Mar 15, 2014
A couple of years back, after browsing documentaries on imdb.com featuring John Waters (who seems to be in virtually every doc) as a commentator, I discovered the documentary That Man: Peter Berlin (2005) directed by Jim Tushinski, and, in turn, discovered the rather curious 1970s gay sex icon Peter Berlin, who looks like a Tom of Finland caricature ‘cum’ to life (in fact, Tom of Finland would sketch Berlin a couple times). Among other things, I learned whilst watching That Man: Peter Berlin that Berlin was a German aristocrat born with the blueblood name Baron Armin Hagen Freiherr von Hoyningen-Huene, yet he grew up poor after his German soldier father was tragically blown up during the remaining days of the Second World War while trying to save a comrade from a minefield. Growing up father-less and nearly destitute in the midst of post-WWII Germany, Berlin later became a designer and photographer, but in his early 30s decided to seek out fortune and fame in the fag capital of the world, San Francisco, where he created two quasi-artsy porn flicks, Nights in Black Leather (1973) and That Boy (1974), in the spirit of the gritty anti-cinema 'collaborations' of Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey. Naturally, as a longtime Morrissey fan, I decided to dig up both of Berlin’s films, though I could only find Nights in Black Leather (formerly titled ‘Post Haste Hustle’) directed by Richard Abel (under the pseudonym Ignatio Rutkowski). About 60% less-than-hardcore homo sex and 40% unintentionally hilarious self-body-worship and masculine narcissism, Nights in Black Leather is old school fagdom at its almost simultaneously unflattering yet self-flattering and thus works best today as a celluloid novelty that demands a certain commitment to fast-forwarding from the viewer (especially if you are not into gay sex featuring a dude with a ‘Dutch boy’ hairdo). Describing the film himself as “not a great piece of art” and his collaboration with Abel as follows, “There was never a script and never a big idea. He edited the film, he was doing the sound and I had nothing to do with the making of the film. I was just in front of it and telling him what to do so I sort of gave him the idea, do this shot here or make it all…” in the documentary That Man: Peter Berlin, Berlin has made it rather clear that Nights in Black Leather is a quasi-autobiographical non-narrative work, which is only all the more accented by the film’s voyeuristic cinéma vérité-like aesthetic. Originally assumed lost until a 16mm negative of the film was found in storage somewhere in Southern California somewhat recently, Nights in Black Leather now can live on as a cult piece of memorabilia of narcissistic cocksucking from Germany’s most debauched and passively misanthropic yet strikingly Nordish blueblood Übermensch. A retro gay blue movie that ironically reinforces a sort of Aryan racial superiority in its scophiliac ga(y)ze at a true German aristocrat, Nights in Black Leather is, if nothing else, one of the most bizarre promotions of eugenics and good breeding made in the post-Schutzstaffel world.
German immigrant Peter Berlin (credited as Peter Burian) is cruising around San Francisco but his days are getting more and more plagued by banality as indicated by the following words he writes to a German friend regarding his day-to-day encounters with people: “All I need to do is lie on the grass and just ignore the people. Last week I met quite a few and you know how it goes. Conversation. Hell, what’s your name? Peter? You have a nice accent, where do you come from? Germany? Oh, how long you have been here? Do you like it? And after I go through this 20 times, even the faces look all the same. I naturally get tired of it because I know exactly what they really are interested in. And it all happened in San Francisco.” Indeed, Mr. Berlin makes no ‘bones’ about the fact that he thinks he is thee Übermensch and that all other people should feel privileged to admire his immaculate blueblood beauty. One night after going cruising at a gay bar apparently full of homo cowboys and Indians where he felt like he played a “part in a western movie,” Peter gets a phone call from a secret admirer who proclaims his very scary love and affection for the Teutonic Über-twink. Of course, potent Peter—an unrepentant meta-narcissist who never turns down an opportunity to be admired—laps up all the pervert caller’s crude compliments, even masturbating to remarks like, “You’re my great pagan Nordic god! My great strong blond god.” After the “pleasant diversion from a restless night,” Peter candidly discusses his encounter with a homo Hitlerite, stating of the extra-erotic encounter, “I just met a young boy just as I was wearing my leather outfit who took me to his place, dressed himself up all in leather, put on a swastika armband and an iron cross. Having me stand in the corner of his room, which he had hung with floor to ceiling mirrors, and told me, 'We are both strong…We’re equals…The world will bow before us.' I did not dare to tell him that I voted for the socialist in the last German elections, but he got me very excited all the same.” Of course, Peter proceeds to lure in a couple young men and make them his admiring slaves. In what is quite possibly the most telling scene with regard to the protagonist’s mentality, Peter goes to a party and pompously narrates, “Then, a few days later a friend invited me to a party. He told me there would be many different kinds of people there, so I decided to go because it might be interesting, although I usually don’t like parties so much. Most of them turn out to be so boring…and this one was no exception.” Indeed, in a Warhol-esque setting featuring drag queens and other assorted aesthetically repellant queers, Peter seems bored to death and leaves in what is only a couple minutes but ultimately seems like a lifetime. In the end, Peter writes to his German friend, “how nice it is to lay here on the grass and be alone for a while. When I think about my friends in Europe, I get lonesome. New faces are always exciting but I’ve seen enough for now. Yes, in nostalgic moments like this, when I look across the ocean, I know that old friends are the best,” though that does not stop him from very shortly thereafter hooking up with a Peter Berlin lookalike.
While directed by the star’s film school educated friend Richard Abel, Nights in Black Leather, with its amateurish direction and camera molesting the subject, is certainly a Peter Berlin auteur piece. Once described by John Waters as a “full-body genital,” singularly self-absorbed Baron Berlin is notable for doing all his own iconic photography, so it should be no surprise that for his second (and ultimately final) film, That Boy (1974), he also acted as the director. While seemingly like nothing more than a brainless hunk with big junk, Berlin actually comes from a culturally distinguished family, with his paternal grandmother’s side being made up of philosophers and attaches and the other side being comprised of artists and photographers, with his great uncle being American fashion photographer George Hoyningen-Huene, who also worked in Hollywood as a consultant on Technicolor for George Cukor, among other things. Despite Nights in Black Leather and That Boy making Berlin famous practically over night, he had nil interest in making more porn flicks nor did he ever become more famous, ultimately dedicating the rest of his life to watching TV (with Oprah and Bill O'Reilly being some of his personal favorites) as he describes in the documentary That Man: Peter Berlin. Apparently, Peter Berlin has now become big with heterosexual women and lesbians, or so director Jim Tushinski would describe in the audio commentary for the dvd release of That Man: Peter Berlin. Indeed, after personally watching Nights in Black Leather, it is hard for me to believe that modern day viewers would be interested in using the film as a masturbation aid, as it now seems to work best as a black comedy, especially in the pre-apocalyptic age of pansy political correctness where heteros are almost just as effeminate as homos and a proudly gay yet simultaneously proudly male figure like Peter Berlin could never become popular.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 9:54 AM
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