Thursday, November 20, 2008


TLA Releasing has released on DVD, WRANGLER: ANATOMY OF AN ICON (dir. Jeffrey Schwarz, US, 2008, 82 mins.), which was one of the hits of the past year's GLBT film festival circuits, as well as a pleasant little romp down my memory lane! Twenty-odd years ago, I saw KANSAS CITY TRUCKING COMPANY, and I was "in love"! It was at the end of the "film era" of pornography, before "video" took over, so the graininess of the image only added to the mystique and fantasy of the situations of the film. Not to mention the unique contribution that Jack Wrangler brought to the medium, in which he was actually performing, more than prostituting himself. He was a much more accessible erotic performer than Peter Berlin, in that the persona he created was an "everyman" more than a "fantasy man", while playing against any prevailing cinematic stereotypes. He magnified "butch appeal", and was as gritty as the situations in which he was filmed. What makes Wrangler such a compelling documentary subject, however, has to do with his life before and after his success as a porn star.

The film is divided into three sections: his boyhood, his stardom, and his atypical career and marriage to Margaret Whiting. I resist to detail any of his life story here, as it would spoil the film and the surprises that he has to tell. However, I will say it is the way he tells his story, the charm and wit which has served him so well, that elevates the film. He interviews with such joy as he looks back at his sometimes notorious life, both in front and behind the camera, for the opposite of reasons (he received a great deal of 'gay backlash' for appearing in straight films, as well as his marriage to Margaret Whiting), that the film becomes infectious! In fact, in the "Extras" there are out-takes, which are just as entertaining (if not MORE so!) than the interviews that are in the final cut! I was glued to the extra half hour of interviews after the actual film had ended.

Interviews include various figures from his life, i.e. Margaret Whiting, her daughter Debbie, theatrical stars and designers with whom he has worked with as a writer and director, as well as some social commentary (i.e. Bruce Vilanche and Michael Musto). There is a plethora of video and stills that illustrate his life and career, and it is noted within the accompanying commentary track (featuring the director, Jeffrey Schwartz, the editor, Jaime Meyers) about how difficult the decision it was to maintain a modicum of taste, without denying his pornographic past. After all, the sex is what he is and will probably always be known for, though he has moved so far beyond that.

The transfer includes film and video elements, and though some of those elements have obviously worn a bit with age, there is a fairly decent balance in color and brightness, though there is minimal correction and perhaps nearly no restoration of historical elements. The sound features an unusual soundtrack, which is almost overly analyzed in the commentary by composer, Michael Cudahy. The commentary is a bit repetitive, since it is talking about the subject talking about itself, so it is fairly unnecessary. It continues to refer to outtakes that are included in the Extras, anyway, so I would skip the commentary and go straight to the outtakes. Also, there is a picture gallery that will save you from having to hit the pause button during playback of the film.

The film is available from TLA Releasing and retails for $19.99.

Maxxxxx says

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