When it comes to LGBTIQ aspects in history books or history museums, self-evident part of the company’s history, so there is still a lot to do! This also applies to documentaries. The two new documentaries on Netflix about Andy Warhol and Abercrombie & Fitch are all the more remarkable.
Pop art star Andy Warhol certainly needs no introduction. His works are among the best-known pictorial creations of the 20th century, are exhibited in museums around the world and fetch astronomical prices on the art market (MANNSCHAFT reports).
Most people are probably also well aware that Warhol was gay, although his famous “sex photos” weren’t shown in retrospectives for a long time – as if erect cocks that men suck or slide into assholes would not appeal to a “subtle audience” either reasonable.
But that, too, has changed in the new millennium, and the silver “Sex Parts” series is no longer an insider tip. Much has been published about Warhol, as well as the sexy stars of his factory. However, his own love life usually took a back seat, almost as if he was just an observer and never a part of the wild happenings. Some even think that Warhol was “asexual”.
Myth of asexuality
This myth – which one wonders if it is due to the homophobia of the conservative world of commercial art – is belied by the new documentary “The Andy Warhol Diaries” which has six episodes in total.
That the series was produced by Ryan Murphy, who has repeatedly struggled to re-evaluate gay history to show a younger (LGBTIQ) generation that “our” history began long before social media and activism queer today, you notice it immediately. (CLOUD reported that Ryan Murphy was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.)
Because Murphy and director Andrew Rossi (who also wrote the screenplay) base their documentary on Warhol’s diaries, which he wrote between 1976 and 1987, up to five days before his death. They were published in 1989, so they’re not really a “find,” but they tend to be overlooked by many people who study LGBTIQ history.
They not only contain a detailed time picture and reflect the glamorous life of a gay celebrity before and after the start of the AIDS epidemic. On more than 20,000 pages, we also learn many intimate stories about Warhol’s two great loves: with Jed Johnson and with Jon Gould.
At a time when there were no cell phones with cameras, Warhol and his entourage produced photos and films of themselves almost nonstop. They make the meticulously produced documentary extremely lively.
Eyewitnesses and broken hearts
No expense was spared, either: If an eyewitness interview mentions a Hollywood movie, movie star, or hit TV series (like The Love Boat, which Warhol starred in an episode), producer Murphy makes sure you see the people and products mentioned. Anyone who has ever tried to get such film clips for a documentary or exhibition knows how much it costs. Apparently, Murphy and Rossi felt it was important to make it clear to those who had never heard of Liz Taylor & Co. who it was. It may be pedantic, but didactically important.
The combination of Warhol’s “voice”, the passages from his diaries in which he talks about Johnson and Gould, and the photos and film footage in which the men can be seen, gives the impression that the viewer is very close . And experience the pain of broken hearts firsthand.
Murphy/Rossi are always careful that seemingly insignificant details are not overlooked. For example, the moment when Jon Gould arrives at the hospital in New York because of his AIDS disease. Warhol visits him every day, even though he hates hospitals. He worries most about the man who has been his mate for years, whom he desires and who he has long had to convince to move in with him. But when Gould is released from the hospital, Warhol orders his house staff to do Gould’s laundry separately from now on… for fear of getting infected with HIV?
Soon after, Gould left Warhol’s house and traveled to Los Angeles, where he died in 1986.
Murphy and Rossi also repeatedly ask what Warhol’s relationships might have been like – whether he only “admired” his attractive partners or whether it was also a physical relationship. Many of the men’s friends, relatives and acquaintances are interviewed, including Johnson’s twin brother.
The fact that such subjects are addressed so openly and calmly in a documentary today – even by family members – can be considered a huge step forward. And for those who think they’ve seen all of Warhol’s work, real treasures from the Warhol Foundation archives that have never been on public display (says the documentary) are unearthed: among them, a series of large-scale images scale of African American drag queens.
accusations of racism
Here Murphy/Rossi get into very nuanced accusations of racism against Warhol because he occasionally uses the N-word in his diaries. The documentary does not hide it, but puts it into context and compares it to the language used in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s. It does not excuse “racism”, but it is not used as a murderous argument against anything related to Warhol. Because there are such cancellation requests, and they are also processed. (MANNSCHAFT reported on the Cancel Culture phenomenon in the LGBTIQ community.)
