Magnificent photographs, archival news footage, and location-shot porn add texture and immediacy to Joseph Lovett's fascinating memoir of the sexually explosive 12-year period (1969-1981) between Stonewall -- when gays at lower Manhattan's Stonewall Bar made history by standing up to the New York City police -- and the onset of AIDS.

Magnificent photographs, archival news footage, and location-shot porn add texture and immediacy to Joseph Lovett’s fascinating memoir of the sexually explosive 12-year period (1969-1981) between Stonewall — when gays at lower Manhattan’s Stonewall Bar made history by standing up to the New York City police — and the onset of AIDS. For the handful of gay men whose nostalgic recollections are interwoven here, those years were as liberating and intense as they were brief. Vivid portrait of a fabled libertine lost paradise should cruise the general fest circuit before finding a late-night home on gay-friendly cable outlets.

Interviews with activists, artists, writers, photographers and raconteurs of all persuasions lay out the topography of gay life in New York during this fondly remembered period when, virtually overnight, homosexuality went from fearful secret to paraded pride. Gay sexuality took to the streets and opportunity beckoned from every doorway, often literally. At the low end of the scale was the meat packing district, offering casual lunchtime pickups, and more dangerous anonymity in the backs of darkened semis at night. Abandoned piers on the Hudson River became an alternative community: Lovett’s camera pans across huge blown-up photos of the piers to reveal hidden pockets of activity in every inch of the frame.

More traditionally, behind nearly every bush on The Rambles in Central Park, men made love without fear of police or of gay-bashing civilians while dancehalls like the Loft, the Paradise Garage and Studio 54 encouraged gays to strut their stuff. Full-service bathhouses like the legendary St. Marks Baths furnished everything from steam rooms to high-class professional entertainment by fag hag extraordinaire Bette Midler, strewing poppers like flower petals in her wake.

But the true endemic Gotham community was Fire Island, recalled here with a reverence bordering on awe.

Paradoxically, all the interviewees, including filmmaker Lovett himself, speak of this era of mad promiscuity as a time of friendship and community. When AIDS enters the picture, Lovett’s expert control of tone and structure really pays off.

On camera, Lovett muses about a party he went to where all the men he had ever lusted after were gathered in the same room. He was all ready to partake of his first orgy when his lover forced him to leave. He now realizes that he and his lover are probably the only ones of those partygoers still alive.

Tech credits are fine, music choices particularly inspired.

Gay Sex In The '70s

Production

A Lovett production. Produced by Michael Sean Kaminsky, Joseph Lovett. Directed by Joseph Lovett.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Lovett, Michael Sean Kaminsky; editor, Jason Szabo; music, Art Labriola; sound, Lovett, Kaminsky. Reviewed on videocassette at NewFest, New York, June 9, 2005. (Also in Tribeca Film Festival.) Running time: 70 MIN.

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