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by Thom

"Surprisingly unerotic and fun. Documentary bordering on Camp."
4 stars

Thom Fitzgerald splices fiction and footage to create a documentary about physique magazines of the 50's and 60's that were created to appeal to homosexual men. The naive and the experienced come together in the unlikely story that ties Jack LaLanne and Joe Dallesandro to one of the more interesting stories of gay and American history.

Bob Mizer's hobby was photographing young, beautiful, muscular men. His hobby turns into a business showcasing "artists models" in a magazine that he runs out his mother's house in Los Angeles. The business soon becomes a family affair. The magazine proposes to be about the "model" physique in the same vein of today's health and fitness magazines, but every queen from here to Moscow knows they are looking at something that makes them feel less alone in the utterly repressive 50's. This is the era of McCarthyism, and a naive era where lots of starry eyed youngsters left the farm and headed to Hollywood. Some of whom ended up on the pages of Male Physique, instead.

Bob Mizer rose and fell on his idea and was an inspiration for several copycat mags that helped create an undercurrent that spoke to male homosexual desire and allowed it to exist openly, if behind a veil.

In a charming testament to the naivete of the time, the world and even some of the models were none the wiser about the heroin addicts and hopheads, hustlers and the drag queens, the gays and the lesbians, walking gently under their nose.

This movie is a documentary but it was cut with vintage footage and original "reenactments" . The segueways make clever use of the style and tone of 50's popular culture to make this a lively, if somewhat campy, period piece. Bob Mizer is described by people who knew him, notably fitness guru Jack LaLanne and Joe Dallesandro, who was a hustler and a model made infamous by Andy Warhol. The interviews are spliced with reenactments based on stories about Bob's life. If it wasn't for the somewhat serious undertones, these segments of the movie could come off as pure camp. They bring what would no doubt be an interesting and important book onto the screen and create a colorful and engaging visual tale.

Fitzgerald has taken the art of the documentary a welcome step away from panoramic shots, vintage stills and a droning, overdubbed narrator. "Beefcake" rests nicely on the same shelf with offerings like "The Buena Vista Social Club", "Baraka", "Hands on a Hard Body" or "Roger and Me", all being documentaries that innovate rather than replicate.

Beefcake is a charming film and it feels as innocent and sterile as the popular conception of the time of hula hoops, poodle skirts and the Rondelles. It doesn't try to make any kind of a social statement about homophobia or create yet another poignant and sentimental portrait of a tragic moment in gay history or even a political statement about censorship in the arts. It is just the telling of a tale about a man, his camera, his mother, and hundreds of young, muscular, naked men.

It would be easy to read a lot into this film, but on the surface, it is a quirky slice of modern American history with a constant parade of male nudity, and it would best be enjoyed as such.

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originally posted: 10/23/99 19:04:14
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User Comments

6/07/07 Charles Tatum Cute, imaginative docudrama 4 stars
2/28/04 Andy Irresistable, a clever blend of fact and fiction. 4 stars
11/05/99 Steven Ball I liked this film a lot more than I thought I would. It reminded me a little of a John Wate 4 stars
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