©2014 VICE Media LLC

    The VICE Channels

      Stuck in a Hotel Room with the Grandaddy of Gay Porn

      May 18, 2012


      Peter de Rome; London, 2012

      During the late 1960s and 70s, Peter de Rome made over 100 films, mostly just for a laugh. They featured men—including himself—masturbating, making love, sucking, fucking, and generally having a great time. People started paying attention to Peter's films in 1973, when his production Hot Pants scored big at the Wet Dream Film Festival in Amsterdam, and since then his films have been celebrated for their cinematic beauty by those who are able to appreciate how artfully lit and composed porn scenes are, even while they're jacking off.

      All of which has earned Peter the nickname the "Grandaddy of Gay Porn." The 87-year-old considers this to be "quite nice, really," and his friend Ethan Reid recently made a film about his life and work to help Peter celebrate the lofty esteem the art-porn community holds him in. The film is called Fragments: The Incomplete Films of Peter de Rome. Watch the trailer below:


      Trailer for Fragments.

      I went to see Peter to ask him about this and a ton of other really interesting things. We met in a hotel room in Covent Garden, London. I noticed that the lock on the outside of his door had broken. Peter said he'd had "too much wine" the night before, and had somehow managed to break it.

      He was an incredibly nice man. Here's a list of things we discussed that weren't interesting enough to make the interview:

      - He appeared in Breakfast at Tiffany's because he was working on the counter there at the time.
      - He filmed what was probably Greta Garbo's last ever on-screen appearance (in a gay porn film).
      - He had a lot of fun on Fire Island in the 1960s.
      - Two of his biggest fans were William S. Burroughs and Sir John Gielgud (the latter wrote Peter a script for a porn called Trouser Bar).

      You should be able to pick it up from here.

      VICE: ...and then you pushed the guy's car along with Greta Garbo? That's amazing. So, let’s start at the beginning. Peter, how did you get into making films?
      Peter:
      Well, I bought a camera when I went down south to work in civil rights in 1963. I thought I’d use it for that, but I actually used it for private research, recording guys that I thought were interesting, which led me on to experimenting with nakedness. They were art films.

      So this was while you were working for the civil rights movement?
      I got into the Free Southern theater. They'd bring drama to people all over the South. We would tour all of these plays in white America. We even did Waiting for Godot in white face.

      Black guys with white makeup on?
      It would have been confusing to see black and white people in such a funny, strange play. So they said: “No black guys, white it down.”

      Your films have been described as part masturbatory aid and part art film. What was the drive starting out, what were you aiming to create?
      I thought, “What is it that one person can do which commercial interest cannot?” And I somehow wanted to get naked people on to film. So I shot a few shots of me naked, masturbating or whatever, and put it right in the middle of another film. I sent it into Kodak and fortunately they came back.

      Did you lose films at Kodak often?
      I lost a few. They decided not to release a film because it contained material that they are not allowed to send over state borders.

      Was there a lot of pornography around at the time, if you wanted to get hold of it?
      No, not at all.

      So there wasn’t a reference point?
      No, I hadn’t seen any male pornography, or heterosexual come to that. Deep Throat was really the breakthrough, I guess, and I thought it was a piece of S-H-I-T.


      From Peter's film Double Exposure.

      Your films don’t strike me as exhibitionist, rather deeply personal. Yet you were playing them to your friends at parties. What was that about?
      Oh, just for fun. Usually they would say, “Can we see your photography?” because there were lots of prints going around. Sometimes it was two or three people and sometimes it was 20 or 30 people, depending on the situation.


      Peter keeps a lot of his press cuttings in neat, back-to-back pocket folders.

      A film that stuck in my head was Underground, with the hippie and the business man having sex on the subway. What inspired that film?
      It's something that had happened to me and to a lot of people who use the subway. When it is crowed, all sorts of things would go on. I had so many encounters on the subway. Nothing was ever fulfilled, just a bit of groping and I guess sometimes I might have picked somebody up and taken them home, but not very often. The whole idea was to see how far we could take it.

      If it is a fantasy, whose fantasy is it? The hippie's or the businessman's?
      Both of them, I think.

      And the hippie is the dominant partner?
      Yeah, definitely.

      It’s pretty crazy watching the other people on the train turning away or ignoring you filming the opening scene to a piece of pornography. What was that like to film?
      When the hippie first gets on the train, it's daytime—early morning rush or something like that; and we had two guys with cameras on look out. The blasé New Yorkers weren’t interested at all. One or two guys would look up but they weren’t really interested. By the time we get to the end, we did all the sex late at night and early in the morning.

      Was there anybody else on the train at all when they were having sex?
      Did you see that man?

      The guy in the corner, I thought he was in another carriage and spliced in to look like he was there?
      No, he was in the same car and he was there throughout the whole thing and never woke up. I loved using him. Right at the very end when this guy staggers off the train and picks up the paper, he says, “Have you no sense of decency?” I found that so funny.

      How long did it take to shoot?
      Just one night, the morning shoot when there were a lot of people and then the night shoot was sex. During the night time we were waiting around for trains, we were down there on West 4th Street, the transit cops came up to us and were like, “We’ve seen you before, what are you doing?” and we were like, “We got lost, we got on an F train.” The sex was just on the F train going to Queens [laughs].

      Who were the actors in Underground?
      The two boys came from Boston. I said to my producer in Jackson Park, “Oh, wouldn’t it be fun to do a story with them on the train?” And he said, “I’m up for that, but who are we going to get?” The two guys were listening to us and they said, “What a marvelous idea, let’s do it.”

      Did you cast people from your own social circles often?
      Sometimes. Picks ups, most of them. There is one film called Movers in the Rear—I don’t think you’ve seen that—about a guy who is looking for an office space and as he goes round all these buildings he sees all these delivery boys. His head is swinging around looking at all these cute boys. So he gets this office and he calls all these cute boys and delivery boys and one by one they come over. A telephone boy comes and they start having sex and then another boy, and another boy, and then there is a whole line outside his office waiting to get in.


      A teaser from Fragments.

      Hahaha. Each of your films seems to be themed, like it has a distinct visual flavor or motif. I wondered with the film Violation, how did you come to use the “violation” parking meter sign with the guy in the film leaning on it?
      He was a hustler on 3rd avenue, which was near where I lived. It was called “the hustler block,” so I used to pass it every day and I saw him. I didn’t think about the violation stuff but I saw him and I thought, “Oh, he’s nice,” so that’s why I approached him and said, “Would you like to make a movie?” and he said “yeah.”

      It’s quite a short film, you don’t have time to get bored of it.
      I was overjoyed that I got it back from Kodak. It was a really early one, and so it spurred me on to make longer ones that ran to about ten to 12 minutes. Most of my films were about that length, which I think is enough for a porn film, especially if it is solo.

      I think you said in Fragments that that’s the ideal length to jerk off to. Did you ever consider having dialogue in your films, as opposed to a soundtrack?
      I would love to have done, but I couldn’t. That was the thing I enjoyed quite a lot, finding the right music. I have a big collection of LPs, I guess. When I showed the films I used to take my projector around with me as well as my tape player.

      Do you ever watch your films?
      No.


      What was it like seeing them while you were working on Fragments?
      It was interesting but I get technically worried about things like lighting and all of that stuff.

      Was it nostalgic, to look back on that era? It definitely looked like a fun time to exist .
      At that time it was wild, it was rampant. I mean there was a place in New York called the Trucks down by the Hudson River on the West side and people would go down there late at night and climb into these empty trucks and have a lot of sex. It was fantastic. I remember going down there and having a look around, but I wasn’t interested in anything for myself. I saw a black guy in a school pulling up the windows for the night and thought he looked cute. He was the prettiest guy, the black janitor for the day and I said, “When do you get off?” and went back and collected him and took him home. We are still friends to this day, you know he is married and a grandfather now, but we still had a good time together.

      What made you stop making films?
      Aids. In 1980, everything stopped and closed down.

