Sunday Editor’s Pick: “Pink Narcissus” (1971)

by on April 16, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

4:30 at Museum of the Moving Image [Program & Tix]
Elliott Stein for The Village Voice:

The nonstop dialogueless soft-porn wet dream of a young narcissist, a pouty teen cutie-pie with pulpy, inexpressive features and an expressive bubble butt. There’s no plot to speak of. Kendall travels through a series of role-playing vignettes with a lineup of equally shapely young dudes, imagines himself a matador taming a bull as the slave of a Roman emperor, as a harem boy lolling in a sheikh’s tent. Well, you name it. Viewing this claustrophobic film, bathed throughout in gaudy hues of purple, gold, and azure blue, you feel as if you’ve been trapped for 70 minutes—not unpleasantly—inside a Bloomingdale’s show window dressed by Pierre and Gilles… it’s a work of considerable charm, an indisputably personal vision.


Matt Bailey for Not Coming To A Theater Near You:

One of the greatest films of its kind of the gay avant-garde: Pink Narcissus is reminiscent of Genet’s Un Chant d’amour in its obsession with flowers, rough sexuality, and extraordinary male beauty, but it is more like a drag queen’s opium-soaked dream version or a Disney adaptation of Genet’s work than it is a direct descendant…Whole landscapes are built out of potted plants, plastic flowers, papier-mâché and chicken wire constructions, and diaphanous backdrops made from old dresses. The idle fantasies of the protagonist triggered by a piece of music or a random thought take tangible shape and form an artificial paradise, a Garden of Eden where butterflies float by on thin wires and the stars are pinpricks in a black paper sky.

Admittedly, it sounds like a laugh riot, but the sincerity and the forcefulness of Bidgood’s vision as well as his mastery of design, lighting, and filmmaking all contribute to a captivating experience. He also evinces a strong sense of the erotic, never revealing everything when the mere suggestion will suffice, never spilling over into prurience when titillation will do just as well. The art of Bidgood’s film, however, is not just in its unique vision or exceptional sexiness, but rather in the sense of nostalgia it creates for an idyllic gay utopia that never actually existed or that only exists sometime in the distant future. In addition to its intense, lyrical eroticism and fantastic beauty, the film evokes a genuine sense of sadness for its hero who, despite being blessed with incredible good looks and a comfortable life, remains the proverbial bird in a gilded cage.



Time Out Film Guide:

For years, Pink Narcissus was a film shrouded in mystery, known only to the most ardent fans of underground/gay cinema after a brief outing in the early ’70s, and from a few awed reviews in the press. Now that it has resurfaced in a rediscovered print, it’s pleasing to report that the film’s wicked reputation is fully justified. It’s a hugely overblown sexual fantasy centering around one boy, a dark-haired, pouting young thing who drifts through various sets (sleazy street, club, Arabian Nights-style orgy), dressing up and dressing down, cruising and being cruised. It’s all massively erotic, healthily funny and visually impressive, reminiscent of Lindsay Kemp, Kenneth Anger and their ilk.


Jim Hoberman for the Village Voice:

A gay Fantasia, its one part underground extravaganza, one part romantic poem…A technical tour de force.

Sean Frederic Edgewood interviews Director Bidgood for Bright Lights Film Journal:

Do you think that Pink Narcissus had any political message, like the Times Square scene?


Well, actually it had better things in it, because … it had all these burnt stick figures … because at the time I made the movie, everywhere you looked on Eighth Avenue there were all these people passed out on drugs, hanging over cars, in the doorways, and there is a thing where you give blood in the movie. Well, there was a place on 42nd street where everyone who was poor went every day to give blood because they got their money, their seven dollars or whatever — that was before AIDS, but it was sort of horrible that these people were selling blood in order to eat.


How did you balance the beautiful with the grotesque in Pink Narcissus?


The skyline itself — you know how an echocardiogram goes like this? [makes motion] Well, I echoed it. The skyline is like the echocardiogram of the city of New York — the heart’s going up and down in a jagged line. I would hate me if I wasn’t moving on … I want to do something a little more further on down the road. Also, I’d like to use my power to gain access to say something to an audience that I haven’t had the opportunity to do.


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