Apr 7, 2014

The Meatrack (1970)

In my opinion, there are few forms of existence that are as patently pathetic, self-debasing, and nihilistic than that of the male hustler, yet queer filmmakers like Gus van Sant (Mala Noche, My Own Private Idaho) and Bruce LaBruce (No Skin Off My Ass, Hustler White) have dedicated their filmmaking careers to romanticizing the lives of these sad and seemingly forsaken individuals. Of course, with so many ostensibly heterosexual ‘gay-for-pay’ dick-peddlers out there, the hustler gives the homo the ultimate and seemingly intangible lifelong dream of being buggered by a butch boy, so it is no surprise that some gay filmmakers have depicted the young and desperate male prostitute as an almost religious figure, which began long before any sexual invert ever went to film school as demonstrated by the neo-classical boysploitation portraits of 19th-century kraut photographer Wilhelm von Gloeden. With his innovative Warhol-produced anti-counter-culture trilogy (Flesh, Trash, Heat) starring Joe Dallesandro and his post-Warhol effort Forty Deuce (1982) starring a then-unknown Kevin Bacon, proud right-wing auteur Paul Morrissey managed to demystify the hustler archetype by presenting the life of a male prostitute as being part of overall liberal ‘toilet culture’ and a non-life plagued by spiritual and material poverty, soul-draining drug addiction, perennial apathy, and even sexual impotence. Aside from Morrissey’s work, a little know artsploitation flick from the same zeitgeist with the fitting, if not sleazily fetishistic, title The Meatrack (1970) directed by one-time-auteur Richard Stockton and directed by Joel Ensana (whose sole film credit was writing the first episode of the forgotten TV series Norman Corwin Presents (1972)) also attempted to depict the waywardly wasteful life of a gigolo in all of its unhinged unglory. A film that cannot completely decide whether it wants to be a salacious sexploitation flick, a poor man’s Midnight Cowboy (1969), and/or a serious and artsy character study about the sort of damaged psyche it takes for one to peddle their ass to ugly old men that wear dresses and other sorts of unsavory sexual deviants. Directed in a cockeyed and oneiric yet gritty and realistic semi-amateurish style reminiscent of the more interesting films of sadomasochistic sodomite gutter auteur Andy Milligan (Nightbirds, Fleshpot on 42nd Street), as well as early 1970s porn chic cult flicks like The Back Row (1973) directed by Jerry Douglas and the narrative-driven works of Jack Deveau (Left-Handed, Drive), The Meatrack is ultimately a curious celluloid convergence of tasteless 42nd street celluloid sleaze and the pseudo-existentialist cocksucker blues. The tragic, if not uneventful, story of a human meatrack and dreary dead soul with nothing to lose except his loser-lifestyle-sustaining good looks, The Meatrack is a just over-an-hour-long scum-and-cum-covered 16mm peepshow of one down-and-out male prostitute’s own private pandemonium. 

 As the incessant foggy flashback scenes in The Meatrack readily demonstrate, J.C. (played by David Calder, but not the classically trained English actor of the same name) is haunted by the ghosts of the past as he had a less than ideal childhood as a poor proletarian fellow who had a man-hating and low-rank money-grubbing whore for a mother (Jan Stratton, who appeared in minor roles in films like The Enforcer (1976) starring Clint Eastwood and The Great Santini (1979) starring Robert Duvall) and a philandering deadbeat father (played by one-time actor Bob Romero, who personifies the word ‘Guido’). At a young and critical age, J.C.’s brazen bitch of a mother taught her son that all men are horndog assholes and that one should exploit themselves for money, stating to her son, “Aside from robbing a bank, you do anything you can to get money, you understand? Don’t you waste your time fooling around with cars and girls…You just take account of what you got and you use it for all it’s worth.” Of course, the only thing C.J. has got is a masculine muscular build and a fuck-you rebel-without-a-cause attitude, which he is willing to sell for a rather affordable price to the most repugnant of strangers. As can be expected, most of C.J. patrons are old pansy queens who get off to being savagely sodomized by the young mensch. When some pretentious middle-aged fag arrogantly states to C.J., “Kids like you don’t come cheap…but its mine, all mine,” the prostitute later makes his getaway and does not have to do the dirty deed with the posh poof. C.J. temporary hooks up with a horny housewife, but her clinginess annoys the hell out of the lecherous loner, so he takes a bus to San Francisco where he hooks up with an old used-up queen of a queer named Ken (Steven Ferris) with a large bulging gut who asks the hustler if he is “hot for leather” and adds, “Myself, I like them real, real butch.” Ultimately, C.J. dresses up in an Anger-esque sailor uniform à la Fireworks (1947) and brutally beats and sexually savages Ken, who is in full drag queen regalia, including an unflattering corset and an equally repellant hag wig. When Ken gives C.J. the backhanded compliment, “You know, you don’t look like a hustler. Their usually pimply faced and wear dirty socks. I know you're not a bum,” the unimpressed prostitute shows his complete and utter disdain for the patron by asking, “What’s it to you? You got what you wanted, right?,” in a rather snide fashion. Needless to say, cocksucker Ken is hurt and somberly says to C.J., “You are the most unfriendly young man. You don’t talk… You don’t listen… Oh, how typical, you just do what you have to do. Oh, you’re all alike. Just meat…pieces of meat.” Exceedingly self-loathing, Ken then says to himself, “Gay, huh, that’s a laugh! It’s a lonely life.” From there, C.J. heads to a movie theater that is playing C-grade trash Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957) and The Scream Skull (1958) and makes the following threat to a crotch-grabbing prospective buyer of a blowjob, “I said ten bucks or I’ll break your hand!” in a rather hateful yet monotone manner. While administering a much unwanted blowjob, C.J. has a childhood flashback of witnessing his mother screwing a strange man.  Indeed, C.J. has major mommy issues that have resulted in one rather warped view of sexuality.

