Filming ​Mario Diaz, the Man Behind The Cock

In the aftermath of the AIDS crisis, Mario Diaz brought sex-positivity back to New York's gay scene with his balls-out wild club, The Cock. Now, documentary filmmaker Jon Bush is immortalizing Diaz's party life on film in <i>Club King.</i>

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Jun 20 2015, 2:00pm

Photos courtesy of Rolling Blackouts

The first time I went to a club, I was 17. It was a "prom night" special, and Exit—one of the megaclubs that used to slouch disreputably along the West Side Highway in New York City—was packed with sweaty suburban teenagers. My date was too drunk to dance, but I was gay, so I guess we were both a bit of a disappointment.

I was hooked instantly. All throughout college, I'd ride the train into the city on Friday night and come home Saturday afternoon. It was the late-90s, and Mayor Giuliani's "quality of life" campaign was hell bent on shutting down the clubs (and anywhere else you could dance, have sex, or enjoy yourself). It was the last gasp of the club kids. By the time I moved to the city some six years later, the energy in the nightlife scene had changed. The giant warehouse raves were gone, and a sexier, downtown energy was in. Our modern day prohibition brought about the reemergence of burlesque, and in the gay scene, a fresh embrace of sleaze.

One of the new palaces of filth and fun was The Cock on the Lower East Side, where I may or may not have occasionally danced naked on the bar (thankfully, since this was all before Facebook, no one will ever know). The man behind The Cock, Mario Diaz, had already decamped for LA by the time I arrived, but he left behind both the club and his legacy. So when I heard that filmmaker Jon Bush (whose 2007 short, Donny & Ginger, was the recipient of an HBO/Shout! Award) had made a film charting Diaz's more than 20 years in the nightlife scene, I knew I had to get my hands on it.

Called Club King, the documentary is a mix of cinema verite footage of Diaz now—dressing up go-go boys at his LA parties, showing off his "drag closet," and brunching with his friends—mixed with some archival footage of his time in NYC and before, and talking head interviews with some of the fabulous freaks who made The Cock what it was, like genderqueer cabaret star Justin Vivian Bond and drag sensation Jackie Beat.

Club King is currently making the film festival rounds, and will be available online later this summer. I called Bush to find out more about Diaz, the film, and just how much nightlife has changed in the last 20 years.

For more gay culture, check out our photo series, The Stone Dicks of Fire Island's Belvedere Hotel

VICE: How did Club King come about?
Jon Bush: Mario and I didn't actually know each other until I invited him to lunch to pitch the project, but we had mutual friends all the way back to the mid-90s, when I'd heard about this hot new promoter in NYC who was doing the same kinds of things we were doing in San Francisco: Making these really queer, off-the-wall, radical sex-positive parties. Really shaking up the town. We made friends on Facebook, and his feed was so fucking entertaining, sexy, and interesting. I was like, "I bet if you could follow this guy around with a camera for a week even, you'd get something great."

So was that the original concept for Club King?
Yeah, I started off wanting only to do fly-on-the-wall shooting. I didn't want to get into the nostalgia trip. Honestly, nostalgia sometimes bores me. When Mario first suggested we talk about his history, I was resistant. But the more I got to know him, I started to understand how important that time was, not only for him personally but in queer history, and it's not really been documented much.

Important how?
It was the mid-90s, and we were coming out of the dark, dark AIDS era, so sex positivity was a very bold thing. Gay men were very ashamed of their sexuality at the time, and still very afraid. It wasn't seen as mainstream acceptable to be so in your face and happy to celebrate your sexuality. Mario became the public face of the fight against that. He staged a lot of parties specifically to rebut the Giuliani administration's quality of life laws. He brought smut back, a joyous celebration of sexuality. By opening up The Cock he made a permanent epicenter for that scene, for a brief and well-loved time. But those times will never be repeated.

You make it sound like we lost something. What's changed?
It was all before Facebook or the internet or cell phone cameras, so of course, actually taking pictures was frowned upon. It's really hard to find any pictures or video from that era, because not only did the technology not necessarily exist [where you could] be unobtrusively snapping pictures in a corner, but because it was actually looked down upon. I remember people would frown at people who pulled out a camera, because it wasn't cool to take pictures. So I'm often a grumpy grandpa on the subject. I think cameras bring it down a notch in terms of wildness.

I too identify as grumpy and old! But watching your documentary made me wonder... I had assumed cell phones would kill the party, but looking at your footage of Diaz today, his parties seem just as wild. Are we just being sticks in the mud?
I'm old-school underground in that I believe it shouldn't be televised. Not to mention the fact that everyone is so wrapped up in their stupid technology. Put the phone down! Experience the moment. This is it. Look at it through your eyes, quit looking at it through a screen. Be here. Nothing is more depressing to me than to be on the hottest dance floor in the world, and there's some guy stopped stock still, parking on the dance floor, texting somebody. That depresses me. I'm literally like, "we're doomed."

But you know what? People aren't really pulling their cameras out at Mario's parties. So no, I might be wrong. It may be that my way is the old way, and the new way is that the kids will be so used to it they won't care, eventually.

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