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To many gay men, porn is more than a hobby. It’s a way of life. We all have our favorites, and there are enough variations out there to please every stripe on the zebra of diversity. So what’s more interesting than porn? A book about porn. Jeffrey Escoffier’s Bigger than Life: The History of Gay Porn Cinema from Beefcake to Hardcore, is a highly readable examination full of behind-the-scenes dish as well as socially significant contextualizing.
Beginning with Kenneth Anger’s Fireworks (1947) and Scorpio Rising (1963), Escoffier details the origins of gay porn, including the avant-garde cinema of Andy Warhol’s Kiss, Blow Job and Couch, as well as Bob Mizer’s Athletic Models Guild black and white photos. Warhol and Mizer’s worlds intersected with that hot piece of beefcake known as Joe Dallesandro, who originally posed for Mizer but hit it big in Warhol’s films.
But Warhol’s avant-garde leanings could only take gay porn so far. It had to burst out of the art houses and into popular culture and Escoffier is painstaking in cataloging those pioneers. From Wakefield Poole (Boys in the Sand, 1971) to Joe Gage (Kansas City Trucking Co., 1975), we meet the big and bit players both behind and in front of the camera.
Escoffier places the history of our porn in a social context and also does a great job of bringing us up to Jeff Stryker and Chi Chi La Rue, covering the end of the 8 mm adult loop, the end of cinematic porn and the advent of video and DVD formats. The only feature I wanted but didn’t get was a comprehensive listing of influential and “must-see” films that I could use to see what’s out there on DVD. It’s been a long time since I jacked … um, I mean, appreciated a Joe Gage film.
But this is minor quibbling. If you like porn – and who doesn’t – you’ll enjoy Escoffier’s gossipy details as much as his entertaining and sometimes sardonic prose. Pick this up today and you’ll be dreaming of the late Jack Wrangler tonight.
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler