It’s hard to categorise a film like The Erotic Films of Peter de Rome, released by the BFI for the first time on DVD in 2012, to coincide with the LLGFF.
British born, underground gay filmmaker, Peter de Rome was making erotic, gay, Super 8 films in his adopted home city of New York for much of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Made mostly for his, and his friends, own titillation, it was at the behest of pioneering producer Jack Deveau who saw one of the said films, that de Rome was persuaded to gather together eight of the movie shorts, blow them up to 16mm, and release them under the collective title The Erotic Films of Peter de Rome, to instant critical and public acclaim.
Watching the films which make up what is now considered as a classic in gay cinema, you can’t help but be caught between two stools. On the one hand you have what appears as little more than home movies of various nubile young men pleasuring themselves, and each other, for the camera in a collection of often bizarre situations. They could however, also be viewed as beautiful snapshots of a surreal imagination, as much there to depict the exploration of the male body and identity as for any means of erotic arousal.
Shot in such diverse locations as Fire Island, New York and Kew Gardens, London, some of the film’s such as the dreamlike Double Exposure (1969), where a young man is enticed into an empty beach house to watch a mirror image of himself taking pleasure in a series of erotic acts, could, at a stretch, be considered as diverting examples of art house cinema. However such undeniably beautiful voyeuristic trips are sullied by the equally pornographic base level of others like Prometheus (1972) with its gang rape finale.
What saves this DVD release from being just a collection of gay porn masquerading under the misconception that it is ‘serious art’, is the accompanying documentary Fragments: the incomplete Films of Peter de Rome (2011). This interview with de Rome, now in his 80’s, during which he discusses how he became involved in film making, and specifically gay erotica, is fascinating, kept lively by a man who in the end appears more interesting than much of his work.