Pat Rocco Dared


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Pat Rocco Dared
"Filmed during the last months of Pat’s life, when he was gradually losing his sight, this film features extensive interviews with the man himself." | Photo: Courtesy of Inside Out

In the history of cinema – however it is recorded – a good deal of archive space has already been given to the pioneers of gay erotica and those who successfully managed to distribute it through underground cinema clubs in the US even in the days of the Hayes Code. Sexuality, however, was never a real challenge. The public already knew that gay people had sex – in fact, many assumed that it was the central focus of gay lives – and as long as it happened out of sight, with harsh punishments handed out from time to time, it didn’t pose much of a threat to a comfortably homophobic society. Much, much more dangerous was something cinema never dared to show explicitly: romantic love between people of the same sex, and the possibility of happiness.

It is perhaps difficult for younger viewers today to wrap their heads around what it was like growing up in a society where, for gay and lesbian people and many bisexual people, love seemed impossible and every story which even hinted at same sex romance ended in tragedy. This documentary on revolutionary director Pat Rocco is a valuable part of the 2022 Inside Out line-up, setting out to explain the impact of the absence of hope even as it profiles the man who changed it. Pat came out of the closet in the 1950s, when it was practically unheard of. Such was the expectation of self-censorship that there was, at that time, little organised opposition to people who lived as loud and proud as he did, and by the time it developed, he had already acquired both the means and the confidence to tell stories his way.

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They seem very simple, sentimental films buy today’s standards, but in their time they were radical. Dreams, romantic tales of the sort popular in the Sixties and early Seventies, but with men gazing into one another’s eyes. He filmed the first male-male kiss shown on a big screen, and also shot numerous films which simply featured men naked on beaches, on boats or performing everyday tasks, allowing them to be beautiful in a way which is still rare in mainstream cinema. On one occasion he filmed a naked actor painting his living room so that he could get two jobs done in one go. Although his films featured sex scenes, they were never explicit – one contributor here describes them as scenes one could comfortably show to one’s mother. There were no X certificates applied to Pat’s work. They didn’t cross any lines, and yet they had a massive impact on audiences who simply hadn’t seen that sort of thing before.

Filmed during the last months of Pat’s life, when he was gradually losing his sight, this film features extensive interviews with the man himself. He’s warm and friendly and full of good humour, happy to reflect on his work and on his experiences of life, stressing the importance of young LGBTQ+ people taking the time to listen to elders in the community. His own life serves as an example of the kind of story he sought to tell: he spent 38 years with partner David Ghee, who is camera-shy but appears at the end to pay tribute. Despite moments of tragedy, like the loss of Harvey Milk, whom he campaigned for and befriended, he plainly found a lot of joy in life, and he had no time whatsoever for the expected shame. He helped to organise Pride parades and set up a shelter for homeless LGBTQ+ people who could not find safe refuge elsewhere. In one scene he mentions his love of Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory and its contention that there is always wonder to be found in the world if one looks for it.

There are affection, typical Hollywood-style documentary moments here, like those celebrating his longstanding friendship with Phyllis Diller, but there bulk of the film is centred on his choices as a filmmaker and his application of craft. There’s a segment on his work with Bob Philpot, a dancer who was arrested for performing nude in a gay club, and on the film they made together which gave Bob the opportunity to discuss his work and perform the dance again so that it can be understood as art. Another focuses on Changes, his groundbreaking film about a trans woman which gave her the chance to explain her situation in straightforward terms, but which may also have invented the now ubiquitous trans woman putting on lipstick in front of a mirror shot. Still another celebrates the way he managed to film a naked man walking down the middle of the Los Angeles freeway, a production feat which no other filmmaker has achieved before or since.

Always inclusive, always open minded, much of Pat’s work still feels daring today, and his passionate commitment to finding joy in life seems more radical than ever. It’s not that he wasn’t aware of what was wrong – there is discussion here of the ending of Disneyland Discovery, where the couple we have seen happily frolicking in the woods together feel the need to stop holding hands when walking back through the park in which mixed sex couples happily snuggle up together. What this film captures is his understanding that even if it is sometimes unsafe to try to live in the same open way as straight, cisgender people, that doesn’t mean that LGBTQ+ people cannot have a full life otherwise, or should settle for less. If nothing else, there is the magical world of the silver screen.

Reviewed on: 05 Jun 2022
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In this colourful trip back in time, filmmaker and activist Pat Rocco shares his incredible life story as one of Hollywood's original boundary pushing gay pioneers.

Director: Morris Chapdelaine, Bob Christie

Writer: Bob Christie

Starring: Pat Rocco, Charlie David, Phyllis Diller

Year: 2021

Runtime: 89 minutes

Country: Canada


IO 2022
OutfestLA 2022

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