Pink Narcissus (1971)
Written, Directed, and Cinematography by James Bidgood (as Anonymous)
Starring Don Brooks and Bobby Kendall
Although James Bidgood no longer remains “anonymous”, Pink Narcissus is so devoted to its subject that the identity of the creator is nulled in a way that recalls medieval religious art. This lingering sense of anonymity feels refreshingly foreign to a medium whose followers are known to worship the “auteur” above all else.
In fact, without such faith and dedication to process over ego, the film could never have been made. These 65 minutes of footage were shot over a period of seven years in Bidgood’s own apartment, including the breathtakingly staged urban nightscapes, charging the film with the claustrophobic expansiveness of dreams. Though often noted for its explicit nudity and eroticism, the film is remarkably innocent in its curiosity. Characters seem newly born into the film each time they appear, and they explore their synthetic surroundings with naiveté. A boy gazes into a cup of water and feels the touch of the liquid to his mouth. He lies naked in a field and languidly draws a blade of grass across his torso. Everything here is draped with sheer fabrics, plush underfoot textiles, and heady tactile excess. The film, then, is sensual less for its sexuality than for its almost mystical ability to engage the full gamut of our senses.
Similarly, while the film is occasionally explicit in its depiction of homosexuality, what makes it a decidedly homoerotic film is the way in which Don Brooks and Bobby Kendall wear their looks for the pleasure of the homosexual gaze. The actors play up their lithe femininity and exoticism in a way that’s clearly coded for their niche audience. The rare use of diegetic sound is almost exclusively limited to intermittent radio broadcasts which give us sports news, chirpy weather reports, and a public service announcement reminding us to eat breakfast. The sound is barely defined as diegetic since we never see the motivating source (i.e. there is no radio), and thus the whole auditory spectacle is merely a parody with a certain “unique” sensibility. In a word, the whole thing is decidedly camp.
Yet the movie manages to succeed on a more artistic level as well, and its use of associative montage, contrasting color schemes, and evocative symbolism create a cogent visual structure. There is no dialogue, but the dramatic voices of the score shift from dissonant music box whirls to baroque harpsichord to bombastic trombones, creating all the tension of an argument. Certain urban settings seem to draw from the decadent diagonals of German Expressionism while luridly depicting the urges of hustlers and their clientele. Such scenes punctuate the general air of innocent fantasy, and complicate the tone.
Moreover, Bidgood implicates the audience in his spectacle of desire during the key scene in which Bobby gazes at and kisses his own reflection. The sequence climaxes with a POV shot in which we inhabit Bobby’s reflection, so that he appears to be kissing us. As he looks into his own eyes, he is looking into ours, and by wanting to be him and to have him we have become him. At the end of the film, when he cryptically blows out a candle and shatters the mirror, we’ve been returned to ourselves. Even the shattered mirror is revealed to be something other than what we imagined, as the camera pulls back to reveal an intricate spider’s web.