|In bed: McDowell speaking to the camera in Confessions (1972).|
…and from the sacred (The Ten Commandments) back to the profane: last weekend I revisited the short films of the late Curt McDowell, the San Francisco-based underground filmmaker perhaps best known for collaborating with his teacher, mentor, and sometime lover George Kuchar on the cult epic Thundercrack! (1975). Thundercrack! has recently been released on Blu-ray by Synapse Films, which has also thrown in a bonus disc containing five of McDowell’s shorts. McDowell’s all-too-brief career—he was most active from 1970 to 1975, contracted HIV in the mid 1980s, and died of AIDS in 1987—roughly divides between Kuchar-flavored camp comedies and pornographic diary films in which he attempted to give expression to his deepest sexual fantasies.
|At the park: one of the subjects of Loads (1985).|
As pornography goes, Confessions may as well be set in another universe from Deep Throat, made the same year. It finds McDowell using images of “hard core” sex to articulate something intensely private about himself. The film is a portrait of the artist in which sex is seen as central rather than peripheral to his identity. (Nearly everyone who knew McDowell has testified to his voracious sexual appetite.) Where much mainstream pornography of the 1970s aimed to please its audience(s) by catering to their presumed fantasies and desires, McDowell’s films are defiantly personal works in which sex becomes a way for him to explore his own truth.
|In the studio: McDowell with male stranger in Loads.|