Some films become famous for reasons that lie outside their celluloid image and suffice to say that this is one such example. For what began as a personal project in 1963 / 1964 would become a landmark in gay cinema. Yet the reasons for such go beyond the fantasy world of its star, one Bobby Kendall, a handsome young man whose vivid imagination
turns into the noted matador, Roman slave, Arabian Nights and Times Square set-pieces of this work. Rather such is on account of the aura of mystery that surrounded this feature, given that it was produced, written, photographed and directed by 'Anonymous.'
And so began a grand conspiracy theory gay style, as speculation grew as to who was behind this blatant showcase of cinematic homo-erotica. Over time, many a famous name was linked to the project including the like of Andy Warhol, together with various directors of the big screen who 'it was said' preferred to remain anonymous in fear that the revelation of their true identity would curtail their glistening Hollywood career. Yet just as fact can often be stranger than fiction, the man behind this gay classic was finally revealed in 1999 as James Bidgood and only then courtesy of the publication of a monograph of his photographs.
Bidgood had, in effect, ate, slept and lived for his work and indeed with its star Bobby Kendall for the majority of the seven-year period in which this feature was filmed, for the main part in his small Manhattan apartment. Shot piece-meal fashion, mostly in 8mm, with part 16mm photography, Bidgood was instrumental in almost every aspect of the piece; whether tailoring the infamous see-through underwear, designing the meticulously crafted sets or animating the films' poetic silk butterfly sequence. Yet his pursuit for artistic perfection would prove to be his downfall, as the backers of the film, one Sherpix Productions, would eventually grow tired of investing money into a seemingly never ending production. Impatient for a release date and financial return for money spent, they eventually took hold of the footage and had the film edited without his approval. Incensed by such, Bidgood refused to have his name attached to a film that he had literally lost both editorial and directorial control of. And so began the legend of 'Anonymous.'
Described by some as a masterpiece, today Pink Narcissus can be viewed as akin to the works of Kenneth Anger, clearly experimental by nature, mixed with shades of Pierre et Gilles, only years before they set foot in the field of male erotica. Yet for all of its dreamlike, almost hallucinogenic quality, it has somewhat dated and with no dialogue,
saturated colour photography and a plot linked solely by way of the fantasy element of the piece, such will undoubtedly make for difficult viewing for some, being in effect a narcissistic medley of homoerotic fantasies.
Yet as a film devoted to the male form, let alone the love of one's own form, Pink Narcissus was years ahead of what was being produced for a gay viewing audience during the largely pre-Stonewall period of its production. Cited by some as being pornography dressed up as art, such is more a work of gay titillation, although with male nudity and a straight-to-camera ejaculation shot, it remains adult viewing to this day. All of which makes it a prime example of seventies queer cinema, as provocative as the day it first appeared, although clearly not in the form as envisaged by one James Bidgood; drag queen, costume / set designer, physique photographer and director of one of the most
artistically creative gay works of our time.
screened as part of the 21st London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival 2007