Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Meet one of the granddaddies of gay porn

Peter de Rome documentary celebrates 8mm pioneer of pleasure-seeking

Peter de Rome’s legacy of “little 8mm movies” celebrates gay sex and erotica in the 1960s–1970s. Credit: Vancouver Queer Film Festival

“On the outside he looks like a perfect English gentleman. But he’s equally at home discussing cock.”

A film historian in Ethan Reid’s Peter de Rome: Grandfather of Gay Porn is describing de Rome’s body of work as “artful gay erotic filmmaking.” Other interview subjects call it “rampantly sexy,” “outrageously arty,” and “left field avant-garde art.”

In the film, the English-born New Yorker in question, who got to see the film’s premiere before dying last year just shy of his 90th birthday, says he prefers granddaddy over grandfather and thinks of a trunk full of “little 8mm movies” as his life’s true calling. Working as a publicist for a movie studio paid the bills.

With titles such as Butch Easter, Scopo, Hot Pants and The Second Coming, all originally created for private viewing, de Rome’s shorts are mini-celebrations of male-male eroticism and pleasure-seeking. Many were shot on the sly at a time when just developing the film was both dangerous and illegal.

Their depictions — fantasy places of ever-erotic, worry-free, and consequence-free liaisons — stand in contrast to the reality of an era, as the interviewees remind us, when daily life for gay men was challenging to say the least.

(The earliest films, made in the early 1960s and looking a bit like outtakes of Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar, are mostly soft core; later films from the 1970s, including Underground — secretly shot in New York City subway cars packed with unsuspecting commuters! — feature full-on sex.)

Spending time listening to de Rome’s recollections is similar to listening to the tales of any storyteller of a grandfather . . . well, one who hung out at Fire Island, in the men’s room at the Apollo Theater, and invited sailors to his apartment and then filmed them jacking off.

He’s delightfully candid, whether recollecting “mischief” — like the extraordinary number of students he bedded while in school (before WWII) — or pondering the significance of his work (“I just like making movies,” he says, seemingly unconvinced about his Important Pioneer status).

While Reid’s documentary feels a touch padded or meandering here and there, and doesn’t exactly make the strongest case for the artistic merit of this bygone archive of filmmaking, the overall story is fascinating because it gives us glimpses of our forebears thriving and seeking pleasure at a time when the mainstream thought “homosexuality” and “morally repugnant” were one and the same.

For an interview with director Ethan Reid, click here.