Saturday, December 11th, 2021

Queerguru’s Ris Fatah reviews PAT ROCCO DARED incredible life story of one of Hollywood’s original boundary pushing gay pioneers.


In this colorful trip back in time, legendary queer filmmaker and trailblazing gay rights activist Pat Rocco shares his incredible life story as one of Hollywood’s original boundary-pushing pioneers. This really is a must-see film to fully understand the history of American queer culture and activism over the past 50 years. Rocco is the most famous gay person you might not have heard about before.

Canadian documentary filmmaker Charlie David combines fantastic vintage footage, film clips, and interviews with Rocco and friends such as Phyllis Diller, to tell the story of Rocco, the activist, filmmaker, artist, and entertainer.

Rocco was an unashamedly out gay man in Hollywood from the age of 17. This was very rare in 1951. Having sung in choirs as a youth, he managed to find gigs in radio, nightclubs, and theatres. With his true talent and undeniable charisma, showman Rocco made his way to television variety shows, starring alongside legends like Phyllis Diller.

In the early 1960s, as obscenity laws began to be relaxed, Rocco began taking and selling erotic pictures of nude men and this led to him making films of them. He began to focus his energy on his films which became very popular in the late 1960s. He sold his erotic, playful, and romantic nude male films in the backs of local magazines, and in 1968, he was offered his own film festival at Los Angeles’ Park Theatre – the first of its kind. It was an instant hit and Rocco continued to pump out more films as fast as he could, pushing new boundaries with each one – even shooting nude men running on LA’s freeways. His films were shown in art theatres and sometimes even on big theater screens. As they were erotic rather than pornographic, they were allowed to be screened.  In A Very Special Friend, Rocco dared to screen the first kiss between two men ever seen on a big theater screen. Artistic, erotic, and highly romanticized – always focusing on the positive aspects of queer love – his films were controversial, not due to how explicit they were but rather their bold political and artistic expression. Rocco even shot a gay film in Disneyland, Disneyland Discovery, featuring songs from Disney films – much to the chagrin of the Disney corporation who blocked the film’s release. The documentary features many full-frontal clips of Rocco’s films of beautiful, naked, well-hung men having fun.

Rocco was also an activist on the front lines of the emerging sexual liberation movement. Combining talent and tenacity, Rocco documented the many queer rights grassroots protests in Los Angeles and San Francisco in the sixties and seventies, including bravely recording the then vicious LAPD regularly harassing gay men in bars and clubs. Rocco also campaigned with legendary gay San Francisco politician Harvey Milk. There is great footage of Harvey Milk’s historic speech and attendance at the Los Angeles Pride parade shortly before his murder. He also was one of the first filmmakers to capture the trans community in a positive light. Without Pat’s films, much of the early LGBTQ rights movement would be undocumented as the mainstream press was not covering it. 

He was the first President of Christopher Street West (producers of LA Pride), and in 1974, the first to organize a Pride festival following the annual sexual liberation march. He wanted LA Pride to be a parade of love and celebration of queer love rather than anger and protest. Open to everyone regardless of sexuality or race, LA Pride quickly became hugely popular. Love and romance were his political weapons. The documentary features lots of amazing footage of the early gay pride parades and festivals in Los Angeles.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell, just do it,” Rocco advises David in one of their final exchanges. It is of great importance that contributions from change-makers like Pat Rocco are woven into the larger narrative of our collective human rights history. Audiences will be amazed and inspired by the things that Pat Rocco dared to do – he truly was a pivotable part of queer history, and a model for today’s ongoing activism.

N.B. The film is screening  at  https://whistlerfilmfestival.com/films-online/
until December 31st : for future access contact https://www.border2border.ca/


Review: Ris Fatah 

Queerguru Contributing Editor Ris Fatah is a successful fashion/luxury business consultant  (when he can be bothered) who divides and wastes his time between London and Ibiza. He is a lover of all things queer, feminist, and human rights in general. @ris.fatah

Posted by queerguru  at  11:59

Genres:  documentary, steamy

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