With "The Superstars Next Door," San Francisco smut classics offer a look at homegrown sex cinema
SIN-EMA Though he's lived in Denmark since 1993, time and distance have only drawn author-archivist Jack Stevenson closer to his erstwhile home's filmic arcana. Proof arrives via "The Superstars Next Door: A Celebration of San Francisco Amateur Sex Cinema." This Yerba Buena Center for the Artscommissioned series flashes back to SF's smutty '60s, when the sexual revolution dragged "adults only" movies semi-overground. Its variably silly, serious, silicone-y, and psychedelic excavations prelude hardcore porn as legal reality, let alone professionalized industry. Back then, investment and commercial stakes alike were so low, anybody could make a "dirty picture" and many pseudonymous anybodies did.
Indeed, even some titles are only guessed-at on Stevenson's initial "Home Movies" bill, a quartet of 1968 16mm films whose performers and crew remain known perhaps nowhere beyond a few wild grammas 'n' grampas' memories. In one, an Avon lady drugs a housewife for lesbi-manhandlin'. In another, Mommy does more than kiss Santa Claus.
Roving beyond SF, the "Flaming Striptease" program embraces celebrity ecdysiasts (Bettie Page, Jayne Mansfield), but also includes vintage faves (Batgirl!) from still-shakin' Big Al's in North Beach. But the destination baloney filling this greasy curatorial sandwich is The Meatrack, a first-last feature by "Richard Stockton" a.k.a. future Market Street grindhouse-to-rep-house entrepreneur and Strand Releasing co-founder Mike Thomas. Made in 1968, it was blown up to 35mm and re-released to some 1970 success as "the poor man's Midnight Cowboy."
Meaningfully monikered, abdominally defined protagonist J.C. (David Calder, briefly flashing the XXL package onscreen admirers pay for) is a young drifter who splits when anyone gets too close. That mistrust is rooted in flashbacks to a shrewish mother ("All men are alike!") and delinquent dad ("You'll be boozin' too after they've given you the purple shaft right up the old kazoo!")
Too damaged to separate being viewed as "a piece of meat" from offers (male and female) of real love, J.C. is a withdrawn bisexual hunk of some complexity. The film's avant-garde editing, stereotyped yet sympathetic psychology, Warhol-esque drag improv, and vivid SF street-life glimpses turn Meatrack's "perversion" bouquet nostalgically fragrant.
THE SUPERSTARS NEXT DOOR: A CELEBRATION OF SAN FRANCISCO AMATEUR SEX CINEMA FROM THE #60S: See Rep Clock for schedule. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission, SF. (415) 978-2787, www.ybca.org