Aug 24, 2015

That Boy: My First Porn Film

It may be a little strange to mention a porn film in a G-rated blog, but That Boy (1974) is special.  It was a defining moment in my life, the first gay erotic film I ever saw, in the spring of 1984, during my second year at Indiana University.  My friend Viju and I drove into Indianapolis to go to the bars, and someone invited us to see it with him.  There was a midnight showing in a sleazy theater near Monument Circle.

The star, 32-year old Peter Berlin, moved from Germany to San Francisco in the early 1970s and quickly became a gay icon, appearing in magazines and films, acting as his own cinematographer.  He was renowned for his gleaming, muscular physique and gigantic bulge, but more importantly for his utter lack of guilt, hesitation, and fear.



There was no such thing as a closet in Peter Berlin's world, no such thing as homophobia.  Only endless nights of cruising -- but not the meaningless, destructive tricks that later generations condemned us for.  A glorious sexual freedom that was, in itself, fulfilling enough to be the sole purpose of life.

That Boy has more of a plot than the usual porn film: An unnamed sexual Everyman (Peter) wanders through a bucolic San Francisco, looking at men, and being looked at.  That gaze, being an object of adoration, is even more glorious than the sexual acts themselves.  But then he looks at a boy who does not look back.

Could this be the one person on Earth who does not desire him?  No, the boy is blind, so Peter must try new, different tactics to draw him into the world of sexual freedom.


During his heyday, Peter Berlin was filmed, drawn, photographed, and painted by such greats as Tom of Finland and Andy Warhol, and had several exhibitions of his own work.  Then in the 1980s, AIDS, neoconservative retrenchment, and changing sexual mores made him seem quaintly naive, even dangerous.  He disappeared from the public eye.












Today he is over 70 years old, still living quietly in San Francisco, still happily recalling how he gave a  generation of gay men a glimpse of what it was like to experience sexual desire without apology or regret.

His films Nights in Black Leather and That Boy have been released on DVD, and a documentary, That Man, appeared in 2005.

See also: Raul and I Bankrupt the Gay Porn Industry.