Peter de Rome
was one of the very first gay pornographer filmmakers who made small intimate and highly erotic movies in the early 1960’s when it was still illegal to be gay let alone partake in homosexual acts in public. He was an Englishmen who emigrated to New York in the 1950’s lured by the prospect of working in the movie industry as a publicist, but when his first job was delayed he ended up working as a Salesman in Tiffany’s on Fifth Avenue where Audrey Hepburn had Breakfast!
De Rome took himself from selling expensive jeweled baubles in Manhattan to quitting town to help the Civil Rights movement in the Deep South before coming back to the City again to publicize Hollywood movies by day and make his own short porn films by night. These were the heady days when gay sex was totally about having fun and being playful and whilst most gay porn was about getting the audience aroused so they could just beat off, De Rome’s was so much more than that. He put stories into them and even when they were based on, and starring, random men he picked up in the streets to have sex with, he incorporated the whole scenario into a narrative.
They certainly contained full and explicit sex but much more than this, they were sensual, fully of suspense and tension, and highly erotic with a twist. His personal preference for hunky black men became a very strong feature in his work, and one of the ground-breaking elements in Adam and Yves his first full length feature that he eventually made in Paris in 1974, was the fact that he included an orgy scene that only included black men.
His work was often played at private parties and as word spread through the homosexual demi-monde it attracted some very famous fans such as Warhol
who wanted to a make a film with him, and William S Burroughs
who sent him an idea for another film. We learn all about this and about de Rome’s life in general in a new documentary filmed now just before he almost reached his 90th birthday. Despite the fact that his porn had made hm quite the celebrity in the US, and getting him a small Retrospective in Amsterdam in the 1970’s, they were never ever shown back in the UK at all. That is until 2012 when the BFI
showed a selection of them at the London Gay & Lesbian Film Festival
and had them added to their National Archive.
His work represents an essential part of gay history on so many levels. Not just because of the whole spectrum of people that it brought de Rome into contact with ….. Sir John Gielgud was a big fan who wanted him to film a story he had written …. but because it represented a time of innocence, when even though the Law placed restrictions on homosexual liberty it was still somehow much freer with people fully exploring their sexuality for the first time. The advent of the AIDS pandemic stopped all that and De Rome packed his camera away for ever thinking it inappropriate to keep filming sex which seemed to be the very thing that was now killing a whole swathe of our community
It’s a fascinating story although documentarian Ethan Reid
lets this profile ramble on unnecessarily at times and whilst the elderly and totally charming De Rome can be forgiven for often repeating himself, Reid does us all a disservice for his rather clumsy editing. Despite this the disarming and charming De Rome (who would have preferred the title Grand Daddy of Porn
) and the very explicit clips of his movie make this rather inadequate documentary so worth sitting through as he and they are gems. They will also intrigue enough to want to see more , and you can do that now as several are on a collected DVD
of his work.