New to DVD as of right now, the Athletic Model Guild's Rasslin Rascals collects 13 wrestling releases from 1962 to 1966. The 8mm films have been lovingly restored for DVD as the most recent additions to the Bob Mizer Foundation's Americana Collection series. AMG founder Mizer (1922-1992) started making short films for the company in 1953 and filmed most of his muscly models at his mother's Los Angeles rooming house. His life at this time inspired the 1998 film Beefcake. In the decades since his death, Mizer's reputation has rightfully risen from amateur pornographer to twentieth-century artist and, just as important, a chronicler of homosexual America during some of the darkest years for gays and free artistic expression. Earlier this year, his work was honored with an exhibit sponsored by New York University. Last fall, Mizer, along with his frequent contributor Tom of Finland, was honored with an exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. His story films portray the randy misadventures of hot-rodding juvenile delinquents, escaped Roman slaves, cheeky demons, and cowboys, climaxing with some kind of jockstrap wrestling and fisticuffs, as close to depicting homoerotic desire as Mizer dared during the Cold War (and, even so, the US government confiscated the films and charged Mizer with pornography). He also shot films that focused primarily on wrestling, the subject of Rasslin Rascals.
The menu opens with a blast of surf guitar that would be right at home in an early Tarantino film. The first film, shot in 1966, stars bodybuilder Henri (Chris) Dickerson and Henry Bunkers, pictured above in a color still (the film is in black and white, and silent). Dickerson and Bunkers play a Roman centurion and the slave he holds captive--minimally costumed in posing straps and ancienty headgear. Bunkers is forced to clean the soldier's toenails, while Dickerson mocks him. The insulted slave fights back, jabbing the file into his oppressor's toe. Sensing he's got a slave with some spunk to him, Dickerson proposes that the two of them wrestle. Here, as in the other Mizer films, the wrestling is mostly posing, but still pretty hot almost fifty years later, with Dickerson stuck in some stretches that fill the screen with his ridiculously perfect torso. Ultimately he submits Bunkers with a figure-four headlock (and hairpulling). Master and slave then shake hands, smiling, and Bunkers rolls over on his back (his pouch respectfully tented) while Dickerson rests a foot on his stomach and strikes some poses for the camera.
The second feature is a 1964 wrestling match between David Goldsboro (in striped thong) and Terry Thurman in front of a giant ceramic clamshell. Could you get more campy? (I'd like to see somebody try.) David is babyface perfection, with a Brylcreemed bouffant (and Brylcreemed pecs to match). Both guys have sweet smiles and perfect teeth as they hold up a title card that announces their names. They flex their chests and biceps, exuding marshmallowy twink charm long before the word "twink" existed. A playful shoving match leads to a playful tussle. This, I think, is exactly what oil wrestling would be like at the Mickey Mouse Club. David laughs all the way into a sleeper hold, which he escapes by pulling Terry's hair. He reverses and torments Terry with a full nelson, with some more hair-yanking thrown in for good measure. Smiles go away as the friendly match turns into a near-perfect male catfight and then come back as the boys start friskily bumping crotches. The wrestling is energetic and mostly unchoreographed--way too much fun, jam-packed with jizz on the verge of eruption. I'm left stunned as I imagine how perfect my boyhood would have been if only David and Terry had been my next-door neighbors.
Up next, Janos (John) Hadnagy versus Donald Hawksley in 1962. You can watch this match (if you don't mind visually inferior unrestored footage) here. Janos and Donald wrestle outdoors, I'm assuming close to the swimming pool which features prominently in many an AMG production. The wrestling is convincing and mostly real submission wrestling. The action, captured from several angles, including a god's eye view from directly above (pretty amazing), is fast and competitive. In the photo above, taken from AMG's Physique Pictorial magazine, you can (barely) see some of the private code by which Mizer labeled his models. The symbols to the left of Janos's head (top) signify that Hadnagy "is a square," i.e., evidently, a straight guy who just doesn't get what AMG is all about, and one of the symbols to the right of Donald's head (bottom) translates as "expensive hustler." (The translation is from this webpage.)
The fourth short is a story film, titled "A Late Visitor" (1964), starring Howard Heidtmann, Bob Baker, and Tony Jost. It opens with Howard in bed, in rather fetching print pajamas, which he doffs after reading a note stating that Bob will be dropping in on him shortly before midnight. Like most AMG models of this period, Howard conveniently wears a posing strap underneath his nightclothes. Unpajamaed, he looks like one of the Aryan ubermenschen in Leni Riefenstahl's Olympia (1938): exquisitely built, but coolly unattainable. (Not so. We see Howard above in Physique Pictorial, and the codes--over his left arm--signify that he "Is a lover. Expensive hustler. Can be sucked. Can be penetrated.") Howard prepares for his night visitor by pinning up 8x10 glossies of the guy and making sure his door is locked.
