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Pink Narcissus

Screening on Film
Directed by James Bidgood.
With Bobby Kendall, Charles Ludlam, Don Brooks.
US, 1971, 35mm, color, 71 min.
Print source: Strand Releasing

Director Bidgood was a portrait photographer, window dresser, costume designer and drag queen living in New York when he shot, painstakingly, between 1963 and 1970, this handmade, riotously color-saturated fantasia on sets built in his tiny apartment. He picked up and made a star out of teenage runaway Bobby Kendall, the hunk o’ beefcake with whom he lived amid the ever-flowering profusion of lumber, tinsel, props, costumes and other magical matter of movie artifice in never-ending transformations of jerrybuilt enchantment that was their home. Inspired by MGM Technicolor musicals and their kitsch goddesses, Bidgood refashioned Kendall and the Narcissus myth to his own hue-addled homoerotic purposes in this dialogue-free, music-driven singularity. The early scenes, presumably shot first, deploy the discreet, underground queer film codes of the early 60s to trace across a fake empyrean only the slightest hint of a narrative trajectory for the film’s dreamboat protagonist. Subsequent scenes introduce slightly more sexual explicitness as the project progresses through the increasingly permissive decade. A description of Bidgood might remind one of the contemporaneous New York spell-caster and fellow Maria Montez-worshipper, Jack Smith, but where Smith’s legendary work glories in a shrieking, unfocused derangement, every one of Bidgood’s frames is drop-dead gorgeous, mythic, restrained! Bidgood removed his name from the credits in a disagreement with some moneymen who came late to the project, which was finally completed and released to indifference in 1971, just as Boys in the Sand launched the Golden Age of Mainstream Porn, pushing the sumptuous suggestiveness of Bidgood into the oblivion of forgotten boners. Bidgood’s masterpiece was finally rereleased in 2004.

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