Ask Any Buddy: Bringing Adult Film & History to Instagram and Beyond
Queer history is a fleeting thing, our works often left behind in the face of progress and bigger, straighter art. Even within the queer community itself, there’s a focus on the now—be it grand declarations of queer cinema attaining mainstream appeal or making a list of greatest queer sex scenes in film history that embarrassingly only dates back to 1998.
On Instagram, Ask Any Buddy (@askanybuddy) does the exact opposite, instead focusing on exploring the history of gay adult film and video in print. For over a year now, the Instagram account has been posting once a day, reaching over a thousand followers simply by documenting and showcasing everything from film posters to gay magazines to ads of the era, ranging nearly forty years (from about 1953 to 1991).
Behind the account is archivist Evan Purchell, who goes by @schlockvalue on Twitter, whose obsession with queer cinema has resulted in a collection of “close to 200 VHS tapes, 100 magazines, 30 8-and-16mm films, a couple of beta tapes, and about a dozen original movie posters.”
“It’s a bit of an obsessive collection, sure,” he admits. “But I consider it sort of an archive, especially since I currently don’t have access to any legitimate ones, and because most of these materials aren’t widely available otherwise.”
“Many of these films are currently only available in edited forms, whether to remove harder content or just to save on tape, so I’m very committed to tracking down original copies of titles and preserving them digitally in the best quality I can. Given that original film elements for a lot of these films no longer exist, tapes are about the best we’ll ever have.”
Films like Joe Gage’s El Paso Wrecking Corp. have VHS and DVD editions that are missing about 30 minutes—”a lengthy watersports scene and most of the exposition”—and even the uncut version of Halsted’s LA Plays Itself, “which famously ends with cinema’s first fisting,” was out of circulation for about forty years before Vinegar Syndrome’s scan. But Gage and Halsted weren’t the first filmmakers he encountered on this journey.
“I’d seen a number of straight adult films—Café Flesh, Water Power, and other ‘cult’ titles like that—but it wasn’t until I caught a screening of Bijou and met director Wakefield Poole that I really became interested. It’s such a beautiful film in its own right, but the experience of watching it with a crowd—something that you never really get to have with these kinds of films, especially not in Florida, where I was living at the time—added a lot.”
From there, he dove into films like Curt McDowell’s Thundercrack!, Radley Metzger and Jerry Douglas’ Score, and Halsted’s LA Plays Itself. Halsted was the first filmmaker that became an obsession and still remains one. “He was a hugely controversial figure in gay culture and even though he worked in multiple mediums and his work was largely documented at the time, he remains something of an enigma,” Purchell explains.
“William E. Jones’ essential Halsted Plays Himself was the first book related to the genre that I ever read—and did so in a single day—and it opened so many doors in my mind. It immediately made me want to seek out films like Halsted’s notorious 35mm flop, Sextool; his new wave-soundtracked document of his sex club, A Night at Halsted’s; back issues of his short lived magazine, Package; and his outrageous editorials for famed leather magazine Drummer. I’m sure others would find him problematic (and he was!), but I find Halsted and his work to be highly empowering. He was truly an original figure and one who deserves to be more widely known among younger generations.”
That deep interest in preserving LGBT history is precisely why Evan Purchell seeks out these adult films (and adult material within other mediums), but don’t limit it to pornography, a term he notes he isn’t a fan of. “It doesn’t really say much about the actual films apart from the fact that they have some sort of sexual component. Something like, say, Jason Sato’s anti-Vietnam War drama Brothers is about as far away from a generic Sean Cody scene that you can get.”
“I think coming to the realization that there was more to these films—dramatically, historically, socially, politically—than what we’re usually led to assume or expect is what first drew my interest. I’m very much interested in the history of LGBT representation on film, and these films are a significant part of that. Adult films were some of the first to openly and honestly explore aspects of gay life and culture, and were largely made by and for gay men, to be exhibited in gay spaces.”
Enter Ask Any Buddy, the Instagram account that started just as a means of an outlet for Purchell’s research and acted as sort of a mood board. “I’d been tossing around the idea of trying to put together a screening series or some sort of writing project, but this was more immediate and also a way to gauge interest,” he says. “Other feeds—like @mrdrummer79, @lgbt_history, @theaidsmemorial, and @ward5b—have shown me that there’s an interest in this material, so I just wanted to get this imagery, these people, and these films back out into the world instead of trapped in musty old magazines and locked away in some archive somewhere.”
