• Bijou



    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: May 13th, 2014.
    Director: Wakefield Poole
    Cast: Bill Harrison, Lydia Black, Tom Bradford
    Year: 1972
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    The Movie:

    The second feature directed by filmmaker Wakefield Poole, 1972’s Bijou (which follows his earlier debut, Boys In The Sand) is a tough film to classify. While there’s no denying that this is a completely explicit adult feature made with an all-male cast, the film is just as much a work of art house surrealism as it is gay porno.

    The story is deceptively simple: a construction worker (Bill Harrison) finishes his shift for the day and leaves the lot where he works to head back to his apartment. As he’s crossing a busy Manhattan street a Mercedes Benz collides with a woman in the middle of the crosswalk. She is struck down, presumably dead, and no one seems to notice when the construction worker steals her purse. He heads back to his apartment, drinks some juice and goes through the contents of the purse. Along with a wallet and some lipstick, which he licks, he finds a printed color invitation with only the word BIJOU in big, bright letters and a Prince Street address printed underneath. He hops into the show and Poole’s camera lingers on his manhood as he soaps himself up.

    From there, he puts his clothes back on and heads out into the street. He finds the address and heads inside where, after climbing a few flights of stairs, he hands his invitation to a haggard looking woman sitting behind a box office window reading a wrestling magazine. He heads inside, the word BIJOU in lights above him, and he enters a black room. A sign lights up and the words on it instruct him to remove his shoes. He does, and then a second sign lights up and instructs him to remove his clothes. Now completely nude, he wanders further into Bijou where he sees massive abstract sculptures, some quite suggestive. He then watches as four separate films are projected onto a wall, each one occupying a corner of the screen and featuring a man masturbating. Projected into the center of this is footage of the woman who was hit by the car earlier. After watching the films the lights dim and the construction worker lies down as a few men head into the room and an orgy ensues.

    With Bijou, Poole tosses aside typical narrative conventions in favor of mood and atmosphere. We know nothing about this construction worker character. Though his apartment is adorned both with pictures of naked women and a large poster of Jesus Christ his sexual orientation is left up in the air. Obviously further events transpire that would indicate his preference is men but we know not whether this is his first homosexual experience or if he’s typically hanging out in ten meat packing district looking for rough trade, though the freeze frame over his smiling face when he leaves the theater indicates he did at least have a good time. The lack of any typical character development here actually works in the movie’s favor as it leaves all of this up to the viewer to decide. As such, Poole’s film serves not only as something to arouse those intrigued by the carnal side of homosexuality but also to ensure that there’s more to the visual side of this than just a bunch of well-built men getting to know one another in the most intimate sense imaginable.

    Poole’s background in theater becomes evident in the scenes that take place inside. Bright, bold and colorful lighting pours over the participants as it would on a stage. It makes for some interesting visual contrasts. While the lack of narrative and explicit content will no doubt be a deal breaker for some, as work of outsider art Bijou is not only historically significant but technically impressive as well.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Vinegar Syndrome presents Bijou in its original fullframe aspect ratio “scanned at 2K from the original 16mm elements and fully restored” and it looks very good on DVD, in fact it’s hard to imagine this forty year old low budget feature looking any better in standard definition than it does here. The black levels are nice and deep, which makes the scenes that take place inside Bijou almost otherworldly, while the lighting used in those same scenes bathes everything in interesting and well defined shades of color. Skin tones look lifelike and accurate and there aren’t any issues with compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction. There’s really very little in the way of actual print damage to note though a natural and expected amount of grain is obvious. As you’d expect from Vinegar Syndrome at this point in the game, the transfer is a strong one.

    The only audio option on the disc is a Dolby Digital Mono track, there are no alternate language options or subtitles provided but as there really isn’t any dialogue, that’s not such a big deal. The levels are nicely balanced and the music used throughout the movie has a bit more depth than you might expect for an older mono track. This isn’t a fancy mix by any stretch but it certainly gets the job done and sounds true to source.

    The biggest extra on the disc is an audio Commentary with Wakefield Poole, who speaks quite candidly about working on this film after the success of his first feature, Boys In The Sand. He points out some interesting transitions in the film, how we go from the wheel of a crane at the construction site to the wheel of a Mercedes Benz before the accident or how we go from a poster of Christ (he being the ‘Prince Of Peace’) to a Prince Street sign as the construction worker heads downtown. He also shares some interesting stories about how he got Bill Harrison on board to play the lead, where some of the other actors came from, how the granddaughter of Lydia Black approached him at a screening of the film and more. He also talks about the locations used in the film, noting that everything that takes place inside Bijou proper was actually shot entirely inside his own apartment. This is almost an entirely ‘fact based’ track, he doesn’t offer any real interpretation of the events seen in the movie and makes the point more than once that he intentionally made the film vague so that viewers could make up their own minds about what transpires. There are a few spots where he clams up for a minute or so but for the most part, this is quite an interesting listen.

    Poole also pops up in a short optional video introduction to the feature and in a five minute piece in which he talks about screening Bijou at the home of an academic who watched it with his family on Easter Sunday. We won’t spoil how this played out but let it suffice to say that it’s a funny story. There’s also a vintage public access interview done with Poole around the time of the film’s theatrical release in which the interviewer asks how the filmmaker got the specific look of the film nailed down and in which they discuss Al Goldstein’s polarized reactions to both Boys In The Sand and Bijou.

    Rounding out the extras are a two minute video interview with author Linda Williams, who has written extensively about adult films and who offers up some insight into the fantasy versus reality aspect of this production, fifteen minutes of unused audition footage (we actually see this used as the content projected to the construction worker inside Bijou but this is it in its unedited form) and the film’s original theatrical trailer. Static menus and chapter selection are also provided.

    The Final Word:

    It’s easy to see why Bijou would have an appeal outside of gay cinema circles, as it’s quite well made and artistically inventive. Vinegar Syndrome’s release is a very respectful one, offering up the film in remarkable shape and with plenty of extras that not only document the film’s history but offer up some cultural perspective as well.