Andy Warhol took the subject of homosexual obsession to the big screen [in 1965]. The film was “My Hustler.” […]
By the mid-1960s, the movie taboo against homosexuality was down. But progressive depictions of gays (let alone lesbians) were rarities. In American movies, gay characters were portrayed as deviant misfits who inevitably met with societal scorn or tragedy (usually suicide). British films like “Victim” and “A Taste of Honey” were somewhat more open-minded in providing sympathetic (if epicene) depictions of gays.
“My Hustler” was radically different because it was not the least bit apologetic of the gay lifestyle. While the film dabbled in stereotypes (the bitchy queen, the rough trade call boys, even the fag hag best friend), no one was shown as a victim, let alone a freak. It was a raw, honest vision of a portion of the gay world which movie audiences never witnessed before.
Warhol was not, by any stretch, a polished filmmaker. His films were unsophisticated in their technique and production values were painfully low. In fact, “My Hustler” consists of two unbroken shots running 33 minutes each (the length of a 1,200 foot reel of 16mm film). While the visual aspect may seem stagnant, the film’s imagery and wall-to-wall talk makes its feel as if one if literally a voyeur to the mini-drama at hand.
“My Hustler” takes place on the Labor Day weekend at the beachfront Fire Island home of a wealthy and not-young queen (Ed Hood). He called a New York Dial-a-Hustler service and was sent a tall, muscular blonde hunk (Paul America). The film finds the older man on his deck watching his leased boytoy reclining on the beach. It is quite a sight to behold, as the hustler rubs suntan oil on his body and whittles with a piece of wood. And speaking of pieces of wood, the guy’s tight bathing suit leaves little to the imagination.
This scene is interrupted by two uninvited guests: Genevieve, the rich and bored socialite (Genevieve Charbon), and Joe, a late-30s hustler (Joe Campbell). The three sit on the deck and talk/bitch/dish among themselves about the stud in the sand. The camera pans back and forth between the deck trio and the hustler (there are no edits – just a continuous run of the camera). For long periods, the camera is fixated on the hustler while the others talk on the soundtrack. Joe claims to know the hustler, Genevieve states she can charm the guy with her sex appeal, and their mincing host belittles both of them with acidic camp remarks (he calls Genevieve a “fag hag” and calls Joe “the sugar plum fairy” – a line that Lou Reed would use in “Walk on the Wild Side”). All three make blunt comments about the object of their gaze (ranging from whether he is a real blonde to fantasizing about the length and width of what the bathing suit is barely concealing). Genevieve eventually makes her move and invites the hustler to go swimming with her.