Fred Halsted – The Sex Garage (1972)
Fred Halsted, S&M aficionado and XXX film actor, emerged as a director rivaling Kenneth Anger in the genre of gay art-erotica. L.A. Plays Itself (1972) was his take on the same territory as Anger’s Scorpio Rising. When it opened at the 55th Street Playhouse, doubled billed with his Sex Garage, it was a case of see-it-now, or now you don’t. The police shut it down – not for the notorious fisting vignette that climaxes L.A. Plays Itself (which is cut from the video versions), but for a scene in which a guy gets it on with his motorcycle.
The black-and-white Sex Garage, released the same year, is a marginally more focused work, though by conventional standards it’s far from a classical narrative. It opens with a hardcore hetero scene — a sexy young guy getting head from an enthusiastic woman. Surrounded by cars and car paraphernalia, they fuck furiously on the concrete floor of the title space. But the guy turns out to be bisexual, and graciously accepts the services of a knob-polishing queen who serendipitously moseys in. As in other Halsted films — and recalling the entropic atmosphere of early Warhol movies — here the characters come and go at random. There’s no attempt to create characterizations — in the demimonde of the “sex garage” there are no “people,” just random fetishes, body parts, and desires enacted and forgotten.
Sex Garage has its share of lurid encounters, but the most prescient one is reminiscent of — and surely outstrips — both Kenneth Anger’s bike fetish and the car-fuck crazies of Cronenberg’s Crash. A bored hunk arrives; tired of getting head from the wandering suckboy, he goes for some real action and “mates” with the exhaust pipe of his motorcycle in clinical close-up. This film was banned in New York at the time because the police believed it was “promoting obscenity.” Apparently they didn’t appreciate the peculiar modernity of this scene as a parable of humankind, so often overwhelmed by technology, connecting with cold steel in a way hitherto unimagined
Conceived as a supporting short for its theatrical release and forever since screened together with the same director’s legendary L.A. PLAYS ITSELF, the barely over half an hour SEX GARAGE can rightfully be considered an unofficial third movement to that film, even elaborating on themes touched upon therein. If that film cruelly juxtaposed the evil that men are capable of inflicting with the purity and innocence of nature which the human race has carelessly squandered and destroyed, this astonishing black & white featurette – amazingly shot over a single day – takes matters yet another step further with an implied as much desired immersion with modern technology as one character attempts to make love to his motorcycle, inserting his rigid member into the exhaust pipe and tenderly rubbing his copious ejaculate into the upholstery ! Both the freewheeling cinematic style – frequently favoring extreme close-ups of both machinery and genitalia – and the iconography of high speed vehicles and their leather-attired drivers, not to mention its kick ass soundtrack alternating girl groups with classical music and appropriately soulless synthesizer bleeps, align this featurette with Kenneth Anger’s revered cinematic patchwork SCORPIO RISING. Cast members are anonymous and unfamiliar. Both Bijouworld and John Rowberry (as editor of the 1991 Adam Film World Gay Video Directory) list Paul Barresi and the late Bob Blount, who died in an accident shortly after completing the Joe Gage classic L.A. TOOL & DIE, as participants – who copied from whom ? – but I can’t vouch for either one as even repeated viewings have kept me from anything resembling a positive i.d.
Opening on the (literally) titular garage, a cherubic young mechanic receives oral favors from his hippie chick girlfriend (who, at least according to IMDb, just might be carnal cult cutie Eve Orlon) who subsequently spreads for what amounts to a good ten minutes of straight sex. Intercut with this is a gorgeous upper class brat – with a world-weary mien straight out of DEATH IN VENICE – sensuously soaping his hirsute torso and pleasingly packed nether regions in the shower, camera temporarily zooming in on a note (along with a casually displayed $100 bill) to take the car into the garage to have it “greased up”. Oh yeah ! As he drives up, the girl exits with a mix of fright and the existential realization perhaps that her presence is no longer needed – indeed, inopportune – in Halsted’s idiosyncratic private universe. Picking up where the lass left off, Richie Rich is casually humiliated and submitted, first by the mechanic and then by a long-haired, Jesus type biker boy stopping by. Apparently tiring of his human sex partners, for whom he displays but strained ennui, the biker ultimately prefers the company of his revered cycle instead, licking and kneading as he works himself into a fevered frenzy culminating in aforementioned penetration.
As with much underground cinema, this synopsis can’t even begin to do justice to the actual experience of viewing. While unversed in traditional cinematic technique, Halsted was rapidly developing a signature all his own through vibrant ‘n’ jittery hand-held camera work and wild zooms instilling significance into seemingly random objects that was ahead of its time. Though much of his subsequent directorial output proved dire and unimaginative, his last film BREAKER BLUE a dispiriting mess, his cinematography remained fresh ‘n’ exciting, especially when working on other people’s projects, usually his longtime lover Joey Yale’s film-making efforts like TRICK TIME.
By far the most distinctive dirty movie director to hail from California, Halsted had drifted through a variety of odd jobs before trying his hand at film-making. Popular rumor has it that he worked as a gardener to Vincent Price at some stage, the feverish fairy imagination expanding on Fred’s horticultural duties as to include play for pay bedroom antics with the fading horror icon ! The resulting resentment for the “ruling classes” may have inspired the rough treatment that befalls the rich kid here. Be that as it may, Fred’s life decidedly took a turn for the better when he met and fell in love with Joseph Yale in 1969. “Poisoning” his legitimate career by enthusiastically participating in his Svengali’s matching all male masterpieces L.A. and SEXTOOL, Yale remained Halsted’s partner in both life and labor as Cosco co-founder, established on Joey’s urging to gain more control over their work and its revenue, much of which had disappeared into the wrong pockets until then. Virtually unheard of in a pornographic milieu, without distinction between the straight and gay sides thereof, they proved inseparable until Yale’s passing, with Halsted electing to join him by his own hand shortly after in a gesture equal parts poetic and pathetic. Does it make me a sentimental sap when I admit to hoping that they really did rejoin forces in whatever constitutes an afterlife ? If so, color me corny !