12.22.2012

The homosexual in the text: Zak Spears as Manny Burke in "Solicitor" (1994)



It’s more or less a given that gay pornography makes sex between men its business—but gay pornography’s attitude toward the concept of homosexuality itself is something far more vexed.  One need only survey the vast pool of gay pornography that advertises straight or gay-for-pay models to see that many pornographers have, whether effectively or not, attempted to write homosexuality out of gay porn altogether.  (Needless to say, a lot of hands have been wrung over this, with many claiming that the fetishization of straight men in gay porn breeds self-loathing among gay male viewers.)  Part of the issue here seems to be that the move away from narrative pornography in the digital age (individual scenes have replaced narrative feature films, a shift that suggests a return to pornography’s origins in silent, single-scene stag reels and loops) has meant that gay porn films are less likely to structure themselves around the narrative tropes of homosexuality, such as closetedness, sexual initiation, coming out, etc.  Amateur porn sites no doubt trade in their own narratives of gay sex as experiment: “this is my first time” has itself become a cliché of straight-guy porn.  Even so, gone seem to be the days when (some, not all) gay pornography showed a certain investment in making itself a platform from which to speak, however clumsily, about the experiences, whether lived or imagined, of the gay men likely to be consuming it. 


So I was inspired to check out Solicitor (dir. Jim Steel, 1994), which might be classified as a pornographic coming-out film.  In its own fumbling, almost quaint way, Solicitor uses a conventional coming-out narrative as a jumping-off point from which to stage its scenes of sexual fantasy.  Solicitor manages to capitalize both on straight-guy/closet fantasies and the fantasy of gay romance.  Zak Spears plays a commitment-phobic attorney with a reputation for womanizing.  His affect is one of arrogant condescension, later revealed to be nothing more than the exaggerated swagger of a closet case.  He gets off on watching two cleaning men—both of whom are also presented as closeted men with girlfriends—having sex in his office, a scene that proves epiphanic (“If I didn’t know better, I’d swear you were going queer!” he tells his reflection in the mirror afterward). 


Meanwhile, the office intern (Bo Summers), who nurses a crush on the boss, deflects his sexual energy toward a gay friend and a conveniently delivered courier.  While Summers is apparently already out of the closet, albeit hapless and inhibited, Spears exhibits shame and contempt in his scene with a male stranger he picks up at the pier.  The film makes it clear that Spears and Summers, fated for one another, must heal one another’s sexual hang-ups.  Their long-awaited sex scene together is staged as romantically as any final clinch from the end of a Hollywood movie: it announces their formation as a couple (the final shot finds them cuddling in bed together).  


My point is not to hail Solicitor as a ground-breaking or even particularly noteworthy pornographic film; it’s rather to remind us that we can look to pornography as readily as to any number of other film genres in order to see how narratives of homosexuality have proliferated.  It’s a notion to which I hope to return in the new year, when I plan to look at a handful of films from pornography’s golden age.  Stay tuned.          

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