Pink Narcissus

Pink Narcissus


Reviewed by: Martin Gray

Nothing to do with Powell & Pressburger's nuns, this is, according to the BFI, "a landmark in gay cinema" (and Black Narcissus wasn't?). I think that translates as "cheap and tacky-looking, but gave Seventies queens a chance to see pubes in the name of Art". I dunno. My notes on this one ran from "Pierre et Gilles meets Poundstretcher" to "as they're in a public toilet, why does everyone look so constipated?" via "nice sombrero".

Does that sound dismissive? Let's try again.

Copy picture

See boy. See boy strip. See boy touch himself. See bullfighter boy (worship his spangles!). See boy's bush. See boy lick penis-shaped leaf. See boy stroke penis-shaped string of pearls. Hear viewer yawn.

And so on, for a very long 65mins. Which may make this great value at £19.99, if you like your porn non-erotic and posh. Posh? Yes indeedy, this is art, hence its release by the British Film Institute. The official version is that: "Pink Narcissus is a breathtaking and outrageous erotic poem focussing on the daydreams of a beautiful boy prostitute who, from the seclusion of his ultra-kitsch apartment, conceives a series of interlinked narcissistic fantasies populated by matadors, dancing boys, slaves and leather-clad bikers."

I've got a degree in Film Studies. I've been to the BFI bookshop. I'm a bit of a boy botherer. Why, then, does that description not chime with what I watched even a little? Why, when the BFI says: "Highly charged hallucinogenic quality" do I say: "Fuzzy"? Pink Narcissus is a bunch of cheerfully tatty vignettes featuring a model-turned-actor who forgot to try the 'turned-actor' bit. The music, when not Tinkly Porn, is enjoyable eclectic, and occasionally connects with the images, but a visual poem? If I'm going to spend an hour with a film I want more story than 'boy has boring fantasies'. But this film was never about story.

It was, as its very sweet creator James Bidgood tells us in the accompanying interview, a production shot on 8mm in his flat between 1964 and 1970 using whatever and whoever was available. A veteran photographer for such muscle mags as The Young Physique (cover shots of beefcake men were replaced by smouldering boys in fur), he made his big dream a reality. "I wanted to glorify the American boy," he tells cute interviewer Brian Robinson (that's not a professional thing to write, is it?; the film has obviously corrupted me), adding: "We should be able to look at men in the same way we look at women". That meant feminising the male form so much that some readers thought The Young Physique was a straight porn mag, full of doe-eyed cover glamourpusses.

Said cover model was often Bobby Kendall, a failed hustler (being straight can't have helped) and it was he whom Bidgood built the film around. Eventually, even the nice young fella got sick of the length of time the film was taking and walked out, leaving his director with continuity problems - the long shoot had seen him start to lose his hair.

The BFI would have it that Pink Narcissus is an influential classic that screams (ahem) out to be seen. I can see that it has a legacy in gay culture - if the film reminds me of Pierre et Gilles, that's because the artistic pair homage Bidgood. And if the late Derek Jarman wasn't a fan of Pink Narcissus, I'll peel a very large banana. Slowly. In soft-focus and dressed in ermine.

But while interesting from a historical point of view - mainly to people who work at the BFI, I suspect - it's not a great watch. If you want a nice gay tale, try Mambo Italiano or Teletubbies; if you want a bit of filth, try something like Scally Soccer Orgy. But unless you can afford to shell out on a self-indulgent curio, forget Pink Narcissus.

One last thing. My favourite moment in the interview is when Bidgood tells us the title of his all-time favourite movie: Withering Heights.


Reviewed on: 17 Apr 2007
Share this with others on...
Pink Narcissus packshot
A young hustler fantasises about a world of matadors, sultans, centurians and bad decor.
Amazon link

Director: James Bidgood (as Anonymous)

Writer: James Bidgood (as Anonymous)

Starring: Bobby Kendall, Charles Ludlam, Don Brooks

Year: 1971

Runtime: 65 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: USA


Search database: