Meat Rack (1968)
Directed by Michael Thomas
Tuesday, June 12 at Light Industry
Queer soft-core spectacle with touches of the 60s European art-house, Michael Thomas's Meat Rack follows a clean-cut suburban kid who starts turning tricks in San Francisco's burgeoning gay demimonde. The film is a document of the scene in SF —a perennial touchstone for LGBTQ culture, recently Forest Gumped in Gus Van Sant's Milk—as well as a pre-Deep Throat jerk-off quickie, and a bizarre Freudian pastiche.
Blurry flashbacks of the hero's broken suburban childhood gesture at an explanation of his lifestyle: his father was gay; his mother bitter and unloved. The scenes recall Hitchcock's Marnie, which offered its own vulgar Freudianism, and, in exaggerating Hitchcock's camp perversity, look forward to the Marnie homage in Peter Jackson's Dead Alive.
At one point in Meat Rack, the main character's mother gives a speech about economic realism, telling him to make a living with what he's got, as it were. While the sex in Meat Rack is tame re: physical details, the emotional valences carry a harsh sense of realpolitik. Sexual attitudes are transactional, and not just for those in the closet. Meat Rack's only scene of straight sex is done mise en abyme, with the partners agreeing to star in a bargain-basement porn film, their embraces circled by a Bolex.
The last section of Meat Rack goes Brokeback Mountain; the protagonist, nominally married, has genuine affection for his wife, but can't seem to help himself from hustling. The psychology here is quietly subversive; while earlier in the film the main character was given an economic motivation, his behavior now becomes distilled compulsion. The wife, on discovering him, runs into the street and is hit by a car.
Repression, in turns out, is deadly, and for everyone involved. And Thomas, it seems, took his film's thesis to heart; he went on to found Strand Releasing in the late 80s, a distribution company that became a prime mover in queer cinema—itself a prime mover in LGBTQ visibility—putting out films by Isaac Julien, Gregg Araki, and Bruce LaBruce.