It also benefits the detailed study of Warhol’s protege, Basquiat, who also asks in detail how exactly the relationship resembled – it is said, among other things, that Basquiat made money as a young man as an escort.
In short, it is a documentary of almost six hours that is exemplary in many respects. And it’s definitely a “must-see” for anyone interested in LGBTIQ history around 1980 and around AIDS.
“White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch”
Alison Klayman takes a completely different approach in her documentary “White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch.” His film depicts the fashion label’s meteoric rise in the 1990s under new CEO Mike Jeffries.
He reshaped the old brand using homoerotic photo campaigns shot by Bruce Weber: with white college kids showing off their six-packs and torsos in front of the camera. Comparable mannequin-looking salespeople were also seen in stores; they were part of the brand’s hypersexualized “image” and represented a “sex appeal” that appealed to many customers at the time.
Gay men in particular felt magically drawn to her and believed that wearing an A&F t-shirt also radiated that aura that Jeffries had established as a hallmark of the company. Peter Rehberg described this tragedy in his novel ‘Boymen’, which is about a hedonistic 40-year-old gay man who thinks wearing a skin-tight A&F shirt in a bar still looks the same as when he was 20.
Unfortunately, German queer theorist Rehberg has no say in the documentary (he now works as an archive and collections manager at the Schwules Museum Berlin), but several of the former musclemen in the ad campaigns do. They describe how they were approached by model scouts, how it was during the photo shoot with Weber – and how they were immediately sent home if they were unwilling to get in touch with the photographer.
#MeToo and photographer Bruce Weber
The #MeToo vs. Weber debate has been going on for years, but so far there has been no definitive condemnation. Weber himself basically denies such allegations and claims that such physical closeness has always been part of his job as a photographer, he was simply trying to “capture the human spirit in his photos”. And that will also be remembered through his photos, Weber said in a 2018 Instagram statement.
There have already been protests by store workers against Jeffries: Non-white people were hidden from the public by the CEO, they weren’t allowed to stand at the till, and they were barred from campaigns. Many thought it was racism in its purest form. (MANNSCHAFT reported on a #MeToo scandal in the Netherlands, where a gay fashion designer allegedly coerced models and underage men into having sex.)
Lawsuits were filed in 2003 over A&F’s hiring policies. And that’s director Klayman’s main focus in the documentary. Unlike Murphy/Rossi in Warhol’s documentary, there are only a few attempts here to relate this emphasis on the radiant “white” student with a well-trained body to what happened elsewhere in the 1990s during the AIDS crisis, for example at Calvin Klein, but especially in the world of gay pornography at labels like Falcon.
Klayman doesn’t stop at “gay” moments in the story like Murphy/Rossi do. Which is a shame, because you can clearly see in the interviews that there is still more to say. But the goal here is almost exclusively to show how discriminatory A&B was. Remarkably, at the end you learn from the company’s new bosses that A&F is now synonymous with diversity and that they make a conscious effort to show models from different ethnic backgrounds and with different body types.
This is compared to other fashion brands such as Gap or Old Navy via featured photo campaigns. What’s fascinating is that what once made A&F successful and such an iconic label for gay men is gone. Today, the brand is one of many. This aspect is not addressed in the documentary, perhaps because it would be a complicated discussion.
Falcon and porn pioneer Chuck Holmes
By the way, the documentary “Seed Money: The Chuck Holmes Story” about Falcon porn studio and founder Holmes is available, it just hasn’t arrived on Netflix yet. She would be a perfect complement to White Hot because Holmes did to 90s porn what Jeffries did to fashion. (MANNSCHAFT reported on the protests over the exclusion of black men from the gay porn industry in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement.)
Both had sensational success with a certain “look” that still attracts gay customers to popular porn labels such as Bel Ami. Who Netflix could have the next documentary project with right now…
Although George Duroy, the founder of Bel Ami, will probably be as reluctant to provide information as Mike Jeffries, who refused to participate in “White Hot”. The documentary therefore lacks a center – also in relation to the recreated voice of Warhol. And this reflection of gay desire that would be important at A&F.