Color, 1971, 73m.
Directed by Wakefield Poole
Starring Casey Donovan, Peter Fisk, Danny Di Cioccio, Tommy Moore
Vinegar Syndrome (DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC)
Before he decked out adult movie screens with phantasmagoric sights in Bible! and Bijou, theatrical director-turned-filmmaker Wakefield Poole essentially inaugurated the all-male adult feature film and made an instant superstar out of Casey Donovan with Boys in the Sand, a dreamy visual study (all music, no dialogue) divided into three parts. The film coincided with the advent of mainstream porno chic with Deep Throat and The Devil in Miss Jones, sharing legit newspaper ad space with Hollywood films and drawing huge crowds excited by the sexual revolution.
A model who answered a casting call ad, Donovan had already appeared in the kinky drive-in favorite Ginger opposite Cheri Caffaro and proven his willingness to go further than most in front of a camera. Poole had already shot the first section of Boys in the Sand as a sort of pitch for financial aid, but the actor was demanding an unreasonable amount of money with Poole forced to reshoot it. Donovan proved to be a muse for the entire production, starring in all three segments and turning into the first celebrity of his kind. He quickly caught the eye of director Radley Metzger and, under his real name (Calvin Culver), starred in the witty, taboo-breaking sex comedy Score, followed by a memorable appearance in Metzger's hardcore classic The Opening of Misty Beethoven. At the time he was also in a years-long relationship with horror novelist and former actor Tom Tryon, author of The Other and Harvest Home, and he continued to balance theater, writing and adult work until his untimely death in 1987.
So, how's the actual movie? Seen out of context it feels more like a pornographic/classical music video than a narrative work, almost like three loops stitched together. (For the record, the onscreen titles are "Boys in the Sand," "Poolside," and the most experimental of the bunch, "Inside.") The first segment is easily the most famous as it features Donovan rising from the surf as a fantasy projection of Poole's real-life partner at the time, Peter Fisk, followed by a very artsy love scene and a return to the depths. The other two segments basically feature Donovan and the other cast members coupling around Fire Island, including a swanky house that became a symbol of the area's idyllic retreat for post-Stonewall gay men. Of course, in retrospect the film is also a melancholy snapshot of an era that would end horrifically in a decade, changing culture around the nation for a few years but then turning to activism and conscious raising.
The first DVD of Boys in the Sand was a less than impressive video transfer issued as part of a Wakefield Poole set (along with its much later shot-on-video sequel, The Back Row, and Bijou). That one is easily outdone by the 2014 edition from Vinegar Syndrome, their third Poole release. Just bear in mind that this film isn't as professionally shot as their other Poole titles, and this is still a splashy upgrade in every respect over past editions. There's also a video intro by Poole along with a tinny-sounding audio commentary, with topics including the owners of the scenic properties (which shot up in value after the film was released), the discovery of Donovan, Poole's romantic situation at the time, and the background of Colt model Danny Di Cioccio (who features in the second segment). The "abandoned" opening segment entitled "Peter and Dino" is basically a rough draft for the first act of the film with a different actor, Dino, replaced for those reasons mentioned above. (It all turned out better anyway.) The theatrical trailer (complete with faux Beach Boys music) is also included.
As you can probably gather from the cover, the main title for this release is actually "The Early Films of Wakefield Poole featuring Boys in the Sand," which means plenty of short films showing how that pivotal first feature evolved. "Andy," filmed at the Whitney Museum, is a 9-minute short (run before many screenings of Boys) cutting highlights from the exhibit (especially Marilyn Monroe) into a visual collage. "A Gift by Ed Parente" also runs 9 minutes and features optional director's commentary for a dreamy melange of seashells, sand, cigarettes, and sex. The 10-minute "Head Film" is a goofy diversion with Fisk chopping away in the kitchen (in time lapse) with comical Julia Child voiceovers and artwork commenting on the action. The very brief (three minutes) "Vittorio" is a primitive but clever little animated piece using components of poster art by Vittorio Fiorucci.
Then it's back to the (almost) present day as the 11-minute "Revisiting Fire Island" takes a shot-on-video tour of the Boys locations with Poole chatting about the idyllic locale in its heyday. Then Screening Sex author Linda Williams offers a 7-minute interview about the film, assessing its value as a combination of fantasy, music, and aesthetics. Finally there's another one of those "Emerald City" interviews from 1977 with Poole and Donovan, and this is easily the longest of the three at 23 minutes. It's a pretty funny chat with some amusing anecdotes about shooting porn, with Donovan claiming he might be the one who coined the term "fluffer." (The ads wedged in the middle are really priceless, too.) Chalk up another winner in Vinegar Syndrome's amazing, wildly diverse preservations of America's no holds barred past.