The pornographic canon: "A Night at the Adonis" (1978)

“Roger” (billed elsewhere as Paul Malo) catches up on his reading in Jack Deveau’s A Night at the Adonis (1978), one of the canonical gay hardcore films, shot on location at Times Square’s Adonis Theatre.  His boyfriend out of town, Roger has told his co-worker (Jack Wrangler) that he plans to spend the weekend reading Jonathan Katz’s Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A.…but, as one thing leads to another, he finds himself cruising the Adonis instead.  “So this is Gay American History, huh?” Jack asks Roger with a smirk after they find themselves in the middle of the same orgy in the theater men’s room. 

It’s obviously meant as a joke.  But A Night at the Adonis seems to engage the issue of gay history quite explicitly, as if to suggest that the elaborate cruising rituals that go on (went on) in the balconies, hallways, and men’s room of the Adonis, along with the hard-core films it screens (screened), along with the theater as a whole and even A Night at the Adonis itself, are all part of gay American history—albeit a very different chapter than the one that Roger reads aloud to himself in his apartment, in which Katz recounts the punishment and torture of men and women found guilty of sodomy.  Deveau makes the claim that pornography plays a key role in gay history insofar as it dares to represent and in some cases inspire the kinds of sex acts that have been traditionally marked as deviant, obscene, criminal.

Today, as gay men are increasingly assimilated into straight culture, it has become unfashionable to raise the specter of gay sex, gay pornography, and gay promiscuity of the kind that flourished in the 1970s—which is to say the very things to which A Night at the Adonis pays homage.  Celebrating or even invoking such aspects of gay life now risks reaffirming negative stereotypes about gay men.  But, as Heather Love argues in Feeling Backward, we need to be very careful not to censor our own cultural history by writing out the chapters that don’t jibe with our current sensibilities.  In some sense, this blog project is motivated by a desire to memorialize the cultural dirt that risks being washed away under the auspices of creating a more equitable social field.  Yes: A Night at the Adonis is gay American history whether we like it or not, and our responsibility to our history requires that we continue to remember that.

Historical monument: The Adonis Theatre, as seen in Jack Deveau's A Night at the Adonis.

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