A Pornographer – Arch Brown (Chelsea Station Editions)

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Arch Brown’s film work formed the backdrop for most of my mid-1970’s sexual experiences, as those interludes often happened in either the odorific XXX theatres or the ordorific and claustrophobic peepshow booths in Denver. I didn’t recognize that from the cover, but once I saw stills of the films and read the names: Jack Wrangler, Scott Donovan, Scorpio, Justin Thyme, and my personal favorite, J.D. Slater, I was hurled back in time so hard I got a head rush from the memory of the poppers. Mmmm — were they stronger then? Where was I? Oh, yes. Arch Brown’s memoir. Great book. Let me step outside for a second and get some fresh air.

Gay porn in the 1970’s was different than it is today, if for no other reason than the performances of porn stars who were raised on the stuff are different from the performances of those who broke that ground. I’m generalizing, of course, but on the whole I think the vintage stuff is less studied and more genuine. Or at least as genuine as filmmaking gets. This same honesty shines through Brown’s memoir as well.

A quick glance at the first names listed in the table of contents would lead you to believe Brown has simply provided character sketches of a bunch of people he worked with, and indeed they are. But they’re hardly simple. Brown has grouped those sketches together and provided social and personal context to present them as both portraits of individuals and snapshots of the era. He outlines their positive attributes as well as their bodily flaws (too chunky, a bit flabby) and humanizes the bodies we see on screen.

As a writer, Brown is much like he was as a director–he puts all the elements on stage and gets out of the way so they can interact. His prose is simple and straightforward. He never attempts to justify or applaud himself and this is one of the least self-serving memoirs I’ve ever read. Instead, he concentrates on others and only brings his own thoughts in when they illuminate the situation at hand.

Brown’s manuscript is bookended by a great introduction by Jameson Currier, who also provided Brown’s filmography, and an afterword by Brown’s good friend and archivist, James Waller. Altogether, an informative and entertaining package well worth your time. Highly recommended.

JW

© 2017, Jerry L. Wheeler

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