Fred Halsted
USA 1972
55 min

L. A. Plays Itself begins with a shot of a sign that appears at the city limits of Los Angeles. The population figure listed - 2.535.700 - recalls a distant era of the city's growth. The scene changes to the mists of Malibu Canyon, an unlikely oasis at the edge of the metropolitan area. In voice over, we hear a fragment of conversation between Halsted and a man with an accent that identifies him as a former resident of Philadelphia or Baltimore. This man utters the words «Los Angeles stinks», and Fred, coming to the city's defense in his own languid way, makes the stock complaint that the place is filling up with New Yorkers. As the dialogue fades, replaced by Japanese koto music, resplendent nature shots take over the visuals. A lone hiker pauses at a stream, where he meets a naked blond - perhaps a male water sprite - who offers to give him head. Their sexual encounter is interrup-ted by shots of approaching bulldozers, reminders of the real estate development that makes the local economy grow and ruins sylvan sexual retreats.
The second half of <i>L. A. Plays Itself</i> shows something a bit darker, an older man seducing and violating a young innocent. The sequence is most commonly understood as a dramatization of how Fred Halsted's affair with Joseph «Joey» Yale began, though it is not as straightforward as it would seem. Voice over dialogue introduces the youth as a cowboy hustler newly arrived from Texas. He is eager to «fuck around» with the soft-spoken Halsted, whom we hear and see in the picture. Halsted offers to show him the ropes, and these turn out to be quite literal. The youth gets bound, beaten and kicked, and at the climax of the movie, fist-fucked. The recipient of the fist was indeed Joey Yale, but perhaps regretting having allowed himself to be filmed in such a posture, he fled the scene not long after shooting. A lack of footage in the editing room forced Fred to shoot more material with a man who might bluntly be called a «stunt butt». Likewise, the voice on the soundtrack was not Yale's either, but belonged to some tongue-tied young hick, or else a brilliantly convincing but uncredited actor.
The echoing conversation between Halsted and the cowboy comes from no place in particular. It does not appear to emanate from the space of the visuals; rather it comments upon them. The action between Halsted and Yale does not play out as one continuous scene. It is punctuated by other sequences: Fred cruising Hollywood in his red Ranchero, hippies gathering in Griffith Park. Many unidentified men make appearances as surreptitiously filmed baskets and asses. Working boys wear dirty pants with worn denim at the crotches accentuating what aficionados would call their meat. Diverse images and non-synchronous soundtrack suggest that we are seeing not only a scene between two men whom some spectators know to be lovers in real life, but also an archetypal story played out against the background of early 1970s Hollywood. <i>L. A. Plays Itself</i> does not provide the expected stereotype of film glamour and movie stars, but a glimpse of life on the street, Hollywood as slum. The effect is riveting, disturbing, and only becomes more powerful with passing years. Before the theatrical release of <i>L. A. Plays Itself</i>, Halsted made a short film to accompany it, <i>Sex Garage</i>. As in <i>L. A. Plays Itself</i>, there is a seriousness of intent in <i>Sex Garage</i>, which is as direct and erotic as its title suggests. Most of the film was indeed shot in a garage in the Hollywood Hills in a mere six hours. <i>Sex Garage</i> defied genre conventions - as embryonic as they were in the gay porn of 1972 - but did so in ways different from <i>L. A. Plays Itself</i>. <i>Sex Garage</i>, at a running time of 38 minutes and in black and white, begins with an image of a woman; she performs enthusiastic fellatio on a longhaired boyfriend who, as it turns out, is the garage's mechanic, and who later finds another kind of action. The straight sex between hippie kids, often shown in macroscopic detail, casually introduces bisexuality into a gay porn film long before the bisexual genre became fashionable during the early 1990s.
The first part of <i>Sex Garage</i>, like the complex sequences of <i>L. A. Plays Itself</i>, alternates between two distinct spaces with different musical themes, the soul song «When Tomorrow Comes» by The Emotions and «Jesu, Joy of a Man's Desiring» as transcribed for piano by Myra Hess. The camera lingers over images of money, soap suds on body hair and water flowing down the drain in a shower, calendars and «girlie» magazines found in the sort of garage where an older generation of mechanics did their work. The man in the shower later dresses and drives to the garage in a luxury car. He scares off the woman, who flees, carrying her calf-length boots with her. The rich man begins worshipping the blonde hippie mechanic to the sound of Bach, and as he gives him head, another man rides his motorcycle to the garage. Upon the arrival of the biker, who wears long hair, a beard, and under his leather, a jockstrap that looks as though it has never been washed, the sex becomes more intense. The rich man, who by now is wearing the woman's cast off panties, gets fucked by the biker and gets his head thrust into a toilet by the mechanic. The action is represented in a disjunctive montage accompanied by the bleeps and drones of an analogue synthesizer. Women in antique cheesecake photos seem to bear witness to the scene, which culminates in the biker penetrating the exhaust pipe of his motorcycle. The biker ejaculates on his motorcycle seat, «Jesu, Joy of a Man's Desiring» returns to the soundtrack, and finally, the participants leave the sex garage.

Note: In 1984 Fred Halsted and Joseph Yale sold the distribution rights of all their films, including <i>L. A. Plays Itself</i> and <i>Sex Garage</i>, to HIS Video, a subsidiary of Video Company of America (VCA). <i>L. A. Plays ­Itself</i> as released on VHS by VCA in 1990 did not include the final fisting scene. The version of <i>L. A. Plays Itself</i> presented here is a reconstruction including footage from older video copies and is intended to ­approximate the theatrical version as closely as possible. Film prints of <i>L. A. Plays Itself</i> and <i>Sex Garage</i> are not currently available for loan, and the negative elements of these films are believed to be lost.

This film is screened together with <filmlink id=\"2785\">Sex Garage</filmlink>.
1972, Fred Halsted

  • Paul Barresi
  • Bob Blount
  • Rick Coates
  • Jim Frost
  • Fred Halsted
  • Joey Yale
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