While McDowell often echoed George Kuchar's use of narrative more as an erratic reference point than a rule to follow, Taboo has an unusually abstract relation to story even by his standards, at least those of his longer works. Purportedly crafted over four years — his output slowed considerably after Evans had replaced the incredibly prolific Kuchar as boyfriend — it has buxom, blonde-bewigged sis Melinda McDowell, recently departed Thundercrack! mad diva Marion Eaton, and a glowering Kuchar as three parts of a tempestuous two-couple marital equation variously simmering with unmet desire and boiling over with orgiastic excess.
But it's the fourth player who dominates the filmmaker's attention. One of his numerous onscreen Joe Dallesandros, but evidently a source of particular longtime obsession, Fahed (a.k.a. David) Martha hailed from a Palestinian family that owned the grocery store next to the Roxie; his petite yet muscle-bound Sal Mineo-like appeal piqued McDowell, who didn't mind the frequent presence of an equally young girlfriend. (In fact, he freely admitted "really getting turned on by straight men.") Throughout Taboo's mix of the poetical and camp, the black and white camera salivates over this nearly-naked Adonis' body and cocky attitude; in turn, he displays an exhibitionist zeal he probably didn't know he had in him. A producer here and close friend, former Castro Theatre programmer and current San Francisco Silent Film Festival artistic director Anita Monga says McDowell "just saw the deep sexual beauty in everyone," turning them on with the sheer voracity of his admiring gaze.
In one of the shorts the Roxie is showing in a separate program, 1972's Confessions, McDowell interviews friends and lovers, asking them to describe his best and worst qualities. Perhaps straddling both, one confides "You've always had this energy, it's like an explosion. I think when people see your films they have to understand, like, sex. It seems like you need so much more sex than other people." A satyr-like omnivorous seduction and insatiability still sweats off many of his films as if through pores, most notoriously 1985's Loads (a Dionysian compilation of guys he'd lured up to masturbate and service in his Mission studio).
McDowell was a happily self-corrupted transplant from the Heartland (with typical alliterative flair, Kuchar called him "curt, cute, controversial, and not celibate ... poet of the plebeian and perverse"); he enjoyed shocking the staid society left behind — 1970's A Visit to Indiana is his amusingly sulky chronicle of a most reluctant trip home.
Also on the Roxie bill are such examples of pure, impish silliness as 1972's Siamese Twin Pin Heads, a short perhaps dated by a "look ma, we're naked!" glee that looked a lot more rebellious back then. But 1973's Boggy Depot is a homemade musical anticipating Thundercrack!'s puppet theater-Gothic look. Its variously scheming and schemed-against protagonists trill their ridiculous operetta-style lyrics to found orchestral tracks. This is one McDowell film in which people keep their pants on, but these 17 sublime minutes are orgasmically pleasurable nonetheless.
"LOADS OF CURT MCDOWELL"
Sat/26-Sun/17, 1 p.m.; Mon/28, 10 p.m., $5-9.75
3117 16th St., SF