“Song of the Loon”
Coming to Terms with Sexual Orientation
I will never forget seeing “Song of the Loon” when it came out in 1970 because it made me feel my life had been validated. The film is based on Richard Amory’s 1966 novel of the same name and set in the mountains of California in the 1870s. An old mountain man, Calvin (Brad Fredericks), tells how he lost his lover, Royce (Ephraim MacIver), who was upset about the way other homosexuals kept changing partners. The young man went to see an Indian medicine man who told him that it was all right to have more than one lover. His mind at ease, Royce moved on to find others with whom to share his love, leaving Calvin alone in the mountains. For its time this was an excellent film about a man coming to terms with his sexual orientation.
The scenery is real and while the acting is the kind we see in “B” movies, it still tells its story with an honesty that was not found in American films until the late 1980’s. There is full-frontal male nudity and the film is erotic but is not pornographic.
This film is available today but you have to search of it. If you do see it, it is wise to read the book first. Some of the actions in the movie are explained in the book so it makes better sense. If you watch this movie understanding when it was made and the attitude toward gay books and movies, it is amazing it was made at all. This is a love story about several men and shows the problems the characters had in the story still exist today.
Cyrus Wheelwright realizes he’s gay but has trouble coming to grips with it because of his ex. For its time this was groundbreaking. It’s probably the first gay coming of age story caught on film.. The script is interesting–some of the talks about men loving men are fascinating (for its time). There is a beautiful fireside talk between Ephraum and Cyrus leading to a tender kiss. The two sex scenes show absolutely nothing that could be considered hard core.
This is what came to be known as a ‘coming out drama’. The drama is played as an allegory, with the Loon standing in for the out gay man and the villains of the piece. “Song of the Loon” intersperses narrative with montage sequences, the latter mostly involving soft-core episodes of lovemaking. The film was clearly made on a low budget; much of the editing and all of the acting is fair but he film is very earnest – there is hardly a moment of humor in the entire running time. “As a cultural and historical document of the time it was made, replete with coy eroticism, free-love preachiness and enlightenment through hallucinatory vision-quests, this has considerable value”.