LA Plays Itself 1972
51min | Adult, Drama | April 1972 (USA)
The film opens on a shot of the “Los Angeles City Limits” sign. It then cuts to Fred Halsted taking a walk in the forest and coming upon a man sunning himself in the nude. They briefly talk and end up having passionate sex in the wilderness only to be interrupted by bulldozers destroying the wildlife area in order to build a new suburb. The film suddenly switches to inner city Los Angeles as Halsted and a man from Texas discuss in voice over the problems with modern society and the dishonesty of most people. This is inter-cut with shots of hustlers, bums, vagrants, porn theaters and shops, as well as footage of a man (presumably the Texan) being brutally tortured by Halsted. Eventually the man is bound and left helpless in a closet, a symbol of the violent and trapping nature of Los Angeles. The film ends on shots of newspapers saying that a young man was found dead after being tortured.
Fred Halsted spurted onto the gay porn scene just as the genre was gathering momentum as well as a modicum of “real world” respectability. The year was 1972 and groundbreaking adult movies like Gerard Damiano’s THROAT and MISS JONES and the Mitchell Brothers’ decidedly different GREEN DOOR had instigated the all too short-lived “Porno Chic” trend on the straight end of a budding skin flick industry. With his homo hardcore harbinger BOYS IN THE SAND, Broadway choreographer turned erotic “auteur” Wakefield Poole actually preceded what was to become known as the genre’s Big Three by facilitating his film’s first screenings in late ’71. In truth, Halsted beat them all to the punch, or indeed might have if endless delays and difficulties hadn’t kept him from finishing his still astonishing first work a full four (!) years after initial shooting had begun as early as 1968. Staking out his position in a slowly filling market place, he brought a downbeat West Coast sensibility to counteract the idealized imaginings of such early East Coast alumni like Poole and Jack Deveau.
It’s impossible to discuss the life and work of Fred Halsted without taking into account his longtime lover Joseph “Joey” Yale, a down on his luck stage performer who attempted porn on a lark – not uncommon in those days among out of work thespians – and stuck around as the director’s live-in lover and business partner in their production and distribution company Cosco until his AIDS-related death in 1986. Three years later, Fred would take his own life, overdosing on sleeping pills, even though at least one source (The Leather Journal) claimed he had shot himself through the head instead. His oft-cited suicide note read : “I had a good life. I’ve had looks, a body, money, success and artistic triumphs. I’ve had the love of my life. I see no reason to go on.” May they both rest in peace…
Unlike most of his film-making contemporaries, Fred rarely tried to emulate mainstream narrative structures or production values and prided himself on his lack of formal training. As a result, his movies are much closer in style to underground cinema of the period, its decision to add hardcore penetration probably seeming like a logical extension of an art form which already included rampant male and female nudity at the time. At least some agree with me on this as both L.A. PLAYS ITSELF and SEX GARAGE – the half hour featurette Fred hastily shot to support it on theatrical screenings and subsequently regarded as an integral part of its unit rather than a separate work – have been included in MoMA’s permanent collection and remain to this day the only pornographic titles represented therein.
Running a little under an hour, L.A. PLAYS ITSELF consists of two episodes. The first shows an idyllic pastoral encounter between dark-haired drifter Jim Frost and blond nature boy Rick Coates. The latter was a one shot, but Frost appeared in a couple of straight, barely remembered – or, at least, they wouldn’t be if it weren’t for the tireless efforts of Mike Vraney and his ilk – Sandi Carey vehicles entitled THE ELEVATOR and NAKED ENCOUNTERS. In voice-over, we hear two friends debating the merits of city and country life, the latter designated (for the time being at least) as the preferred option. Solemn Japanese ceremonial music accompanies extreme close-ups of butterflies ‘n’ bugs buzzin’ about the natural splendor of a modern day Garden of Eden. Jim complains about having “a heavy load on my mind” with just a smidgen more subtlety than this genre’s dialog generally allows for. Cheerfully, Rick offers to give him head ! They make laid-back love besides a babbling brook as the soundtrack switches to Mozart. Their carnal courtship progresses gradually in blissful harmony with the music. While Frost remains oblivious, reverently plowing Coates’ nether regions, one foot precariously perched on a well-placed boulder, roaring bulldozers clawing the soil brutally interfere in their unfettered Utopia, suggesting that the time of innocence has come to an end.
Director: Fred Halsted
Writer: Fred Halsted
Stars: Jim Frost, Rick Coates, Fred Halsted