      I guess your films offer a pretty nostalgic glimpse of an era before Aids, it seems quite innocent.
      Yeah, so innocent, everything changed. It was gradual, it wasn’t sudden. At first people started getting amoebas. I didn’t indulge, I didn’t like being penetrated during sex, I always liked being the top man and I would like my partner giving blowjobs. But that is considered rather simple, rather elementary, everyone wanted to go further than that. Then they started calling it Gay Cancer and going, “What’s that, what’s the matter with him?” But we didn’t realize that there was a revolution on our hands and then everyone started dying and that was terrible and the more it went on and the more friends I lost I thought, “Oh Christ what’s happening?” You know? I just didn’t like it any more, it just wasn’t fun.

      Do you feel comradeship with the generations of gay men born since?
      Yes, it has been a terrible time; I have lost at least 25 friends that way. It decimated the whole thing, but, I don’t know, it has been a long time now—30 years at least. I hear from a lot of people that there are some people going unprotected again, but that is crazy, you know? They have a name for it now—they call it “bareback.”

      It’s mentioned in Fragments that your films have been noted as culturally very important to the gay rights movement.
      I wouldn’t have thought so, I doubt they would have made much difference, frankly.


      Peter outside the cinema his films were once screened in.

      Leee Black Childers, the photographer, said in Fragments that "This was a fabulous time to be gay, because walking down the street was illegal and that was a thrill in itself." Do you agree with that statement in any way?
      I don’t think I agree with that, in any way. I don’t think walking down the street... no, not at all. The gay scene has changed considerably now, they shove two fingers to millions of people. They aren’t ashamed or guilty about it any more. But I’m not really a part of it. I have never been to a gay demonstration. I admit I have watched gay parades and things and I enjoy them but I have never been part of a demonstration.

      Did or do you feel strongly about the persecution of gay people?
      Yes, I was interviewed for the Wolfenden Report before I ever went on stage by someone who was pretty high up. I believe and I felt, certainly, that we should be accepted. That was the only time that I have been really involved in the movement.

      Have you ever felt persecuted?
      No, never did, never did.

      That's good to hear. Though, given the contention around the issue even to date in the military, I'm surprised it wasn't an issue while you were in the RAF during the Second World War?
      No, I was very busy. I guess being single, I only had to think about myself and not anybody that I was leaving behind. I just regarded my service as chance for a good time. I thought, “Oh, what the fuck I’m just going to enjoy myself,” and I did. I went over to Normandy and Brussels and Paris, where I was liaising with the Americans for the Rhine crossing near the end of the war, and I had a great time. I met a great American guy and had a wonderful affair with him and that was that. After the war was over we had to find our own entertainment, so I would run to that unit and we went to northern parts of Germany and have one-night stands and had a lot of fun.

      I don't know how to put this without sounding sycophantic, but you seem like a very, very chilled out guy. And there’s something about your films—particularly the more everyday movies, like Green Thoughts or Daydreams of a Crosstown Bus—that is quite calming yet, somehow, they're still exciting to watch.
      I think they are very personal and I am glad that they are because they aren’t like anybody else’s. Whatever they are is part accidental, because it is part of me. I don’t think I have ever had big, big feelings about sex. I am not very philosophical about it. The film that influenced me more than anything else was Un Chant D'Amour [A Song of Love]. It was made in 1950 and it is about prisoners and their fantasies and you see one prisoner in a cell and then another and what they go through. It is a marvelous little gay porn film. No scenes of sex at all. That film I think influenced me more than anything else, and Cousteau, his plays and the way he filmed particularly—I’m a great admirer of his work… Oh, hello.

      [Two maintenance men from the hotel knock and enter, they're here to fix the lock on the door].

      You can buy the DVD of Fragments: The Incomplete Films of Peter de Rome here

      Follow Josh on Twitter: @joshuahaddow

      -

      Topics: peter de rome, erotic, gay, gay porn, fragments, ethan reid, de rome

      Comments

      Are you over 18?

      The stuff you're trying to look at is considered "naughty" by busybodies, legal types, and (probably) your mom, so we'd like to make sure you're of legal age before we let you see it.