To 'Sur' with love: lost gay porn classic resurrected

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday August 15, 2023
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Clay Russell in 'Big Sur Gay Porn'
Clay Russell in 'Big Sur Gay Porn'

"Sur" was a 1970s gay porn film shot at the lush and beautiful beaches of Big Sur, California. The film starred Clay Russell, who at the time was a well-known name in the gay porn world. "Sur" was directed by Tom DeSimone, who directed dozens of gay porn films during that period, as well as R rated cult films such as "Hell Night" and "Reform School Girls."

In "Big Sur Gay Porn," a new short film by documentary filmmaker Ryan White, DeSimone, who is still with us in his golden years, recalls the making of "Sur." He also relives that magical time during the 1970s when Big Sur was a gay beach populated with gay men who shed their clothes with abandon and practiced free love.

"Big Sur Gay Porn" will screen as part of the San Francisco Porn Film Festival on August 19 at 4pm. The film will also be broadcast online to a worldwide audience. In addition to directing, White co-produced the film with Alex Clausen, his creative partner.

"Big Sur Gay Porn" isn't the first film White has made that chronicles the history of gay porn. Last year he offered "Raw! Uncut! Video!" which documented the story of Palm Drive Video, a fetish studio that offered gay men a chance to view their fantasies safely during the AIDS pandemic. In an interview with the Bay Area Reporter, White discussed what it is that fascinates him about the history of gay porn.

"I find gay pornography inspiring because often it contains historical images of queer culture that otherwise weren't documented," White said. "It is a privilege to have an archive of specific people, culture and places. Gay porn films represent an early wave of queer independent film production in which LGBTQ filmmakers were actually telling their own stories and representing themselves on screen for the first time. Sex is culture in itself, but there's also a lot of valuable cultural information and imagery beyond the sexual content of these films that allows us a rare glimpse into queer life at that time."

'Sur' director Tom DeSimone  

"Big Sur Gay Porn" is a sweet film. In it, DeSimone freely shares his memories and shows photos of himself and long gone friends frolicking on the beach nearly 50 years ago. He expresses his sorrow about the fact that practically everyone he knew at that time is deceased. He also recalls the making of "Sur," a long forgotten gay porn film, until now. Brief clips from "Sur" are used to bring his memories to life. There's enough material to fill a feature-length film, but "Big Sur Gay Porn" is only eleven minutes long.

"Coming off our feature documentary 'Raw! Uncut! Video!' which took us five years to make, we weren't quite ready to tackle another years-long documentary project," said White. "So we conceived of 'Big Sur Gay Porn' as being a bit smaller and more focused. Something we were passionate about which would also be doable in a shorter amount of time while helping us to transition to our next documentary project, a film about gay porn icon Mickey Squires."

The film holds a personal connection for White, as he himself grew up in Big Sur.

"So, while 'Big Sur Gay Porn' is about Tom's connection to this place and the memories he has of it, this project is also very personal for me," White said. "And this particular story allowed us to touch upon some themes that really resonated with us, such as queer aging and the permeability of memory, while also highlighting the significance of queer pornography to preserving LGBTQ histories."

One surprise revealed in White's film is that DeSimone dislikes "Sur." He goes so far as to urge people not to see it, though he never says what he doesn't like about it. According to White, DeSimone is a very prolific filmmaker who made more than 80 adult films during the 1970s and early 1980s, shooting some of these films for as little of three thousand dollars over the course of a single weekend. When you produce that much content, White said, there are bound to be a few titles that you consider duds.

Clay Russell in 'Big Sur Gay Porn'  

"For me, 'Sur' is really special because it captures a vision of Big Sur as a site of history that has largely been forgotten," White said. "The film is beautifully shot and features some really sexy dudes, including an appearance by Val Martin, credited as Val Martinelli. It's a porno riff on 'Deliverance' which makes for some entertaining moments, as well as some rather unpleasant situations. As an example of golden age pornography I don't think it's terrible, but it's also not fabulous. I completely understand why Tom would rather be remembered for some of his other films."

The San Francisco Porn Film Festival runs August 16-27 and will feature an array of films from a wide variety of genres. Screenings will take place at the Brava Theater and will include online screenings. White and his filmmaking partner Clausen will be on hand for the "Big Sur" screening to meet and greet the audience.

"We can't wait," said White. "We've produced a small forty-page book that is a companion to the 'Big Sur Gay Porn' short film. It includes additional interviews, reflections and images from the project. We'll have copies with us at the festival, so if anyone wants to learn more and support our new Mickey Squires documentary, come and chat with us and grab one of the 'Big Sur Gay Porn' books."

'Big Sur Gay Porn' at the San Francisco Porn Film Festival, Saturday August 19, 4pm, Brava Theater, 2781 24th St, $15-$60.

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