Dan Nicoletta (left), 'Dirty Poole' San Francisco DP Brian Mills (top), filmmaker Wakefield Poole (right) and 'Dirty Poole' director/producer Jim Tushinski (bottom) review Nicoletta's many photos of Poole's famed gallery/store Hot Flash of America on Market Street in the Castro.

Tushinski Brings San Francisco into 'Dirty Poole'

Michael Fox September 15, 2010

Although closely identified with New York, the gay erotic-film pioneer Wakefield Poole made a mark on mid-'70s San Francisco. “It was a crazy and creative time and Wakefield was right in the middle of all of that,” said filmmaker Jim Tushinski. “The ‘70s in San Francisco—sex everywhere, drugs everywhere and everyone burning the candle at both ends.” That glitzy, garish chunk of pre-AIDS history would likely remain forgotten if Dirty Poole, Tushinski’s forthcoming documentary, were the work of an East Coast filmmaker. But since Tushinski lived here from 1984 to 2005 and considers himself very much a Bay Area filmmaker, our town will get an extended cameo.

Poole came to filmmaking from theater and dance, and his movies combined an artist’s sensibility with explicit gay sex. His first film, Boys in the Sand (1971), was shot on Fire Island and put that hot little corner of the world on the map. Some people viewed his work as pornography, but they were in the minority. Poole’s movies were popular, profitable and sociologically significant, launching a wave of queer filmmaking and thousands of gay men out of the closet.

“For a short period of time but a very important period of time, Wakefield moved to the Castro with his partner,” Tushinski related over the phone from his Palm Springs abode. “They immediately broke up as soon as they got to San Francisco, of course, Wakefield drifted for a while until he met up with some folks and started Hot Flash of America, an art gallery-slash-retail store-slash-hair salon. It was unlike anything anyone had seen at the time. It was the first hip retail destination store in the Castro, and it was extremely influential. They would have all of the Warhol Marilyns, and antique circus posters; everything you can imagine and everything you can’t imagine in this store.”

From 1974–78, Poole was part of a group of creative locals who put on the big parties Nightflight and Stars. (Held on one of the old Wharf buildings, these were precursors to circuit parties.) Wakefield’s circle included such gay luminaries as Harvey Milk and Dan Nicoletta. During this West Coast period, Poole also made two movies: Moving, which was comprised of a segment shot in the Castro and two filmed in Los Angeles, and the doc-porn hybrid Take One, which was shot entirely here.

“This is a film that nobody’s really seen because the producer refuses to let the negative go,” Tushinski said. “Wakefield takes five or six guys and has them talk about their fantasies and then act out their fantasies. It’s an interesting and strange time capsule of late-'70s San Francisco.”

Tushinski, whose previous doc was That Man: Peter Berlin (co-produced with Lawrence Helman), wrapped production in July at a large benefit screening of Boys in the Sand on Fire Island with Poole in attendance. For those who think the only heated topic in the gay community these days is Lady Gaga’s meat purse, Tushinski’s got a bulletin.

“It was still controversial,” Tushinski reported. “There were a number of people there who thought it was inappropriate to show it. ‘It promotes unsafe sex.’ ‘What if a child wanders in.’ It shows sex and you can’t have sex on screen in theaters anymore. People won’t put up with it. The controversy helped fill the theater for two shows, but there were a lot of headaches to get there.”

Porn, both gay and straight, migrated some years ago from the grindhouse to the living room. People have come to take that experience for granted, whether they’re watching alone or with a partner. Apparently, the Fire Island screenings of Boys in the Sand were a blast from the past.

“Anybody who’s under the age of 40 has never sat in a theater and watched porn with other people around them,” Tushinski pointed out. “So they were kind of uncomfortable.”

Graphic sex makes another group ill at ease, he noted. “Anybody who’s giving out a grant doesn’t like to have anything to do with sex or porn. It sends them running in the other direction.”

Tushinski is editing Dirty Poole himself, and hopes to have a rough cut by the end of this year. While most filmmakers would be eyeballing the calendar to target their festival premiere, the key date in Tushinski’s mind is December, 2011,which marks the 40th anniversary of the New York opening of Boys in the Sand. If there aren’t any “appropriate” theaters left in Times Square or the Village—and I have a hunch there aren’t, Tushinski may just have to settle for Lincoln Center. Stranger things have happened.

Notes from the Underground
San Francisco critic and blogger Omar Moore, whose site is ThePopcornReel.com, will be a guest host and regular contributor on Roger Ebert Presents At the Movies, a new half-hour PBS show debuting in January.

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