That's (Adult) Entertainment: Veteran Editor & Columnist on the B.A.R.'s Erotica True Connection

by John Karr

Bay Area Reporter

Sunday April 4, 2021

Jack Wrangler and Richard Locke in 'Kansas City Trucking Co.'
Jack Wrangler and Richard Locke in 'Kansas City Trucking Co.'   

It was early in 1978 that I met my destiny.

Not long out of college, I wanted to be a writer. Yet I lacked all ambition, and knew I'd never write a thing without the imposition of a deadline. So one day I sauntered into the Bay Area Reporter office, and declared my availability. Sadly, editor Paul Lorch had all positions covered. But wait! He'd been wanting to help legitimize the depiction of gay male sexuality, and call out what he saw as neo-puritanism in the gay community. Did I want to review porno?

Casey Donovan, featured in the May 1972 Bay Area Reporter  

Oh, boy, was I the guy for that job. Could I deny I was at the Nob Hill Cinema every Wednesday when a new feature started its run? I spent so much time behind its screen I shoulda had meals sent in. I jumped at Paul's offer, and became the front line of a new brand of porn writing that was an actual film review, its light touch nonetheless taking the movies seriously.

Later, to a critical letter in 1981, Paul responded "We are well aware of the neo-puritanism that has sprung up in recent years. It costs us readers as well as high-toned advertisers. But then the B.A.R. never set out to be the Christian Science Monitor of the gay press. We are what we are and who we are."

I landed in the paper's Entertainment section. But some advertisers didn't want to appear on the same page as any sexual content (ahem, SF Opera, with a publicity department run by gay men). So, joining Mr. Marcus and the classified ads, I was whisked into a section Paul created especially for pilloried content, called "Bob's Bazaar," aka, The Back Pages (Nov. 22, 1978). And when porn theatre owners leaned on Bob Ross to ensure I praised their booking, Paul Lorch wouldn't allow it. He stood by me always.

Explosion of Big Talents
It was an auspicious time for me to begin. The 1970s saw an explosion of creativity since unequaled, especially by the rote-porn formulas of today's mainstream directors. Back then, original songs frequently graced soundtracks, editing technique could mirror Hollywood.

One of Karr's early porn reviews in the Nov. 22, 1978 issue of the B.A.R.  

Wakefield Poole launched it all in 1972 with "Boys in the Sand," which delivered porn's first superstar, Casey Donovan (Don McLean's review, March 1, 1972; Casey Donovan interview, Aug. 22, 1974).

In 1972, Fred Halstead made his absolutely transgressive "L.A. Plays Itself," which I called "an assault on the senses that has made me physically ill both times I've seen it." Despite my reaction, the important thing was its attempt to be more than loops.

In 1976, the Gage Brothers launched an iconic trilogy with "Kansas City Trucking Co." Wow. It had hetero elements, like a voyeuristic woman who was a complement to the movie (not the insult dumped on us with tedious regularity at men.com). Its extreme scene of water sports was filmed with accomplished camera and editing techniques, multiple angels and intercuts "orchestrated into an eruption symphony."

an ad in the B.A.R. for 'Kansas City Trucking Co.'  

And it had Jack Wrangler's manic impersonation of manhood, juxtaposed with the imperturbable masculinity of Richard Locke, who became the grand Daddy of his generation. He was a giant, robust, furred and bearded hunk; I idolized that guy. What a sweetie. His stage act was a thrill, in which he shot his load on a musical cue! When I asked him how he managed that feat (which he accomplished several times a day), he modestly demurred, "It's easy. You just get it there and hold on 'til your cue."

After "El Paso Wrecking Corp" (1976 mention in Dec. 22, 1977), Joe Gage took a solo credit for "L.A. Tool and Die" (1979), in which Michael Kearns gave a supreme demonstration of cum-lapping lasciviousness.

Steve Scott's "Rough Cut" exhibited a creative freedom and skill of execution unseen today. Ditto were Artie Bresson's "Forbidden Letters," and the camera's obsessive worship of hustler Karl Forest in Wallace Potts' gritty "Le Beau Mec." Check out the scene when a sweaty and furtive john blows him. Forrest smashes the guy's head down on his cock, forcing the guy's toupee askew.

All praise to director Tom DeSimon's assured 1979 flick, "The Idol," a movie I watch whenever I need to be refreshed. In it, Kevin Redding plays an athlete yearning to come out. He mopes poolside where his cousin, Mark Bitler, is going to give him a helping hand, as well as helping mouth and ass (incidentally, this was a first film for both performers; neither one ever made another). Redding is not unwilling, but hesitant. His mouth slowly and apprehensively approaches Bitler's cock. And the second his lips touch the tip, DeSimone masterfully deploys John Paul Young's "Love is in the Air." It wafts in like sorcery (I've always wondered if he had the rights). Perfect! We have warm California sunshine, romantically juicy sex, and affirmative music. Made me want to sing along right in the theatre. "The Idol" is the rare sexo that left you happy. (Review and ad, April 26, 1979)

An ad for 'The Idol,' which screened at the Nob Hill Cinema, April 26, 1979.  

