Sunday, August 30, 2015

"Age of Consent": documentary about a British leather bar "The Hoist" tracks to history of gay rights in general

Age of Consent” (2014) is probably one of the most prominent and controversial films at the 2015 Reel Affirmations film festival. The documentary, directed by Charles Lum and Todd Verow, layers two narratives:  one is the story of the Hoist, a famous leather bar in London (a place that allegedly supports every possible fetish), and the other is how the history of the establishment maps to a history of rights for gay men (this film really is male-centered) in the United Kingdom as well as, to a subsidiary extent, around the world.
The film ends with a remarkable moral challenge, to the idea that gay men should assimilate well into the mainstream, an idea that now comports well with modern ideas of marriage equality. The film says people have basic rights because they are human beings, not because they perform some social function for the rest of society (breaking the surface, that sounds like marry and raise kids).

The title of the film may be a bit misleading.  In any country or state, it normally refers to the minimum age at which a minor can legally consent to sexual or intimate contact with an adult.  But the title here more about Britain’s misunderstood history of decriminalization of sodomy and consensual adult homosexual activity.  Britain, after all, has to answer for what it had done to Alan Turing in 1952.  In 1967, the sodomy law repeal was actually quite limited in its effectiveness.  The age of consent for gay sex stated at 21, while it was 16 for heterosexual intimacy (which, after all, can result in unwanted pregnancy).  The level was raised to 18 in 1996, and not down to 16 until 2003, when the sodomy law repeal was much more complete.

The film also maintains that Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law of 2013 was actually based on Margaret Thatcher’s (“Iron Lady”) Section 28 (link) whose scope was limited to the activity of government bodies, not individuals (but many gay groups in schools had to close).  Russia’s law seems ultimately predicated on the idea that individuals or private groups could disincentivize other teens or young adults to procreate and have families.

The film documents the efforts of undercover cops to entrap men into public sex, but the film takes a turn when it covers AIDS.  It seems that the British government and police actually became more sympathetic to victims of HIV than corresponding entities in the US, and were willing to help with the distribution of condoms.  Joseph Sonnabend, a physician who treated many early cases, appears.
In the US, the effect of AIDS was to clamp down, with the closing of the baths in most major cities (starting with San Francisco in early 1984). In 1983, before HIV had been identified (as “HTLV-3”) there was a proposal for a very draconian extension of the sodomy law in Texas that would have banned gays from most occupations, but it fortunately was kept from getting out of committee by effective lobbying by the Dallas Gay Alliance.

The film also notes that gentrification of old neighborhoods may threaten some older gay bars or leather and dance clubs.  Two major places in Paris have closed and not been replaced. In Baltimore, MD, the Hippo will soon close and be replaced by a CVS store.

The political narrative occupies the middle section of the 85-minute film. The opening and ending sections show the interior of the bar, with the slings, hoists, and pillories.  There are a few very explicit scene of genital sex, including “golden showers”, so the film self-rates as (essentially) NC-17.  The boot-shine chair is the source of fundraisers;  but could it serve also as a barber chair?

The official site is here. The Reel Affirmations showing was to be one of the last before going to DVD and streaming.  The production company is Bangor, and the only listed distributor is Optimale.
Other films about leather bars here:  April 22, 2014, and June 5, 2011.  I have thought that the Saint would make a DVD release of is “White Party” events in the sprint in NYC (which have stopped). 

Another related film is Dirk Shafer’s “Circuit” (2001) from TLA, set in Palm Springs. 

The feature was accompanied by a short called “Dirty Boots”, a music video from Holopaw (5 minutes).

This film should not be confused with others titled the same.  In the heterosexual world, age of consent laws can lead people to be labeled as registered sex offenders, even when a underage girl lied.  See my report of an ABC Nightline broadcast on this problem on the TV blog Aug. 1, or what happened to prep school student Owen Labrie (like here , where merely using the Internet or any device to attempt a liaison is a felony that could get one on the register and banned from Internet access for years.).   On Russia's antigay law, see also reviews of the UK documentary “Dispatches” on the TV blog Feb, 9, 2014, and “Moscow Is Burning” Feb. 15, 2014. See this blog, also, Oct. 14, 2014 on Russian issue. 

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