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Pat Rocco Dared Review: The Power of the Big, er, Screen

Doc celebrates a pioneer of gay erotica

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5 mins read

Pat Rocco Dared
(Canada, 89 min.)
Dir. Morris Chapdelaine, Bob Christie

 

Pat Rocco admits that the well-endowed gentlemen who performed in his films were not actors, but “cock danglers.” The boys of Rocco’s arty skin flicks truly weren’t budding Brandos. However, the documentary Pat Rocco Dared makes a fair case that the so-called “cock danglers” had a power that many Hollywood heavyweights lacked. This celebration of the filmmaker’s life, work, and legacy salutes the power of seeing oneself on the big screen.

The film, directed by Morris Chapdelaine and Bob Christie, follows Toronto filmmaker Charlie David as he visits Rocco in Hawaii. They explore how Rocco’s oeuvre let men who like men see themselves reflected. Moreover, the doc attributes Rocco’s artistic focus on intimacy, rather than hard-core smut, helped these lusty men heat up the screens in theatres from New York City to Podunk, USA.

 

Ron and Chuck in Disneyland

The film makes extensive use of Rocco’s archive as David and the director revisit the motherlode of gay erotica. Rocco argues that his films are not pornography and it seems that Chapdelaine, Christie, and David agree. The doc lets Rocco walk David through his filmography, offering something of a film school seminar on the history of breaking taboos—and barriers—through underground art movies. There are shots of men prancing nude in the fields, cruising the streets, and cuddling between the sheets. Nearly every shot is a money shot, yet Rocco and David unpack the fine line between erotica and pornography.

Rocco, who passed away in 2018, is modest about which of his films proved the greatest breakthroughs. Although Pat Rocco Dared becomes somewhat repetitive while exploring the director’s credits, Chapdelaine and Christie make an especially strong case for the oeuvre’s significance with the sequence about the 1969 film Ron and Chuck in Disneyland Discovery. Rocco explains how he shot the film on location in Disneyland, and Disney censors the short to this day. Photographers remain prohibited from bringing tripods to the park because of Rocco’s production.

Ron and Chuck in Disneyland Discovery is an innocent romance as Rocco walks David through the film. It mostly depicts two young men spending the day together in the theme park. On one hand, the production subverts the heteronormativity on which Disney’s fantasies—and nearly all mainstream films—are based. The film ends with Ron and Chuck walking through the park hand-in-hand. The actors, and the camera, weave between families with kids. As the notes of “When You Wish upon a Star” guide their exit, the film simply situates the men’s right to a joyful day on the same plane as the families walking through the gates.

 

Art and Activism

Pat Rocco Dared demonstrates how the filmmaker’s art, moreover, wasn’t his sole form of activism. The film affords Rocco ample time to discuss his work as a figure in the gay community, including providing work and stability for men via Hudson House, which let homeless queer people earn a living through a combined work mission and soup kitchen. The film similarly acknowledges his role in the development of Pride celebrations, including his close work with Harvey Milk. Rocco’s skill as a filmmaker included that of a documentarian, as the film includes ample footage he shot of the late politician, including a 1978 speech that figured prominently in both Academy Award winning films about Milk.

The film is unabashedly celebratory but it’s also a personal tribute to an elder. David explains in alternately cheesy and commemorative voiceover that Rocco’s influence is evident throughout alternative film, including his own. Pat Rocco Dared credits the pioneering filmmaker for putting gay life, love, and sex on the big screen. He might not have been the first director to depict two men cavorting, but David et all salute Rocco for changing the game one dangling appendage at a time.

 

Pat Rocco Dared screens at Inside Out 2SLGBTQ Film Festival on June 4 at 11:45am at TIFF Bell Lightbox.

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association.

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