Tuesday, August 11, 2015 at 7:30pm
Jason Sato's Brothers + Norman Yonemoto and Nicholas Ursin's Second Campaign
155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn
Second Campaign, Norman Yonemoto and Nicholas Ursin, 1969, digital projection, 19 mins
Brothers, Jason Sato (Norman Yonemoto), 1973, digital projection, 66 mins
Asked by an interviewer to name his all-time favorite porn movies, the writer Dennis Cooper cited, among others, Jason Sato’s Brothers, which he compared to the melodramas of Douglas Sirk. The film, Cooper explained, was “from back in the days when artists made porn.”
Indeed it was. Jason Sato was the nom de porn of Norman Yonemoto, whose later collaborations with his brother Bruce would become central to the development of West Coast video art in the decades that followed. With works like Vault (1984), Kappa (1986), and Made in Hollywood (1990), the Yonemotos became known for their stylized use of mass-media cliches—particularly the visual grammar of soap operas—employed with a highly reflexive, ironic distance. Another trademark was their ingenious and eclectic casting. Made in Hollywood, for instance, includes performances by actors like Patricia Arquette, artists like Mike Kelley and Michael Smith, the Wooster Group’s Ron Vawter, and underground icon Mary Woronov. While the Yonemotos as a team served as a link between two of Los Angeles’s creative sectors—the dominant realm of commercial entertainment and the city’s art world, which had begun to flower in its shadow—Norman moonlighted for many years in yet another field on the rise in LA: the porn industry.
Though Bruce’s training had been in visual art, Norman’s background was filmmaking, which he studied at UCLA and AFI. An early directorial effort, Brothers is part of the first wave of feature-length gay porn, made not long after Wakefield Poole’s landmark all-male Boys in the Sand (1971) and the mainstream breakthrough of heterosexual classic Deep Throat (1972). Set in Los Angeles, Brothers tells the story of Vince, a brooding, mustachioed stud who’s visited by his kid brother Rick, a soldier serving in Vietnam. During Rick’s stay, the two siblings slowly confront their mutually hidden desires with an emotional intensity seldom seen in adult films. “The thing about making pornography is that it was a way of doing experimental pieces and actually using what I’d learned to make these feature films. And there was a guaranteed return on the investment,” Norman said in an interview for the Getty’s 2008 exhibition California Video. “Back in the mid-seventies, I made the only anti-Vietnam War porno. People still are blown away by the piece. It’s about this big brother whose little brother comes home on leave. Toward the end, all of a sudden, you’re in the veterans’ cemetery. The older brother is there at his younger brother’s grave, and the audience is brought to tears. People weeping while watching a porno? It was unprecedented.”
Future director Penelope Spheeris, who began shooting her legendary punk documentary The Decline of Western Civilization (1981) later that decade, appears in Brothers in an extended non-sex role as Vince’s friend Penny. But Spheeris’ character is not the mere fag hag sidekick one might expect: her frustrated longings are rendered with great tenderness, as when she and Rick gently sway to The Shirelles’ “Soldier Boy,” suggesting some deeper, unspoken sorrow. Stylistically, certain elements of Brothers display the clear influence of Kenneth Anger, in the pointed deployment of pop music (one scene makes particularly apt use of The Doors’ “Back Door Man”), slow pans that linger along men’s bodies, and a mysterious, subliminal flash frame. One particularly striking scene pictures an SM scenario punctuated by point-of-view shots that place the audience in the role of the masochist, with an unforgettable moment in which a brutal top wearing aviator sunglasses appears to urinate directly into the camera’s lens.
Brothers is shown here with Second Campaign, a 16mm documentary made by Norman and his then-partner Nicholas Ursin while Yonemoto was still a student at UCLA. Shot in Berkeley, the film depicts the struggles around People’s Park, a formerly derelict lot owned by the University of California that activists had taken over and made into a community garden, only to see it bulldozed and fenced off under orders of Governor Ronald Reagan, who had called the site "a haven for communist sympathizers, protesters, and sex deviants." With its images of military-occupied Berkeley and anti-war demonstrations, Second Campaign sets the stage for Brothers, underscoring how the latter’s political concerns function not simply as contemporary backdrop, but rather as a source of profound melancholy, a sentiment rarely, if ever, articulated in the pornographic film.
Tickets - $7, available at door.
Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm.