POP Montreal: Owen Pallett Scores a Porn a/k/a Final (Really, Really Gay) Fantasy
Based on how this year’s POP festival has run, you’d think we spend most of our time slouched in the cozy, questionably sanitary seats of an adult movie theater on St. Laurent. Last night, local musician Socalled gathered a rogue’s gallery of performers—including Owen Pallett, plus members of Belle Orchestre and HELITRONS—to perform the live soundtrack to the 1975 classic of explicit homosexual cinema, Cruisin’ 57. (Eager attendees lined up around the block for an impatient hour. Someone standing behind me: “Do you guys want to go home and rent a gay porn and put on Final Fantasy?”) A certified academic-type opening the proceedings, perhaps to situate the evening as a way of celebrating identity politics and sexual revolution instead of just artsy blowjobs on a big screen.
The historical introduction shed helpful light on the film’s genesis. It was, evidently, a parody of George Lucas’ American Graffiti. Director Toby Ross had an "ethnographic orientation" to his art, and preferred "non-professional actors with acne who’d blow their lines, along with other things." (No you didn’t, Professor Porn.)
Next, Socalled screened a short documentary film he’d made about Crusin 57’s director, shot on location in the smut auteur's Chicago apartment. Ross is sincere about his craft, lucid and charming and not at all what you might expect—though it’s a little hard to take a guy seriously when he’s wearing a t-shirt that says “Happiness is a BIG COCK.” The documentary hit a technical snag in the middle. After the, ahem, premature climax, the band decided to roll straight on into the smut.
Full disclosure: as a heterosexual who hasn’t had occasion to watch much cinematic man-on-man action, I must admit that my chops as a gay porn critic are a bit rusty. Cruisin’ 57 was unexpectedly experimental, full of found sound and shot in a decidedly non-linear style. (If there was a plot beyond all the occasional friction, I missed it.) Socalled’s band played the songs included on the original soundtrack; it was sock-hop music, senior-prom tunes from the mid-'50s, weird-ass doowoop freak-outs and cute falsettos trills from Owen Pallett. On-screen, a lot of very young men spent a lot of time gazing longingly at each other; the gazes generally resulted in a bit of earnest crotch-rubbing (or frottage, as the French would have it); one thing lead to another, and soon enough the football jock and the cardigan-wearing prepster were learning that they do share a few common interests. I probably don’t have to spell out the rest. Let’s just say that Toby Ross’s camera work proved that there’s always a new angle from which to capture two people fucking. And if you've ever wondered what a David Lynch porn might play like, look no further than the bizarre scene in which a drab, dense classroom lecture on Greek mythology is interrupted by a bit of surreptitious fellatio.
While the film reels were being switched, Socalled rang up Ross on speaker phone: “I’m just here with a couple of friends and we’re watching one of your movies.” The director was ecstatic and a bit awed by his newfound celebrity. “This is like The Twilight Zone,” he noted, before weighing in on the American political scene: “Fuck McCain! Vote for Obama!” Perhaps happiness is a BIG DEMOCRAT after all.