Sunday, October 5, 2008

Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon (Documentary, Clip FIlm Festival, October 6, 2008)


IF you are interested in cinematic pornography of the heady, liberated decade of the 1970s and one of its headline-grabbing actors who sizzled the screen, then this next Clip Film Festival offering, screening tomorrow at 7:00 p.m. in the Tampa Theatre, is a must see. Wrangler: Anatomy of a An Icon is a sympathetic study of the life and career of superstar Jack Wrangler, an unparalleled icon of the fluttering hearts of many gay men.

On the surface, Jack’s unruly blond hair, piercing blue eyes, chiseled physique, and cocky swagger—a package wrapped in tight-fitting jeans and unbuttoned flannel shirt--seemed to epitomize what most gay men in that decade aspired to be. Yet for all that testosterone overloaded, adrenaline pumping hypermasculinity, there was much conflict beneath.

Born Jack Stillman in 1946, Jack was the son of showbiz parents. As a boy, Jack was thin and non-athletic, hardly the image of a jock in the aesthetic-driven Beverly Hills neighborhood he grew up in. Raised by a domineering, producer father, who ironically eschewed the idea of his weakling son entering the world of show business, Jack persisted, nevertheless. Not only did he become a star in the burgeoning gay and straight adult-film industry, making more than 80-plus films, he also found his niche in the legitimate theater. Unapologetic of his career path, Jack was an intelligent, self-confident stud. In his thirties, he shocked his fans when he married the 55-year-old songstress Margaret Whiting.

I saw this documentary, and found it insightful, even thoughtful at times. Perhaps the most incisive theme of this film—and it addresses more than one---is the struggle with the body image that most gay men go through. That struggle in turn took and continues to take many gay men either down the road of self-destruction or self-improvement. In the case of Jack, it was the latter. A less well-developed theme, or possibly just a question raised, is the definition of marriage: can love sustain it without sexual intimacy?

This documentary never borders on graphicness or salacious nudity, and so for those of you looking for lots of unbridled raunchy scenes you will be disappointed! Still, there is plenty of “eye candy” here since teasing snippets of Jack’s films have been spliced with interviews of Jack and his compatriots in this industry.

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