 After catching a Photographer (Rodney Wheelock) sexually assaulting a young lady named Jean (Donna Troy), C.J. beats the pernicious pervert, saves the girl, and becomes a smalltime hero of sorts and demonstrates he is not a total scumbag. Jean and C.J. instantly start a seemingly intimate love affair, but their happiness is cut short when two deranged tranny criminals hold them hostage with knifes and force them to star in an amateur porn film, which they shoot on an archaic 16mm Bolex camera. Naturally, Jean and C.J. decide to leave town together, but they need money. Jean has no clue that her new boy toy is a gay-for-pay hustler and when she makes a derogatory remark about queers, C.J. semi-defends gays by stating, “To me, they're like that Charlie Chaplin…funny and sad, like everything.” To fund their trip, C.J. tells Jean to hangout at a movie theater and then he picks up a Leather-Fag that looks like he just walked off the set of Scorpio Rising (1964). The Leather-Fag remarks to C.J. that he caught his eye because he is, “the damned, meanest looking kid I’ve seen today” and the two go back to the Hustler’s apartment where the patron pays to get a beating, but just as he is about to cum, Jean randomly walks in and discovers her lover is half-homo. Needless to say, Jean runs away and C.J. follows her but he is too slow and ultimately witnesses his beloved being tragically killed after being hit by a car. Somewhat depressed, C.J. goes to a screening of All the Sins of Sodom (1968) directed by Joseph W. Sarno and has a panic attack while some dude is going down on him and storms out of the theater via a backdoor emergency exit where he is then verbally assaulted by a seemingly schizophrenic Jesus Freak Preacher (Alan Dye) who yells at the hustler, “I condemn in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I condemn you sinner.” From there, C.J. keeps running into the night and a flashback of him running as a child is spliced in.  C.J. also remembers a traumatizing moment from his unfortunate childhood when his loser father berated him for crying, hence his incapacity for expressing emotion.  In the end, C.J. is picked up by some flaming fairy and tells the driver he does not care where he is going, thus continuing his vicious cycle of reckless wandering and prick-peddling vice. 

 A conspicuously culturally pessimistic work about an (at least spiritually) innately impenetrable young man on a literal and figurative road to nowhere, The Meatrack ultimately portrays the Hustler as an antisocial individual seemingly suffering from schizoid disorder who has totally given up on real-life and does as little as possible (i.e. prostitutes himself) so as not to starve to death. Of course, I am sure there are some perverted poofs and even misguided women out there that might find such a tragic and emotionally void fellow appealing, but The Meatrack will ultimately prove to be a major downer for any semi-sane person. Undoubtedly, The Meatrack is one of those rare films that made me feel decidedly dirty after watching it, as if I just passively followed antihero C.J. along on his cruising campaign and did nothing to stop him from debasing his mind and body. Indeed, while the name ‘The Meatrack’ makes the work sound like some old school S&M blue movie (indeed, at least one porn film has the same name), the title really says it all, as C.J. is really nothing more than a walking and (barely) talking delicacy for lonely degenerates. More entertaining than similarly themed Warhol flicks like My Hustler (1965) and more raw and realistic than Midnight Cowboy, The Meatrack is certainly an underrated work of its decadent celluloid breed that deserves a larger audience than the handful of uncultivated exploitation fans who see it as a cheap thrill. In fact, those looking for softcore pornography will most likely find The Meatrack to be hopelessly banal, if not downright insulting, as the film feels as if it gawks at the gawker in disapproval for exploiting a loser’s misery. Sometimes feeling like a work of cinéma vérité due to its jerky handheld camera work and distinct voyeuristic gaze, The Meatrack ultimately makes a film like van Sant's My Own Private Idaho (1991) seem like counterfeit art faggotry directed by a misguided bourgeois queer whose romanticization for dick-peddling is quite akin to absurdly phony Hollywood films and mainstream TV shows that depict negroes as noble savages and rocket scientists.  A rare film where the cipher-like star's lack of acting talent is to the film's benefit as it highlights the metaphysically dead protagonist's lack of emotion and unwaveringly apathy, The Meatrack certainly packs a mean and perturbing punch of urban celluloid slime and grime that captures the essence of those spiritually excrement-ridden times before AIDS made hustling an even more deleterious profession.

-Ty E

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