The film was credited to ‘Anonymous’, which led some to think it was by Andy Warhol. Or perhaps Kenneth Anger. The mix of kitsch and beautiful imagery pointed to both. However, they were wrong. For years no one knew who had made Pink Narcissus. This was until the writer Bruce Benderson became obsessed with this subversively erotic film and decided to track down its director - James Bidgood.
Shot on Super-8, Pink Narcissus is a sumptuous film depicting the erotic fantasies of a gay male prostitute (Bobby Kendall), who visualizes himself in various homage to “gay whack-off fantasies”.
Bidgood arrived in New York in 1951. He worked as a female impersonator, hairdresser, set designer and then photographer. Bidgood started taking pix for Adonis and Muscleboy. At first he was disappointed with the results. He told the New York Times:
“There was no art,” Bidgood laments. “They were badly lit and uninteresting. Playboy had girls in furs, feathers and lights. They had faces like beautiful angels. I didn’t understand why boy pictures weren’t like that.”
Bidgood made his own erotic tableaux, which mixed beauty and kitsch. His first Watercolors presented a young man swimming through a fabulous, shimmering grotto—which he built and photographed in his cramped apartment. He told Butt magazine:
“Models were not that easy to find especially for the kind of work I was doing which called for more of the subject’s time than a pose or two wearing less than two square inches of jersey and some elastic and leaning against some fagelas elaborate mantelpiece. In the time I needed to do one shot they could turn ten tricks. And there weren’t all that many great beauties around willing to be photographed nude or semi nude in homoerotic situations. Remember this was before being gay and/or being a ‘male escort’ or pornography, quasi or otherwise, were as acceptable or mainstream as they are now.”
Bidgood created his own distinct style, which later inspired the careers of Pierre et Giles, and David La Chappelle.
Between 1963 and 1971, Bidgood worked on Pink Narcissus. It was shot in his Hell’s Kitchen apartment. Bidgood designed and made the sets, provided the make-up and costume, and used the neighborhood hustlers as his cast. It was an incredible undertaking, and one that eventually led his frustrated backers to take the film from Bidgood and finish it themselves. This was why Bidgood took his name off the finished film.
“See, why I took my name off of it was that I was protesting, which I’d heard at the time that’s what you did…. I’d take my name off and then they’d go “Mr. Bidgood took his name off because…” But it turns out they kept me in the closet, and all you had to do was ask anybody who’s been in it and they’d say, you know, “Jim did this.” It wasn’t like a big mystery, but you would have thought, and then years later I was ‘outed’.”
Previously on DM