Sep 6, 2014

Wakefield Poole's Bible!

Obviously largely for monetary reasons (after all, apparently around 90% of the world's population is heterosexual), a number of gay men directed heterosexual pornography during the Golden Age of Porn era. Indeed, erotic auteur filmmakers like Chuck Vincent (Roommates, Voyeur), Michael Zen (Reflections, Falconhead), and the Amero Brothers (Bacchanale, Blonde Ambition) are just a couple of the homos that proved they could make better hardcore ‘breeder’ flicks than most of the heteros. In fact, even homo auteur Wakefield Poole (Bijou, Moving!)—a true pornographic pioneer whose directorial debut Boys in the Sand (1971) was the first gay porn flick to ever receive crossover success and gain mainstream credibility for fuck flicks, even predating Gerard Damiano’s Deep Throat (1972), which successfully attempted to capitalize on the former’s success—also took a stab at making a straight skin flick with his considerably underrated and misunderstood erotic arthouse work Wakefield Poole's Bible! (1973). Originally intended as a hardcore flick (the director changed his mind due to legal trouble that the porn industry was having with the government at the time), Poole’s softcore biblical blue movie is a three segment work with a similar structure to Boys in the Sand that focuses on three classic stories from the Old Testament, though it is shockingly ‘lighthearted’ and even silly for a work that takes an innately sensual approach to the supposed word of god. Indeed, not unlike the biblical cinematic adaptations of Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bible! takes a relatively respectful approach to the bible though, aesthetically speaking, the film has more in common with the frolicsome surrealist costume pieces of maestro Federico Fellini. A work that more or less destroyed the filmmaker’s career (Poole once described it as the, “greatest porn disaster ever”), the flick proved to be too artsy fartsy and softcore to achieve mainstream crossover success and was only well received by critics and European countries like Germany (Poole also once described the film as his, “masturbation film” and “jerk-off movie,” as it was his most artistically ambitious project). Directed by a sod son of the South who spent every Sunday as a child singing in church, Bible! may be somewhat underwhelming where erotic takes on the Old Testament are concerned, but it is certainly subversive in the sense that it was adapted from a “woman’s point of view” in that it rationalizes the treacherous behavior committed by fairer sex in the bible. Indeed, in Poole’s wanton world, Eve naively bites into the apple because she gets rather horny after Adam gives her a good fucking, Bathsheba cheats on her husband Uriah the Hittite with King David because she is sexually repressed and her hubby is cheating on her with a low-class handmaiden and Delilah, who is portrayed by a black woman with a shaved head that somewhat looks like Grace Jones, betrays Samson because he is a heartless bully who had the gall to kill a cutesy Fellini-esque midget. Sort of like Poole’s erotic equivalent to Kenneth Anger’s crowning celluloid achievement Lucifer Rising (1972), Bible! is not only an epic piece of sensuality spirituality, but also a conspicuous piece of cinephilia that is virtually silent (like Poole’s previous work Bijou, the film only features one single line of dialogue) and pays tribute to classic works of film history, including Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925), Oscar Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941), and Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956). Indeed, in Poole’s unabashedly bawdy and aesthetically overwhelming orgasmic biblical realm, god’s voice is an orchestra and the world is created via a pink atomic explosion, thus also making the film sort of like a counter-culture approach to the Old Testament, albeit minus the drugs and psychedelic rock. 

 In an organically heavenly scene shot in the Virgin Islands, the world's first man Adam (played by Bo White, who is probably best known for role in Christopher Larkin’s 1974 gay melodrama A Very Natural Thing) climbs out of the “bowels of earth” and makes his way to a scenic beach where he eventually collapses on the sand due to physical exhaustion. Meanwhile, Eve (played by model Caprice Couselle, whose sole other film role was in the 1975 gay cult flick Saturday Night at the Baths) rises from the ocean in a scene modeled after Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus and makes her way to the beach where she finds zonked out Adam. Having never met other humans before, let alone those ones from a different gender, the two begin to experiment by touching and caressing each other in a totally intrigued fashion that eventually climaxes into full-on sex. After they share carnal knowledge for the first time, Eve remarks, “I’m so hungry” and the film seamlessly segues into the Bathsheba segment, which is in a salacious screwball style and begins with the sexually repressed eponymous character (played by Georgina Spelvinan of Devil in Miss Jones fame) and her warrior hubby Uriah (Robert Benes) eating breakfast together in a scene that is an homage to the famous scene from Welles’ Citizen Kane depicting the gradual dissolving of the antihero's marriage. Bathsheba does what she can to get her husband’s attention, but her efforts are in vain as Uriah is carrying on a hot and heavy affair with a trashy handmaiden with a talent for tempting men with her sleazy burlesque dancing. Ultimately, Bathsheba decides she will tryout her temptress talents as well by stripping in front of King David (John Horn), who is playing peep tom from above her bathtub. While Uriah briefly interrupts the carnal game of voyeurism and exhibitionism and David briefly leaves a result, Bathsheba eventually gets her deep-seated desire of being bedded by the King after the latter chases the former around a room in a scene that is in the style of goofy sped-up silent era chase scenes. 

 Unquestionably, the greatest, most aesthetically ambitious and just plain bizarre segment of Bible! is the third and final act, which depicts Samson (Brahm van Zetten) as a big bad humorless bully who gets his just deserts after he ruthlessly kills a playful midget (Willie Hermine).  Indeed, in a simple prank that turns tragic, the daring midget steals Samson's dagger and pays with his life because of it. With the help of her master Delilah (played by model turned actress Gloria Grant who later became a makeup artist that worked on big mainstream films like Spike Lee’s Malcolm X and I Am Legend), the midget's female lover (Cathy Hermine) will get her revenge. Indeed, after Delilah seduces Samson by stripping and giving him a super sensational sponge bath, the burly brute falls asleep and the vengeful little miss midget and her flamboyant headdress-adorned philistine comrades avenge the death of little Willie. While Delilah pleasures Samson as he falls asleep, the midget cuts seven locks of hair from his head with a dagger and a group of homoerotically dressed philistines blind the giant with fire, thus concluding the final segment of the film. For the epilogue of Bible!, the Mother Mary (Bonnie Mathis) receives immaculate conception after a scantily dressed male angel (Dennis Wayne) chases her down in a desert and touches her with two gigantic wands, which causes flicking lights to cover her body that impregnate her with god’s mongrel bastard son. In the final and rather tongue-in-cheek scene of the film, a neon sign appears reading “No Vacancy” at the Bethlehem Inn.

While auteur Wakefield Poole hoped Bible! would do for Women’s Lib what his hit homo crossover flick Boys in the Sand did for gay emancipation, the film met the deplorable fate of bombing at the box office and almost immediately falling into obscurity, thus virtually destroying the director’s career in the process. Indeed, while Poole subsequently attempted to revive his career by directing a number of relatively low-budget homo hardcore flicks, including a sequel Boys in the Sand with the rather predictable title Boys in the Sand II (1984), his fate as a filmmaker had already been sealed and he decided to totally give up the trade after the big AIDS scare began (indeed, among countless other male porn stars, Boys in the Sand star Casey Donovan and Bijou star Ronnie Shark eventually succumbed to 'gay cancer'). Unquestionably, Bible! demonstrates that Poole was an artist who just happened to direct porn as opposed to a hack pornographer attempting to be ‘artsy,’ for the flick permeates a sort of exquisite erotic cinematic eloquence that makes the works of big pornographic auteur talents like Radley Metzger and Cecil Howard seem like decadent exploitation trash by comparison, and it is not simply because it is a softcore flick. Indeed, like much of the director's oeuvre, Bible! demonstrates that Poole was nothing short of a cinematic poetic, albeit one who found his source of inspiration in carnal sensuality and especially big dicks.  Featuring the pathological body worship of Leni Riefenstahl, the high-camp eccentricity of Federico Fellini and Werner Schroeter, the respectable religious heresy of Pier Paolo Pasolini and Derek Jarman, and the throwback silent era style aesthetic majesty of Kenneth Anger, Poole’s work is just not the sort of film that was made to be a cheap jack-off tool for the sort of lonely proletarian men who lurked around 42nd Street in NYC during the 1970s, hence why the film was much better received in more cultured countries like Germany (or so Poole describes in an interview featured in the 2013 Vinegar Syndrome release of the film). Only marginally spiritually subversive, the film seems to be in the spirit of Pasolini’s famous 1966 quote, “If you know that I am an unbeliever, then you know me better than I do myself. I may be an unbeliever, but I am an unbeliever who has a nostalgia for a belief.” Indeed, despite what some medieval-minded American Christian Evangelists have to say, I like think that if there is a god, he would welcome Poole into the Kingdom of Heaven simply for being the creator of Bible!, which certainly has a more metaphysical feel than Mel Gibson's big budget splatter flick The Passion of the Christ (2004).  Indeed, if you're looking for a biblical flick with more homoerotic undertones, you would most certainly be better served with one of Cecil B. DeMille's Technicolor epics. 

-Ty E

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