entertainment

What was the world of gay porn like in the 1960s & '70s?

2016-03-09
Peter de Rome passed away in 2014, but as the man who was known as 'the Grandfather of Gay Porn' he left behind a vast legacy of erotic film, which he began making in the 1960s. Armed with only an 8mm movie camera Peter De Rome was an eccentric English gentleman who in the 1960s would politely ask young men to remove their clothes and 'perform' on camera. Initially this was filmmaking for his own pleasure, but it wasn’t long before a growing audience wanted to see more, although at the time his work was considered far too subversive and corruptive for general viewing. 2 Peter's extraordinary life story is told in a 2014 documentary, Peter de Rome: Grandfather of Gay Porn, which tells the story of how a Royal Air Force veteran left England for the U.S. and took inspiration from its budding gay scenes, particularly in New York and on Fire Island. The U.S. afforded Peter a freedom in his work which he was not afforded in the UK. "If my films had been shown in England when I made them I would have been arrested," he once said, in reference to the fact that homosexuality was not decriminalised until 1967, and strict codes of decency were imposed on the arts. He had his own way of dodging the censor teams, who would check random films. "I would shoot something innocuous," he said, "and then the naughty bits would be in the middle and I would finish off with some innocuous bits at the end again." 3 Peter made over 20 short films between 1964 and 1979, and legend has it that both theatre legend Sir John Gielgud, and the author William Burroughs wrote porn scripts for him, which remain unmade. He can, however, claim to be the only director to have filmed a gay sex scene on the New York subway. His 1972 short 'Underground' was shot without permission on the city's underground network. Of the filming, Peter recalled, “It’s about two guys who meet up on a crowded train - one is a hippy looking guy and one is a young executive and they start cruising each other - finally they walk through cars until they start having sex. We started early in the morning and did the sex scenes late at night.” 1 Despite a close call with one policeman the shoot otherwise went without a hitch. Robert Alvarez, one of the cameramen recalls: “I was so involved filming I didn’t notice what other people on the train were doing. It was almost as if they accepted it. That’s New York.” Peter was well known and respected within gay circles throughout his life, and maintained a cult following which exists even now, after his death in 2014, just weeks shy of his 90th birthday. However, until recently, many of Peter’s original 8mm films had been gathering dust in a box in his New York apartment. But, the BFI have now made him the first porn director to have his films preserved in their National Archive. Peter with erotic award Brian Robinson of the BFI said: “I hope Peter’s work will continue to be enjoyed by future generations. He took great personal risks that mean we are able to enjoy something that’s unique and fascinating, a piece of gay cultural heritage that should be cherished.” A special screening of Peter de Rome: Grandfather of Gay Porn takes place on March 13 at ICA in London, and will be followed by a Q&A with David McGillivray, screenwriter, producer and friend of Peter de Rome, and is hosted by Attitude Editor Matthew Todd. More stories BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival 2016 dates announced Pics: Gay porn stars get soaked for insanely hot Paper magazine shoot