Illustration by Running for Crayons
So the third Fashion in Film Festival kicked off last week and had film fans and fashionistas flocking to cinemas to catch rare and unreleased archival screenings.
First on my list was a trip to The Horse Hospital. I’d never heard of it before either, but it’s a treat. Situated behind Russell Square station (not the insalubrious bit, although the evening was to turn insalubrious as I’ll explain later…) the name is pretty self-explanatory. It’s London’s only existing and accessible two-floor horse stable, and the interior remains relatively unchanged, save a bit of black paint splashed on the walls. Down a cobbled ramp and behind a heavy black curtain lies a cinema screen with few seats. The only traditional ‘cinema-style’ seats were a row of four at the front, the rest were school-dinners chairs, so me and my colleague made a dart for them. It was bloody freezing I tell ya – it was London’s snowiest evening so far and two tiny heaters aren’t going to warm a cavernous black room. Still, we were forewarned and had wrapped up.
Now, Pink Narcissus isn’t your typical ‘fashion film’. Forget what you know of fashion films, particularly in the glamorous OTT perfume advertisement sense. Pink Narcissus is unadulterated, gratuitous porn. Gay porn, at that. Essentially it’s a pervy New Yorker who fancied the pants (literally) off some young Brando-esque model and decided to make an ‘art film’ over seven years, making sure most scenes contained said Brando-esque model’s round bottom and various appendages. Cue titters from me and my colleague. It’s hard not too, right?
Illustration by Alison Day
That’s the short version, but there’s a lot more to it. Ryan Powell, lecturer in Film Studies at King’s College, gave a fascinating introduction into the circumstances surrounding the film’s production and release. Bidgood, the film’s director, was a photographer and costume designer with very little (if any) filmmaker training. That didn’t stop him though. Oh no. Bidgood transformed his apartment with lavish sets over the course of seven years. These are, by anybody’s estimation, incredible. It’s the kind of film where you have to continually remind yourself of this fact because some of the sets – a New York cityscape or a decadent bullfighter’s arena, for example, are unbelievable.
The film, as Powell told us, was originally released amidst much controversy with nobody actually claiming ownership. It took almost a decade for Bidgood to step forward after much deliberation in the press as to which closeted artist or filmmaker had produced it.
Illustration by Caroline Duffy
So, the plot. Well, there isn’t one really. I’d be kidding you if I suggested that this is anything other than an erotic exploration of the male form. The film ‘aims’ to tell the story of the sexual fantasies of a male prostitute, who sexually envisions himself as various characters, from a Roman slave to a matador. Bobby Kendall, star of the show, is drop-dead gorgeous and it’s no surprise that Bidgood formed such a fixation on the man. Most people keep there obsessions in private, but not Bidgood. Oh no. He makes a film about it. It reminded me somewhat of the unusual relationship between Lagerfeld and his ‘male muse’ Baptiste Giabiconi – Kendall has the same exotic look as Baptiste and it seems the former was equally as exploited in his day as the latter is now. I can only imagine the conversations. ‘Yes, that’s it, this scene/shoot will look MUCH BETTER if you take your knickers off. Go on. Cheers.’
Illustration by Charlotte Hoyle
Pink Narcissus, for all its perversions, is undoubtedly a stunning film, and its easy to see why it was selected to be screened during the Fashion in Film Festival. There’s only so much you can say about the physical fashion in a gay porn flick, but I will do my damn best. Powell told us that, as a costume designer by day, Bidgood salvaged materials from the projects he was commissioned for and turned them into the costumes we see in the film. They don’t leave much to the imagination – particularly translucent onesies. When costumes do feature, they are incredible. The ‘bullfighting scene’ (read: leather-clad biker in hot-pants riding towards translucent-onesie-wearing Kendall wafting red material) features a lavishly embellished bolero jacket that would be the envy of millions. Fabrics drape all over the place, loin-cloths are made of silk, and my favourite scene – with ‘just a glimpse of cock’ – features a dancer enveloped in an exotic beaded-creation that dazzles. It’s evident that the director has a talent for dress.
It’s high camp at its best. All at the same time, its a master-class in decadence, trash and beauty, and Bidgood could teach modern filmmakers a thing or two, with his saturated colours, confronting close-ups and innovative cuts. The colours vary from bright blues to hot pinks, purples and greens; it’s a bit like being trapped in somebody else’s vivid dream. It’s totally mesmerising.
Thanks, Fashion in Film Festival, for bringing it to the cinema once again.
The Fashion in Film Festival runs until 12 December. Get all the details in our listings section.
1970s, Baptiste Giabiconi, Bobby Kendall, Bolero, Brando, Fashion in Film Festival, film, gay, Homoeroticism, James Bidgood, Karl Lagerfeld, Kings College, Matador, Pink Narcissus, Porn, Russel Square, Ryan Powell, The Horse Hospital
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