assailant. She almost pulls him up from the abyss but he continues to hustle behind her back. During the film's most bizarre scene, a pair of knife wielding trannies (a distant precurser of last year's Ticked Off Trannies With Knives?) force the young couple to make a porn film.

Calling the ending overdone and melodramatic is an understatement. (Skip this paragaraph if you don't want to read a spoiler.) Jean comes home early to find her new beau with one of his male clients and flees in shock and disgust. J.C. chases after her but is unable to catch her before she is hit by a car. Distraught, he runs into a movie theater that is showing an old 1950s Sci-Fi flick. He is soon beset by a tableau straight out of Night of the Living Dead as he finds himself surrounded by horny men wanting to have sex with him. Running away out the back door into an alley, he encounters a religious zealot who attacks him and screams, "You sinner! God will punish you!" The Meatrack finally ends the way it began - with J.C. hitchhicking on a country road and being picked up by an amorous driver. Freeze frame on a field. Thankfully, the film is only 65 minutes long.

Also on the DVD are a series of short nudie films. No biographical information is given but they were undoubtedly peep shows from the period. Most are lame, but historically interesting. One of them features a very young John Holmes, and the very large penis that made him a star, in an early gay-for-pay short. Also included is footage from a 1970 Hollywood Gay Pride Parade.