Brown, Arch. “A Pornographer ”, Chelsea Station Editions, 2017.
With the death of Arch Brown in 2012, our community lost a very valuable member. Wile in the process of archiving his Possessions, an unpublished memoir with the simple title of “A Pornographer” was found and now it has finally been published giving us great insight into the man who for eighteen years was responsible for making homoerotic films. His memoir includes his interviews in the late 1960s and early 1970s with many of the men and women who wanted to star in his sex films including some who did not make it into his films. These interviews and films took place in the ten years after gay liberation finally began to take hold. The films were great successes and Brown soon had an international following.
When his film, “Tuesday” was selected, it was the only gay film to be included by the First New York Erotic Film Festival in its nation-wide release of winning films. The distributors were then charged with promoting obscenity. Brown also directed several documentary films on art and culture including a series on English as a Second Language for New York University. As if these films were not enough to be a legacy for Brown, he also was a playwright and a photographer. He had nine productions of his plays across the United States for over fifteen years and his still photographs and collages have appeared in “Mandate”, “Honcho”, “The Village Voice” and “Michael’s Thing”. His essays and reviews have appeared in The Advocate, The Villager, Manhattan G.A.Z.E. and he had a regular column on “Television and Society” in the New York Native. Brown founded G-MAN, The Gay Men’s Arts Network and, in memory of his partner Bruce Brown who died in 1993, he sponsored The Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation, which continues to give grants to gay-positive arts projects based on history. I wonder how many people outside of the New York area are familiar with his work but that becomes a moot issue with the publication of this book by Chelsea Station Editions (headed by author Jameson Currier, one of my favorite writers).
It is not necessary to be familiar with Brown’s work in order to enjoy this book. He does not even name his films in his memoir and when he writes about his cast members, he does so using made-up first names. Therefore what we really get here is something of a psychological look at those who enjoy having sex in front of a camera and how why they are responded to as they are. It is not all sex here—we also learn about Brown as a receptionist, gopher, casting agent, writer, director, stagehand, cameraman, talent scout, friend, and psychiatrist. To be sure, it was his films that brought him public attention and awareness but he was so much more than sex films. He was really known for the “quality and style” of his work with its inventive direction and his approach putting him way above the average pornographers of his time. He did not engage in the sordidness that was often common to the porn of that period.
Brown thought off himself as a pornographer and he waned his works to be judged as pornography. He tells us that he made porn films because he felt that lovemaking is “one of the greatest areas of life, a pleasure, a release”. He shows us this in his films but bemoans the fact that those who need to understand that are those who do not see his films.
The book contains a short biographical sketch (after all, the entire book is a form of biography), illustrations and photographs, two appendices (one of the films and the other on critical reception) and “Remembering Arch Brown” by James Waller, the president of the Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation and it is absolutely fascinating. When I began reading “A Pornographer”, I did so slowly but soon found that the more I read, the more I wanted to know so my first reading was sped up so that I could read it critically a second time and I must add that for me this is one of the best reading experiences that I have had lately.