The Lightbox Film Center will screen a quartet of queer short films July 25 as part of its “Naked Under Leather” series.
The program opens with Kenneth Anger’s landmark 1963 film, “Scorpio Rising.” The title refers to the ascending zodiac sign; Scorpio represents both sex organs and machinery. This wordless film — set, deliberately and ironically, to popular music of the day — consists of a series of vignettes featuring members of a Brooklyn motorcycle club intercut with images of death. A greaser polishes chrome and assembles his motorcycle in an almost-sexualized way. Other images fetishize a biker who models a leather jacket over his bare (and impressive) physique.
Anger deconstructs codes of masculinity and delinquent youth by focusing on men such as Scorpio (Bruce Byron), who has pictures of James Dean on his bedroom wall and Marlon Brando, as a biker in “The Wild One,” playing on his television. But “Scorpio Rising” also features images of skeletons — Scorpio puts on a pair of skull rings — as well as other death figures to emphasize the dangers of motorcycles.
In the later scenes, the film intercuts a party in which the bikers expose themselves and one another in homoerotic horseplay, with images from the religious film “The Last Journey to Jerusalem” featuring Jesus and his disciples. Meanwhile, Nazi flags, images of Hitler and other symbols of power are shown. Viewers can make many connections: Anger is-not-so subtly hinting at in his interesting juxtapositions.
“Scorpio Rising” ends with a dramatic sequence of a dirt-bike race — set to a particularly appropriate song of the era — to capture its live-fast-die-young motif.
The short is followed by “Black Jackets and Choppers,” John Carney’s 1979 documentary about Gary Partlow, a member of the Santa Cruz biker culture, rebuilding his HD Sportster. (The film was not available for preview).
The program continues with “Pedagogue,” from 1988, in which Neil Bartlett, a fine-arts teacher at Newcastle Upon Tyne Polytechnic, is seen being interviewed on camera. While he talks about his work involving images of sexuality as represented in popular culture and fine art, most of the questions focus more on his personal taste than his professional work. He discusses his favorite female singer, film and male film star. He twice denies being homosexual; the video is a response to Clause 28, which outlawed intentionally promoting homosexuality in Britain by the education system and government institutions.
But “Pedagogue” really gets interesting when Bartlett opens his briefcase (upon request) and unpacks his jockstrap and “jewelry” — a cock ring and nipple clamps — as well as a copy of Exercise”magazine, subverting queer associations of these obvious gay objects so as not to actively promote homosexuality. The film also deliberately frames Bartlett donning a leather jacket — open to reveal his naked, hairless chest — and tight blue jeans, with has one of the buttons of his fly showing.
“Pedagogue” concludes with some revealing testimonies from Bartlett’s students about his influence as well as their own sexual identities. The result is a pointedly political but also highly amusing film about sexual stereotypes and representations.
Rounding out the program is G.B. Jones’ “The Troublemakers” from 1990, which features Caroline Azar, out gay filmmaker Bruce La Bruce (“The Misandrists”) and Joe the Ho as a trio “delving into deviant sex urges and perverted pleasures.” Alas, this film also was not available for preview, so curious viewers will have to see what trouble these characters get into by attending the “Naked Under Leather” screening.