Dressing From the Celluloid Closet: The Style of Gaysploitation Films

Sweaty, hedonistic, and uncut (much like the actors that starred in them) movies like Cruising, The Meatrack, and Song of the Loon all seem to linger on one summer night somewhere between 1970 and 1980 when passions boiled over and men energetically loved other men in the streets. Although many of them just confirmed the Ford-era public’s worst fears about the big gay threat from Manhattan through their sensationalized portrayal of underground sex clubs and non athletic use of jock straps, these movies also gave us something else: some amazing clothes.  And so, the four best looks of gaysploitation cinema:

Al Pacino in Cruising
Al Pacino’s early punk style attracts all the right attention in Cruising.

Cruising (1980) 

Al Pacino asks the world to figuratively, “Say hello to my little friend,” as the rookie cop who must go DEEP under cover to track the “homo killer” in William Friedkin’s misguided ode to a hornier New York. Although most of the noble players are basically live action Tom of Finland drawings, Pacino’s studied use of black tank tops, denim jackets, and just the right amount of leather reminds us that the iconic early punk look of The Ramones, Television, and other downtown progenitors of art school cool was really just a riff on the male hustlers of midtown.

David Calder in The Meatrack
David Calder leaves the juicing for Jersey Shore and keeps it lean in The Meatrack

The Meatrack (1970)

The less you know about the “plot” of Richard Stockton’s wet fever dream the better. Suffice to say there are knife wielding drag queens.  What is worth remembering is David Calder’s wiry, athlete’s physique that unlike the bulked up gorillas of later sex cinema looks just as at ease in jeans and a tee shirt as it does being unwrapped by a hungry john.

John Iverson in Song of the Loon
John Iverson shows Heath and Jake how to go Brokeback in Song of the Loon

Song of the Loon (1970)

Although The Meatrack was billed as the “real” Midnight Cowboy, Song of the Loon is the film that really makes the hard sell for corn fed, towheaded, farm boys in fringe jackets. Based on Richard Amory’s novel of the same name, John Iverson as Cyrus Wheelwright heads west to find his fortune and indulge a non-professional interest in able farm hands. Individual servings of this Marlboro Man kit still work, particularly the beaten up garrison belt and open collar western shirts.

Tony Ward in Hustler White
Tony Ward getting over Madge in Bruce La Bruce’s Hustler White.

Hustler White (1996)

Made well after the halcyon days of aggressively tan youths speaking the love that dare not speak its name — and with more than an eyedropper of irony — Bruce La Bruce’s best loved effort still captures all the main themes of the golden age of gaysploitation: exposed rosy buttocks, unexplained shirtlessness, and dialogue that makes most porn seem verbose. Monty, a rebel without a sugar daddy, attracts the attention of a leering writer played by La Bruce, amputations, pull ups, and lots of queening out ensue. Through it at all Monty, played by Madonna ex Tony Ward, proves that all it takes to attract the rich and powerful is a slim pair of white jeans. 

Evan Widhu is a men’s wear buyer in New York. He thinks Magic Mike is one beer away from gaysploitation.