“I Always Said Yes: The Many Lives of Wakefield Poole”
Extended Director’s Cut Now Available
Wakefield Poole is a man to remember—dancer, choreographer and director; Poole was an early gay liberation worker. He made porn films but he says he was not a pornographer. He was first and foremost a filmmaker, one who used his backgrounds in theater and dance to make other movies that were sensually and erotically beautiful and he challenged both the mind and the status quo. There were those that loved his work and there were those who felt that he was doing little more than “dirty movies”. Now you can see Jim Tushinski’s wonderful documentary on Poole on Vimeo on Demand with exclusive extras or on iTunes or Amazon.
Poole was born in Jacksonville, Florida in 1936 and his life certainly was not one that could have been lived in Florida. He felt New York beckoning and in 1957 he joined the company of Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.
Jim Tushinski has been working on this film for years and he should be very proud of what he gives us. He shows us a man who was openly gay at a time when not many gay men were out. He has been overlooked as a gay icon and historical figure but he was a pioneer in both of those fields. Poole lived at a strange time in American history and to be open about his homosexuality at a time when the closet was home to so many but he even went a step further and pushed sexuality onto the big screen. At that time, anyone involved in pornography could be put in jail or at the least face a trial and a heavy fine. To become internationally famous for making erotic films was something for a young man from the South. I believe it is fair to say that Poole invented the modern gay porn film but that is just one thing about Wakefield Poole. He was quite a dancer having danced on and choreographed for Broadway. He owned a boutique in San Francisco; he was an avid art collector and a leader.
The year 1971 was a very important year for Poole. His film “Boys in the Sand” was screened at a New York movie house and this caused a revolution. The film was made on a very tight budget with a few friends and a hot new young man, Casey Donovan, who went on be a major person in gay erotica. So what was special about “Boys in the Sand”? First of all it had a bit of a story, good looking actors, a beautiful setting (The Pines) and sex. It was not just porn—it had a wonderful director in Poole.
One of the amazing aspects of this film is the amount of research that director Tushinski did in order to give us a complete picture. Using Poole’s autobiography, “Dirty Poole: A Sensual Memoir”, Tushinski tracked down the people and the events that played important parts in his life. The director also had the plus that his subject was not just alive but a partner in the creation of this film.
As I stated earlier Poole was a man of many faces and had friends and co-workers everywhere and from all classes of people. Some of you may be surprised to learn of his work with such Broadway luminaries as Richard Rodgers, Michael Bennett and Stephen Sondheim. He transitioned from stage to screen after seeing some Andy Warhol’s experimental films. He was well aware that gay porn was of inferior quality and decided that he could make quality gay porn films and thus “Boys in the Sand” was born in 1971. He made a star of Casey Donovan and brought porn to the attention of many. Poole said his porn “challenged the mind”—the quality of the film both artistically and plot wise was certainly a step up from what had been available until then. When we consider that the film was screened in a movie theater, we realize that it was indeed something quite big. This was a revolution for gay porn and for Poole. The film was made on a skimpy budget and featured Donovan and some of Poole’s friends but it created a whole new atmosphere and feelings about erotica. This was the first time that hot gay men had hot gay sex on screen and it became a very hot ticket attracting both gay and straight people.
Poole’s next stop was San Francisco where he and Harvey Milk were close friends but unfortunately Poole became a coke addict and this cost him his art collection and leaving some of his artistic integrity on the side, he began to direct porn that was mass produced for a gay porn studio. Looking back at his life we are lucky to have him and see him get the kind of recognition that he deserves and yes, even though parts of this review is written in the past tense, Poole is very much alive. Even more important, this is not just a film about Wakefield Poole, it is a look at gay history.