BFI Flare Film Festival | 2020
"Editing has long been a passion of mine, though my primary film-related goal over the past couple of years has been to get more into programming and exhibition -- there aren’t enough queer film series out there, and I’d love to be able to expose more people to films that they might not know exist."
Ask Any Buddy
Set on the streets and piers, and in the bars, cinemas, bath-houses and toilets of New York and San Francisco, this is a world of moustaches, tight jeans, tighter leathers and shorts. It’s an impressionistic cruise back to a time when the men and boys were beautiful and up for it. Think Peter de Rome meets Peter Berlin with Jack Wrangler and his friends. It’s historic hot stuff for connoisseurs of any age and instant nostalgia for anyone who was there.
Director Evan Purchell has woven a masterpiece out of 125 vintage films, for an intensely pleasurable experience that eschews any need of a narrative.
Hi Evan, thanks for talking to TNC, how's things going?
Hectic! We have six screenings on two different continents coming up in the next couple of weeks, which is exciting. Plus the ones that haven’t been announced yet, in addition to my day job. It’s a lot to keep track of!
Are you looking forward to bringing Ask Any Buddy to BFI Flare this month?
I’m thrilled and honored to have my film be a part of this year’s BFI Flare! The early response so far — press and ticket sales — has exceeded my wildest expectations, so I’m very excited for these two screenings in particular.
Do you get nervous ahead of a films screening at such big film festival?
I think the biggest audience the film has played to has been around 40 people, so to go from that to over 400 is pretty mind-boggling. People seem really into the film, though, so I’m excited for more people to be able to see it.
The reaction to Ask Any Buddy has been incredible, did you expect your film would get the type of response it has gotten?
No, not at all -- I kind of figured it’d play a couple of smaller shows and that would be the end of it. The interest so far has been very gratifying and shows me that there’s clearly an interest in this subject matter.
Ask Any Buddy is a companion to the Artforum ‘Best of 2018’ Instagram feed, had you always intended to turn this in to a feature film?
No, my plan had always been for the Instagram work to lead to either me writing a book or starting a film screening series of some sort -- I’m still working on both, but this film should make bringing those plans to fruition much easier.
Tell me a little bit about Ask Any Buddy, what was the inspiration behind this film?
Ask Any Buddy is a found footage mashup that’s made from pieces of over 125 gay adult films that roughly span the years 1968 to 1986. People have the tendency to describe these films as having a documentary quality to them because of their low budgets and use of real locations. I wanted to explore and interrogate that with this film -- if these movies are all documentaries, then what would a ‘day in the life’ look like through their lens? The result is something that’s fun, light, and sexy -- certainly not reflecting any sort of actual reality (especially given the political climate that much of these films were made in), but rather an idealized version of it.
What was the first film you saw that made you think of creating this unique complication?
I was very influenced by the work of found footage groups like Everything is Terrible -- especially in the way their feature-length work manages to carry some semblence of narrative through nothing but repurposed clips.
What was the process for you digitising some of these films to feature in Ask Any Buddy?
I digitized roughly half of the films that appear in Ask Any Buddy -- many of these films have been out of print since the 80s, so tracking down original VHS and beta copies of certain titles was tough and involved reaching out to bloggers from around the world and either swapping rips or having tapes mailed to me to digitize.
Ask Any Buddy spans 1968-1986 what was it about this period that was so significant for these types of films?
There is some historical significance to those dates -- 1968 was the year of some of the first open, public screenings of ‘all-male’ films, and 1986 is generally considered the end of the genre’s theatrical era -- but for my film it’s more of a coincidence than anything.
During this period what would you say are the biggest differences you discovered in the style, substance and theme of the films?
I’d say the greatest differences are often related to where they were shot -- films from New York are often grimier, darker, kinkier, and openly use public locations like the cruising piers and subway system; whereas Los Angeles films are brighter, slicker, and more confined to indoor locations; and San Francisco films are usually either artier or a lot more slapdash.
What was the signifiants for these films for the gay community during this time?
For a long time, these were the only movies that gay men could go see that depicted aspects of their lives with any degree of honesty -- at a time when Hollywood was only interested in using gay characters as victims and monsters, adult films filled the gap and explored subjects like coming out, relationships, and even gay marriage. That the theaters that ran these movies were also safe spaces -- and cruising spots -- that were prominent parts of local gay communtiies only adds to their importance.
"My focus has started narrowing a bit now that I have a subject for the book I’m beginning to work on, though."
Do you have a favourite film in the complication?
There’s a bunch in there that I’m really fond of, but the Arthur Bressan films -- Passing Strangers, Forbidden Letters, Pleasure Beach, Daddy Dearest, and Juice -- are the ones I’ve really been trying to champion and the ones that provide some of my favorite moments in Ask Any Buddy. He was really one of the key gay filmmakers of the 70s and 80s -- jumping back and forth between adult and the ‘mainstream’ without ever making a distinction between the two, and his work in this less reputable genre is just as essential as films like the recently restored Gay U.S.A. and Buddies.
What has been the biggest lesson you learned after making Ask Any Buddy?
I really need to get better at making backups, haha.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
Editing has long been a passion of mine, though my primary film-related goal over the past couple of years has been to get more into programming and exhibition -- there aren’t enough queer film series out there, and I’d love to be able to expose more people to films that they might not know exist.
How has your approach to your work changed since you started out?
My approach to presenting these materials has largely stayed the same -- that is, giving them some amount of historical and social context, rather than just as beefcake or #aesthetic -- it’s just the medium that’s changed. My focus has started narrowing a bit now that I have a subject for the book I’m beginning to work on, though.
And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from this film?
I hope the film will open more people’s eyes to the existence of these films and the important role that they had in both documenting and spreading the gay culture of their era -- that there’s much more to many of these films than the obvious. The people who made these films -- many of whom are no longer with us -- took significant legal risks to put their lives and fantasies on film, which I find very empowering and inspiring. I hope others will, too.