“If people aren’t actively talking about these films, or if they aren’t being circulated in one form or another, then they might as well not even exist. And a lot of the content that I’ve featured on the feed has been hard to locate. It took me months, for instance, to find the original poster artwork for a high profile title like Joe Gage’s HANDsome. I still can’t find any sort of theatrical or video artwork for many of these films!”
It’s additionally fascinating that Purchell chose Instagram for Ask Any Buddy, considering how restrictive they are with nudity and sexual content. While he’s had a few posts and stories taken down for their content, he notes that he actually doesn’t mind having to crop or censor his posts. “I think the tease is a bit of a lost artform, and the lack of explicit content makes it easier to interact with the material in the way that I want people to. Though the subject matter may be gay erotic films, my Instagram isn’t a porn account. The history is the focus.”
Porn itself has a fascinating history, a never-ending collection of styles and content that often mirrors the way any other genre of cinema evolves. “I’m interested in the progression of the genre over time, so that includes everything from experimental and physique films through to Pat Rocco and his softcore shorts, and onto hardcore and beyond,” he elaborates. “With my research, I try to explore the ways that filmmakers both pushed the boundaries of censorship and taste, and adapted and changed with the times. Some of those filmmakers, like Tom DeSimone, successfully made the transition from softcore into hard— even eventually moving into mainstream features. Others, like Rocco, publicly viewed harder material as being distasteful and negative, even as they continued churning them out under pseudonyms.”
His favorites range from a number of filmmakers, and Purchell kicks off by citing Arthur J. Bressan, Jr as “one of the most important gay filmmakers of the 70s and 80s, despite having largely been forgotten up until just recently with Jenni Olson’s crucial restoration project [focused on preserving and promoting his films].”
“The eight films that Bressan, Jr. released during his lifetime are as essential as they are groundbreaking—with Passing Strangers, Forbidden Letters, and Buddies especially sticking out. Joe Gage is another big one for me, and a filmmaker who I’m shocked isn’t bigger with genre film fans (Tarantino even named a character after him). His initial run of adult films, from Kansas City Trucking Co. up through Heatstroke, are all about as good as you can get and openly influenced by figures as disparate as [Dario] Argento and [François] Truffaut. Plus, his horror and exploitation cheapies from the 80s are super fun!”
“In that same vein, I love Tom DeSimone for both his work in the genre—his coming-out-at-a-funeral melodrama The Idol is essential and there’s nothing else quite like his weirdo Confessions of a Male Groupie—and for films like Chatterbox and Reform School Girls. Michael Zen’s two Falconhead films—which Bradford Nordeen [creative director and founder] of Dirty Looks always describes as ‘the Hellraiser of gay porn’—are both incredible and very much at the top of my list. More people need to see them!”
“Christopher Rage is a figure who fascinates me: he worked in just about every aspect of the entertainment industry, from writing songs for David Hasselhoff to creating the ad campaign for Michael and Roberta Findlay’s Snuff to making a string of incredibly raunchy, transgressive video—dare I say art—works in the 80s. Jack Deveau and his Hand in Hand Films produced some of the best gay films of the 70s, from his bizarre attempt at a midnight movie, Drive, to his bisexual hustler drama, Wanted: Billy the Kid, and fun later fare like the Rashomon inspired Fire Island Fever and Time Square Strip.”
“There’s also a number of lavishly produced films from the initial wave of French gay filmmaking, like Jean-Étienne Siry’s And… God Created Man and Jacques Scandelari’s amazing [Agnès] Varda-like travelogue, New York City Inferno. This could go on and on.”
This obsession and dedication to archiving adult cinema has led to more than Evan ever expected as well. “It’s been such a joy and honor to have been able to collaborate and help out with a couple of upcoming soundtrack releases from the great Dark Entries Records, and screenings in LA and NYC by Dirty Looks and Light Industry, all three of whom have been big inspirations and guiding lights for my work and the direction I want to take it in.”
“Ed Halter and Thomas Beard from Light Industry have been so supportive of my research and work over the past year,” he says, noting that Halter’s Best of 2018 list in Artforum, which featured Ask Any Buddy, meant a lot to him.
As new opportunities arise and he continues to post new content on Ask Any Buddy religiously—most recently including everything from a cropped and censored excerpt from Heavy Case Load, a tie-in magazine for Al Parker’s Therapy that includes a review for the film, to ads, press photos, and interviews for William Higgins’ The Young & The Hung—Purchell reflects on the absurdity of the whole thing: “I never thought my VHS copy of Heatstroke would ever be screen at the Tom of Finland Foundation! Life is weird.”