All Man: The International Male Story, is a compelling feature documentary debut of Bryan Darling and Jesse Finley Reed that highlights a crucial part of queer history. It may not be as serious as events like the Stonewell Riots but it most certainly plays its own role in the evolution of the queer community.
Founded by the very charismatic ex AirForceman Gene Burkard in the 1970s, when the bulk of men’s clothes were brought by wives or mothers. In those days they were very limited choices which were both boring and totally inspiring ensuring that no men were interested in shopping at all Except for a few of course, and when Burkard focused his catalog on all flamboyant clothes, from wild-patterned shirts and mesh tank tops to the bikini-est of bikini underwear, he hit upon the jackpot.
He knew that if had them all modeled by chiseled men held up as paragons of masculinity, then straight men could be tempted to wear them, whereas gay men could semi-legitimately lust after the scantily clad men. It very cleverly proved fashion’s power to unite the interests of gay and straight men.
Despite Burkard’s bravado, the need to avoid all direct references to even the existence of gay men makes one appreciate the sheer depth of his success in such a homophobic society. But succeed he did and at its height, the catalog had a circulation of more than 3 million and was bringing in $120 million in revenues.
In his narration, Matt Boomer says “Together, Burkard and his small team created something that would change the way men would look at themselves, and how the world would look at them” Burkard would maintain it was not a gay magazine which was something that the very conservative mainstream catalog giant Hanover Direct believed when they purchased the business in 1988.
The 1990”s in the midst of the AIDS pandemic were not just a tough time for all the loved ones we lost, but it made it difficult for any businesses perceived as being gay. The end was in sight and the last mailed catalog of International Male was published in 2007. Burkard died on December 11, 2020.
Whatever we may think now of some of the clothes that border on the ridiculous, our debt to the forward-thinking Burkard so deserves his story being documented in the way. His very influence on designing and marketing men’s fashions is born out today in the work of the likes of Bruce Weber and fashion chains such as Abercrombie. The freedom for us to be able to wear clothes that mirrored our personalities and make us feel good about ourselves …….. and to finally be able to ditch our tighty whiteys …… is something that Burkalrd pioneered.
And if you are a gay man of a certain age, you will never ever forget the rush of adrenaline when that catalog landed on your doorstep. Oh those good old days!
All Man Doc is having its Premiere at TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL and then will be screening at Provincetown Film Festival
Review : Roger Walker-Dack
Editor in Chief : Queerguru Member of G.A.L.E.C.A. (Gay & Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association) and NLGJA The Association of LGBT Journalists. and The Online Film Critics Society. Ex Contributung Editor The Gay Uk & Contributor Edge Media Former CEO and Menswear Designer of Roger Dack Ltd in the UK one of the hardest-working journalists in the business' Michael Goff of Towleroad
Labels: 2022, ALL MAN, Bryan Darling, documentary, fashion, International Male, Jesse Finley Reed, queer history