Bijou, an exercise in big screen theatrical affect
Wakefield Poole's follow-up to his ground-breaking and enormously successful 1971 gay porn feature Boys in the Sand is a surreal, artsy piece of erotica. It's setting is for the most part in dark, theatrically-lit interiors, making it seem like night to the earlier film's day, moon to Sand's sun. It continues the previous work's aesthetic of cutting the images to classical and contemporary music. Generally it feels like an experimental, underground or even drugs film.
It begins by cutting scenes of a construction site, a car driver and a goofy woman walking along the street with the Mars section of Holst's Planets suite. These disparate images come together when the driver accidentally runs the woman over and her purse is stolen by a construction worker on his way home from the site. Back in his lonely room, the worker sorts through the purse, puts on some Led Zeppelin and proceeds to jerk off to Dazed and Confused and Babe I'm Gonna Leave You. But his masturbation is interrupted when one of the female images which flashes before his mind's eye is the woman being car-struck. The worker grabs a mysterious theatre ticket he has found in her purse and heads out.
His destination is the Bijou, a seedy dive in an apartment block. A crone on the door accepts the ticket and the man enters into another world. Poole throws all of considerable resources of money and imagination into creating a strangely lit netherworld of neon instructions, reflecting mirrors, drapes and men. The protagonist takes part in a dream-like, Dionysian orgy in which he loses his individuality and merges as another figure in a pile of bodies, although his not inconsiderable endowment ensures that he is mostly the active partner in the sex. After this long sequence (which makes up over half of the film) the man leaves and the film ends.
What the accident with the woman and the antics in the Bijou have to do with each other is anyone's guess; the latter could either be an expiation of his guilt or the former might have been a ritualistic induction into another, all-male world (although she does appear, laughing, in one of the split-screens Poole uses in creating the orgy). The special effects mostly involving zooming in and out onto theatre lights and arranging mirrors to throw multiple reflections are pretty tacky. Yet I should think that the film did have a disorientating and dazzling effect projected large on the screen of a porn theatre in the mid-70s, where sex was doubtlessly happening off as well as off the screen and the air was heavy with smoke and amyl nitrate. As a movie creating affect in its intended viewing environment, it will have been overwhelming. Now, in the cold light of day and seen on a home screen, it's lack of narrative is a little frustrating and its mise-en-scène feels pretentious; it lacks the intellectual content of Pink Narcissus or a Kenneth Anger short. This is essentially an erotic film made for the cinema screen, and for a certain type of cinema at that.
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