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Poole Party 

Marathon bathhouse orgies and breakthrough films with the man who turned porn into art

Wednesday, Mar 12 2003
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In his autobiography Dirty Poole, Wakefield Poole claims he spent his youth "in dancing schools and public toilets" -- an apt précis of his future career as a pioneer of artistic gay porn. Poole was a child prodigy, a ballet star, and a Broadway gadabout who decided to take a break from indulging in New York's marathon bathhouse orgies and hobnobbing with Andy Warhol and Hal Prince to overhaul the genre during the 1970s. The retrospective "Dirty Poole: The Films of Wakefield Poole" takes a backward stroll into the work of the man who turned pornography into art.

His breakthrough feature, Boys in the Sand, is an unapologetic ode to queer love that pays as much attention to ocean waves, leaf patterns, and the titular sand as it does to its writhing stars. The film was a huge success and broke barriers by copping a review in Variety and an ad in the New York Times, both firsts for a gay adult film.

A year later, Poole pushed further. His experimental impulses, evident in Boys, saturate Bijou, with its shimmering tableaux of a Dionysian demimonde hidden in a New York brownstone. Ambitious split-screen effects, a hyperactive fog machine, glorious colored gels, and star Bill Harrison's enormous "charms" make it seductive in a way rarely seen in the genre then or now.

Poole's vision of an erotic Eden was widely influential but short-lived, lost in the tidal wave of flat, assembly-line porn product. His hetero sendup The Bible flopped, and with the exception of the artful Take One (shot partly at San Francisco's Nob Hill Theater), the rest of his career is prosaic. The Yerba Buena Center showcase includes the four features mentioned here, along with several shorts, most notably Stars, raw silent footage of an S.F. bash starring Sylvester, late queen of those other Dionysian dolls, the Cockettes.

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Gary Morris

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