Right on time, Bob climbs in through the bedroom window, wearing a black leather jacket (code that anyone can read: potential trouble). Howard greets him with an enthusiastic ... handshake. With some help from Howard, Bob strips down to a G-string (which Howard lends him) so that the two can ... hoist free weights together, until Howard sprains his lower back and lies down on the bed so that Bob can give him a rubdown. Suspecting fakery, Bob tickles then punches Howard, and the two start to wrestle on the bed, on the floor, then back on the bed. After a too-short bit of roughhouse, they jump in the bathtub together to ... wash each other's back. Suddenly the bedroom door begins to jiggle, and Bob hides under the bed just before Howard lets in Tony Jost in ... a fake beard and what looks like a ladies' nightgown.
Okay, it gets weird at this point. Tony sniffs around the room, suspecting something is up but unable to read anything into the fact that Howard is wearing a posing strap and that his bed is festooned with 8x10 glossies of a bodybuilder. He has to find the note before he suspects that Bob is under the bed. The crotchety old snoop (I'm available for this role if someone is planning a "Late Visitor" reboot) throws the two near-naked boys facedown on the bed and starts paddling their bare behinds as we ... fade to black.
Following that rather disappointing skit, the next film, called "Lancourt and Woods Play and Wrestle" (1964), at least promises more wrestling. The scene opens with platinum-blond Craig Lancourt lying on his stomach in the middle of a makeshift boxing ring, as he reads a paperback copy of Assault on a Queen (over a closed copy of The Hustler). Perhaps the best visual gag on the whole DVD, which is full of sly winks like this. Tom Woods arrives with two pairs of boxing gloves, tosses away Craig's book, and entices him to a round or two of friendly fisticuffs. Tom is my idea of hot (short curly hair, beetle-brow, an I'm-a-troubled-youth squint, long-waist, sinewy thighs), so I'm hoping he creams the blond bookworm. Unfortunately, they "box" as well as I do, all the while smiling big as if to tempt quick tooth loss. Bored with that, they try out some headstands, flips, and other homestyle acrobatics.
Then they wrestle. Wow! I did not see this coming! After the B-grade prefaces, I was expecting pussy-wrestling. Craig and Tom go at it like a couple of jungle cats. It's fast and fierce, like a speeded up fight scene from a 1930s Tarzan movie, only here it's the fighters who are speeded up, not the projector. Evidently, I was lulled into a false sense of security. I'm happy to find out that these two guys know how to wrestle, however caught by surprise I am. They climb all over each other, exulting at each (unheard) grunt elicited from the opponent (great as this fight is, I would have loved some sound along with it). And blondy is ferocious, more than holding his own against the tough-looking brunet, and ultimately kicking his ass.
The sixth match pits David Mineric (the leather boy on the magazine cover above) against blond Don Wiseman. If the picture doesn't say it all, Mizer's coded assessment of David is trouble with a capital T-R-O-U-B-L-E: "Can be penetrated. Can be sucked. Likes girls. Doesn't know what he wants. Male whore. Expensive hustler. Hostile; chip on shoulder." (Looking for Mr. Goodbar, anybody?) Mizer had a sort of genius for pairing up blond-versus-brunet bouts, and this 1963 biker jacket showdown is exemplary of the fact. It's got an unusual, rather clever angle. Against backdrops of sideshow posters, Wiseman performs a sort of circus strongman routine with barbells. David rides up on his hog (by which I mean "motorcycle," by the way) and starts to jeer him, going so far as to tickle under Don's arm while the man is trying to lift the weights.
Naturally, the two strip to posing straps and wrestle. Like Goldsboro-vs-Thurman, Hadnagy-vs-Hawksley, and Lancourt-vs-Woods above, Mineric-vs-Wiseman is a high-energy fight. Since these matches were 8mm reels under 200 feet, the action has to be fast to maximize the number of holds and moves we get to see amid 12-15-minutes storylines. From everything I've seen (quite a bit, but not everything), Mizer never cheated his mail-order customers. He squeezed as much into these short films as film stock and the law would permit.
Though, as some of you know, I'm not big on stories stealing the spotlight from the wrestling itself, I have to admit that the stories are what make some of these fights charming. Their conspiratorial double-entendres, acknowledging their mainly closeted fan base, persist in one form or another in underground gay/bi wrestling to this day (and in blogs about gay wrestling too), though "discretion" is far less compulsory now than it was in the 1960s. But it's the wrestling that makes these little films ignite. Still, is it art? I think so. It's history, anyway, our history, making us gay wrestling pervs no less a part of American homosexual history than drag queens, the Mattachine Society, and the Beats. In fifty years, perhaps BG East, Can-Am, Thunder's Arena, UCW-Wrestling, Rock Hard, and Naked Kombat will be recognized as an important second chapter in the history of "our people," hardy roughnecks who put Cena and The Rock on the same shelf as their Judy, La Divina, Oscar, and Blueboys. In the meantime, we still have a lot to learn from Mizer and these boys.
(To be continued, I hope.)