Bigger than Life : The History of Gay Porn Cinema from Beefcake to Hardcore By Jeffrey Escoffier . A Review by John Cook

Bigger than Life

I apologise to any readers who disavow all pornography for moral/ethical reasons though neither the book nor these notes contain any.

 

There can be little doubt from sales figures and internet usage that pornography use has a long modern history with gay men (I cannot speak for others) and in many ways I found this book mostly paralleled my years as an active homosexual male with remarkable accuracy. It has three main faults. The components appear to have been prepared for separate publication and there can be irritating repetition. The period covered is from the late 50’s to 1997 and does not cover the fate of the older DVD based studios like Falcon and the emergence of free and streamed internet pornography. Third, it does not refer to English or European porn especially Cadinot from France the German and Dutch contributions.

 

That said, I found it a fascinating exposition of the gradual development of male pornography from the days of photos and physique magazines through brief film clips (Nova) that were shown in some American locations and occasional longer films. Then followed the VHS revolution eventually supplemented and overtaken by DVD.

 

There are lots of names named (the real ones) and there is an historical analysis of what kind of men were willing to participate (and be paid) at different stages, ranging from early relative innocents through those who enjoyed the exhibitionist aspect and were at a loose end for money. There were some who came from particular backgrounds such as beach culture, body building and service men and fantasies portrayed frequently exploited these. The book analyses the inevitable brevity of the  ‘star’ phenomenon and, in concert with the AIDS years, the ‘unattainable’ stars who would not bottom. The effect of AIDS on the population of gay men, their sexual behaviours and their ‘relationship’ with their TV is explored.

 

There is a continuing exposition of the key figures in production, direction, camera work which revealed the responses of individuals to changing circumstances and the business relationships underpinning the scene. The phenomenon of ‘bareback’ video is examined but not in much detail. Given its rising popularity and HIV+ statistics, this is a pity. There is no great deal of over-arching theorising to be found here that could pull together the useful elements. This also is a pity.

 

 

 

 

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