Sex Ed Teachers
The 1980s found the B.A.R. being distributed in boxes on the streets. This gave easy access to minors and meant I had to start censoring the all-nude photos I'd been running. Too, too bad. More than that, the '80s were all about VHS and AIDS. Video led to a near jettisoning of craft.

Liberating porn from expensive, more cumbersome film, it allowed anyone who had a camera into the game. AIDS led to confusion and fear. How to depict sex in an era of death? Most companies tried to ignore it; they had to be forced into using condoms.

For me, that ditched a lot of the thrill. Certainly, the stars of the day were consolation; Al Parker and Peter Berlin, and Scorpio, a sui generis, taciturn performer who seemed to live way out on the edges. I was mad for J.W. King. I still am. His lovely toned body and desirably stiff dick were trumped by the near obscene color of his lips, which monopolized my eyes. In one movie, he plays a Sex Ed teacher who decides to give life to the chalked depictions of an erection on the blackboard. They guy sure know how to encourage learning!

I had a keen interest in renegade filmmaker Christopher Rage. His work was fragmented and insular; its ritualized behavior was an excessive and bizarre reaction to AIDS. "Fucked Up" is perhaps the least representative of his films, and my favorite. It arouses and terrorizes me. It's an hour of Casey Donavan getting massively dildoed and fisted by a guy who looks like his older brother.

It's not Donovan the glamorous star, but Donovan having the kind of sex he preferred in private life. He becomes more and more possessed by some drug he keeps whiffing. Comes a moment the drug completely takes over, and his eyes go dead, glassy as a mirror; you could enter the depths of hell through them. It's scary. There's still more movie to come, the fisting part, but it's where I stop. After that demonizing, it's just too much. I can't think of anything else like it.

Far less extreme is a real novelty in all of porndom, Rage's "4X." He splits the screen in four not always equal and not always ordered sections. Sounds unwatchable, huh? Yet I find that its multitude of images can become a libidinous wash of desire. The varied snippets include most of Rage's stars, with action that comes and goes in no coherent sequence. Sometimes all four screens are used, sometimes not.

I asked Trey (Chris's real name) how he planned what seemed an interlocking of images. Oh, he said, they were leftovers from all his movies that he scooped off the cutting room floor. He didn't want waste 'em, so he threw them randomly together and called it a movie. No planning at all. It's the Merce Cunningham approach to porn. It works for me; it's a unique experience. Be sure to smoke one of those funny little cigarettes first.
(review, Dec 22, 1983)

One of Karr's wittier critiques of porn parodies in May 2016.  

Down, Loads
And what about this century, you ask? First up, the invention of protease inhibitors led to the near total disappearance of condoms. Hallelujah! Cum shed its poisonous rep, and guys returned to slurping it up. I had sure missed it.

My first infatuation of the aughts was Brent Corrigan, with his sylph's body and creamy marzipan cock. It stands up, and he holds up. Then there was Avi Dar, oy, so handsome, a successor in type to hefty and hung Carlos Morales. I sure love 'em thick. I could rave about many others, but, hey, I'm running out of space.

A recent trend that I don't like to see is the guy who'll fuck anything. Used to be, making porn was a display of identity, an affirmation of gaiety. So often these days, it's a job, and perhaps to make the rent, performers seem ready and eager to fuck anything with a hole or two. Not just G4P or bi, but omni-sexual. On the other hand, that's liberating, and I'm an old grouch, stuck in Stonewall days and ways.

I regret that mainstream porn refuses to evolve, and keeps making a freeze-dried product. Gussied-up loops. Porn's become a conglomerate enterprise, with a Georgia-based company buying and bundling up most erstwhile independents, causing a sad homogenization. Aren't Naked Sword and Raging Stallion and Hot House and Falcon the same company, making the same movie?

(Editor's note: one of Karr's funniest and near-final reviews in May 2016: Cockblusters; porn parodies pale)

And while I've liked the blandishments of mainstream porn, with its steady diet of attractive but interchangeable mannequins, some years ago it all started to blur together for me. Now I prefer the unknown byways. The Internet is just full of fascinating stuff. Not a place to look for craft, perhaps, but a place where the kicks don't seem so planned. It's where you can find smooth and lengthily-hung gold diggers like Reno Gold; it's where I found Archer Croft. He slays me. He's the renegade as cutie, with a cock-of-the-walk attitude, and street smart yet prettified looks. His long hair flows with an abandon he shares, and his cockring's a strangulator.

Ah, there have been so many boys, so many decades. The B.A.R. has always been a refuge for me. I was interviewed once for a position at a major publication. I fled right back to the B.A.R. Outside of the B.A.R., there are heterosexuals all over the place; definitely a foreign country. They do things so differently there. I only wanna write gay. So, long wave the B.A.R.

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.

Copyright Bay Area Reporter. For more articles from San Francisco's largest GLBT newspaper, visit www.ebar.com

Comments on Facebook