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Gay Sex in the 70s (2005)
Directed by:  Joseph Lovett
Distributed by:  Frameline
Run time:  72 minutes
Country:  U.S.A.

Review by: Wik Wikholm
Reviewed on: October 01, 2010

Gay Sex in the 70s is a compilation of the reminiscences of gay New Yorkers about the sexual freedom and libertinism they experienced during the period between the Stonewall riots in 1969 and the emergence of AIDS in the early 1980s. Most of those interviewed were among the predominantly young, white, attractive, relatively affluent men who lived in or cruised Manhattan's West Village and sought sex on Fire Island on summer weekends during the 1970s. They vary from relative unknowns to such luminaries as writer Larry Kramer and photographer Tom Bianchi.

The historical narrative that structures Gay Sex in the 70s is simple: The Stonewall riots of 1969 unleashed pent up sexual energy among young men who had previously been repressed and closeted, but were now freed to come out and play. As the decade progressed, venues for orgiastic sex proliferated and came to include piers, parks, bars, clubs, baths, loading docks, truck trailers, and the beaches of Fire Island. The increasing use of recreational drugs such as marijuana, ecstasy, amphetamines, mescaline, poppers, LSD, and angel dust; the availability of ever more explicit pornography; and the free-love mores adopted from the Sexual Revolution contributed to even greater sexual disinhibition. The party came to a tragic and sudden end in the early 1980s when many of the revelers became sick and died of a mysterious disease that came to be known as AIDS.

The film tells its story well, but the selective recollections of the survivors of the 1970s generally celebrate the New York of that era as an untroubled gay Eden. The film touches on, but quickly brushes past, the de facto segregation and racism that existed when the clone look was de rigueur and mostly white. The narrow focus on the gay world of Christopher Street and Fire Island ignores rampant classism as well as the alienation experienced by men whose looks or mannerisms caused them to be explicitly rejected in the countless personal ads that ended with "No fats, no fems." The film's overreaching title gives the impression that the history of the small segment of the gay universe it presents is the whole story even though it ignores minority gay communities that existed in Harlem, Queens, Brooklyn, and elsewhere.

Despite the film's flaws, it is an excellent introduction to the sexual freedom that exploded in New York’s best-known gay ghetto in the 1970s because it is so well made and so rich in archival material unlikely to be seen elsewhere. Gay Sex in the 70s is not pornographic, but it necessarily includes a few sexually explicit photographs and film scenes that may make it unsuitable for use in some classrooms.

Where to Find this Video

Gay Sex in the 70s is available from most DVD retailers and is streamed on Netflix. For educational licensing, please contact Frameline.
 
Related Encyclopedia Entries
Documentary Film
Fire Island
Kramer, Larry
New York City
The Sexual Revolution, 1960-1980
Stonewall Riots
About Wik Wikholm
Wik Wikholm is the publisher of glbtq.com. He is always on the lookout for engaging, informative documentaries about all aspects of glbtq life and culture. You can reach him here.

 

 

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