Celluloid Atrocities | 04.06

Warhol aside, Raro is best known for finally bringing decent prints of the equally impossible to see Alejandro Jodorowsky films El Topo and The Holy Mountain to DVD (which is funny, because one could make a good argument that El Topo also qualifies as a gay cowboy movie).

 

You know, when I wrote my review of Brokeback Mountain back in early December, I used the whole “gay cowboys in film has been done before” as my lead, and was kind of unhappy with myself for doing so, because I figured it was way too obvious and that many a film critic was going to do the exact same thing. However, in all of the many reviews I read for that film, I did not catch one other reviewer who drew the same line from the kitschy gay westerns such as Lust in the Dust to the Oscar-winning gay western that is Brokeback. Hell, even in the montage at the beginning of the Oscars that illustrated that gay cowboys are not a new thing, none of the more blatant gay cowboy movies were excerpted (although it would have been a little cheap if they had been).

To this day, the ultimate gay cowboy movie remains the 1968 Andy Warhol film Lonesome Cowboys, which, among other scenes of filmic brilliance, features pretty young cowboys using hitching posts to stretch and preen upon. Unfortunately, those who want to see Lonesome Cowboys or any other Warhol film have long been screwed, as they have never been legally released on any home video format in America or most other countries. As a double whammy, they also rarely screen on film in anywhere but the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh or the occasional one-off at a major museum in big cities (a selection of his films screened in St. Louis at the Webster Film Series a few years back). Fortunately for those unlucky enough to have never seen any of his films, an Italian DVD company called Raro Video has somehow been scoring the rights to release his films in big, bilingual packages, boasting pristine transfers of the films and lots of informative background information in fat insert booklets.

Lonesome Cowboys was just released in March, but this isn’t the first score from Warhol’s impenetrable back catalog by Raro; in the past few years, they’ve released his iconic, entirely watchable, three-hour-plus epic Chelsea Girls, as well as The Nude Restaurant, My Hustler (one of the first and best outwardly gay narrative films), I a Man (which features Valerie Solanas, the woman who went on to shoot Warhol), Vinyl (the pre-Kubrick adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ novel A Clockwork Orange), and a compilation of four silent films, most noteworthy among them Blow Job. (Blow Job aside, this package is frustrating, because it features truncated versions of both Kiss and Empire—although shortening Empire was probably necessary, as the full film is eight hours long.) Raro has also released the already available-in-America films that Paul Morrissey made in Warhol’s Factory, such as the Flesh/Trash/Heat trilogy, or Blood for Dracula. (Now if they’d just release the original theatrical 3-D version of Flesh for Frankenstein; how’d Criterion drop the ball on that one?) Warhol aside, Raro is best known for finally bringing decent prints of the equally impossible to see Alejandro Jodorowsky films El Topo and The Holy Mountain to DVD (which is funny, because one could make a good argument that El Topo also qualifies as a gay cowboy movie).

Although there’s a burgeoning culture of hardcore film wieners (myself included) who have region-free DVD players and will import DVDs from all over the world (witness the regular columns regarding this trend in the magazines Sight & Sound and Cinemascope), Raro makes it even easier than that. Most relatively savvy film aficionados know that DVDs are region coded, such that if you buy a DVD from a different continent, it will not work on your American DVD player. Raro, however, doesn’t region code their DVDs. There’s still the issue of Italy being on a PAL signal versus America being on the NTSC signal, but if your computer is capable of playing DVDs, it will automatically be able to correct this (although a regular DVD player would not be able to).

At this juncture, I’m not entirely sure of the implications of Raro being able to legally release both Warhol’s and Jodorowsky’s respective back catalogues. Will American DVD companies get the green light soon? Are the copyright laws more lax in Italy? Perhaps American DVD companies assume that American audiences don’t give a shit about historically significant and supremely strange films such as Chelsea Girls or El Topo, and the issue is that they won’t release them. Regardless, it’s nice that, while they still involve a little bit of tracking down (www.xploitedcinema.com or www.scarecrow.com are good options, or you can order directly from Raro’s Web site), the films are much easier to see now than since their initial releases back in the ’60s and ’70s. www.rarovideo.com

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