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If I were going to try to convince someone of the value of Andy Milligan's work, VAPORS would be the film I'd show. In fact, I HAVE shown it to a few people over the years with that purpose. It's a gritty 16mm black-and-white feature set in a gay bathhouse and it seems very much like a "small theatre group" play, which makes sense since Milligan himself ran a few such theatre groups. The film transcends the gay aesthetic it represents and is really a meditation on loneliness--gay, straight, or whatever. While the room-tone echo on the recorded sound takes a little getting used to, it should not diminish the quality of the acting, which is quite moving in the case of the two leads. While the late Mr. Milligan was a unique filmmaker, Warhol always seemed to be his main-man artistically, and that's clearer here than anywhere else in Milligan's work. Milligan obviously knew what it meant to be lonely, to be afraid, and to reach out. This beautiful but raw film captures that as well as, for example, any Bergman film or Saul Bellow novel. History will view this film as a pioneering work of cinema. Please be warned, though, that it is NOT for the casual viewer or the viewer who cannot see beyond the film's lack of traditional qualities of slickness and "professionalism." Seeing this on a big screen at the time of its minimal release must have been a revelation!!! If Milligan had never made another film, this would rate him as a major filmmaker in my book.
Milligan's first film is possibly his best. Certainly its one of the few where the technical limitations of his equipment didn't hurt the film (Andy used basically one camera with one lens which could make things cramped) The plot has the meeting of two men in a gay bath house and talking. Very little happens other than other men come and go and you sense the longing and the need to connect to someone like yourself. One of the first films graphically (well for the time) deal with homosexuality as something real and not monstrous this film rattled cages. Very much an independent film, low budget art film this is very different than almost anything else that Milligan did (at least that survives). There is a rawness and a realness that shines through so that even though we know its artificial we can sense the reality behind it. Clearly not for all tastes this is an interesting look for those who like Milligans drek, to see where he started, and its an interesting side note for theater buffs to see one of the footnote founders of off Broadway went off theater.
You can buy this on the Something Weird label as part of one of their
collections of Gay Films from the 60s and 70s.
"Vapors" is about a man's first trip to a gay steam-room. It was banned across America when it came out - it's quite tame by our standards, but does feature a male-male kiss and is very weird. Full of camp little gay men running around being horrible to each other, and a very odd climax involving a paper sunflower and the rhyme "this little piggy went to market". The final scene, which shows a penis coming at the screen was censored with an annoying black line.
The two main characters seem to be more interested in spooking each out than having sex - there's a particularly horrible story about a man's son who died in a lake, while the description of dreams involving women's feet, and the analysis of sanitary pads reveal that these men find the ordinary to be disgusting - of course this is all juxtaposed with the fact that their targets would find going to a gay bathhouse to be disgusting... Interesting all the same.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Awkward young gay man Thomas (an engagingly gawky performance by Gerard Jacuzzo) goes to a bath house and encounters a diverse array of homosexual guys. Thomas strikes up a rapport with the friendly, but frustrated and unhappily married Mr. Jaffee (superbly played with riveting gravitas by Robert Dahdah). Andy Milligan, working from a sharp, bold, incisive script by Hope Stansbury, does an expert job of creating and sustaining an arrestingly gritty and seedy atmosphere while delivering a rough-around-the-edges, yet touching and compassionate cinematic meditation on loneliness and the basic human need for direct emotional contact. This movie boasts several poignant and powerful moments, with Mr. Jaffee's sad monologue about the tragic untimely drowning death of his son rating as a positively gut-wrenching highlight. The first-rate naturalistic acting from a uniformly tip-top cast qualifies as another significant asset: Jacuzzo and Dahdah are outstanding in the leads, with fine support from Hal Borske as the bitter, spiteful Mavis, Hal Sherwood as the effeminate Miss Parrish, Richard Goldberger as the catty Thumbelina, and Ron Keith as an aggressive seducer. Milligan's raw and grainy 16mm black and white hand-held cinematography further adds to the jolting impact and immediacy of this intriguing short feature. Proof positive that Andy Milligan could make a genuinely good picture when given the right material to work with.
*** (out of 4)
Strange but entertaining film takes place in a New York City bath house for homosexuals. One man shows up for the first time not really knowing what to do when he comes across another man who offers up some friendship.
VAPORS is from director Andy Milligan and it was the first film he ever made. The cult director is best remembered for his horror movies and the fact that the majority of them were awful but this early film really shows a different, more serious side. Milligan was a homosexual so I'm sure the material here was a lot closer to his heart than some of the monster movies that he would go onto make. I found the performances here to be rather raw and realistic and I also found the dialogue to be quite good and, again, realistic. This here will mainly appeal to Milligan fans but it's certainly a good little picture.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Vapors" is an American 32-minute live action short film from 1965, so this one is already half a century old, a bit more even. Fittingly for its time still, this is a black-and-white movie and even if he did some acting before, here we have the very first filmmaking effort by director Andy Milligan. Not too familiar with him really, but I thought I'd mention. The writer is Hope Stansbury, who adapted her own play for the screen here. Funnily enough, the characters are all male, homosexual males actually, in this bath house set drama movie. It is very dialogue-driven and all about the communication between the protagonists and the quantity increases more and more the longer it goes. Overall, I would not say it is a failure, but the conflict in here aren't on a level either where I really cared for the characters or what is about to happen to them. The cast that does not really include any well-known actors here did not make a great impact either or impress me with their range. That's why, as a whole, I give this little movie a thumbs-down. Very bleak, but not very intriguing. Just too mediocre overall. Watch something else instead.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Controversial (in its time) 45 minute film. It takes place at a gay
bath house. Shy Thomas (Gerald Jacuzzo) goes for his first time. He
undresses in his room, puts on his robe and lies down on the bed
waiting for a man. In walks older but handsome Mr. Jaffee (Robert
Dahdah). The two men are both nervous but start talking and this film
turns into an interesting dialogue about loneliness, death and life. We
get cuts to outside the room where a bunch of VERY fem gay guys bitch
and tear into each other. It all leads to an ending that is both sad
Director Andy Milligan is known for his horror movies. They're terrible films with no budget, terrible acting and dime store gore. He was also a gay man and that's probably why he was so good with this film. It dealt with a subject that touched him personally. It was (purportedly) shot in a real bath house which just adds to the mood. The dialogue seems natural and unforced and that's helped immensely by the good acting of Jacuzzo and Dahdah.
SPOILER!If you're afraid of it being too explicit--don't worry. There's only one kiss (one guy kisses another on the forehead) and the last shot (which contains full frontal male nudity) is ridiculously censored. I DON'T think it was purposely done that way. Just before you see everything a man (Matt Baylor) has to offer a ridiculous black bar appears completely covering his penis. I guess that was added when the film was released because back in 1965 male nudity was never shown. Too bad no uncut print seem to exist.
This is available from Something Weird Video as an extra on the DVD with "The Body Beneath". Well worth seeing.
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