That Man: Peter Berlin

With his Dutch-boy haircut, down-to-the-navel scoop-neck muscle shirt and tight, white low-rise trousers that seemed more painted- than pulled-on, '70s porn-star Peter Berlin was a carefully constructed, unabashedly gay and surprisingly public icon at a time when few could imagine the existence of such a creature, even other gay men. A fixture on the San...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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With his Dutch-boy haircut, down-to-the-navel scoop-neck muscle shirt and tight, white low-rise trousers that seemed more painted- than pulled-on, '70s porn-star Peter Berlin was a carefully constructed, unabashedly gay and surprisingly public icon at a time when few could imagine the existence of such a creature, even other gay men. A fixture on the San Francisco scene, the star of two fondly remember all-male classics (NIGHTS IN BLACK LEATHER, THAT BOY) and the subject of countless of photographs — most of which he took himself — Peter Berlin became a powerful symbol of not just gay freedom, but the freedom to invent oneself anew. But like the equally iconographic artwork of Tom of Finland, Berlin's seductive, hyper-human image also began setting an impossible standard for gay male perfection that many men today are still searching for and worse, trying to live up to. (Photographer Rick Castro recalls his disappointment upon encountering the real thing after seeing images of Berlin in the crypto-homo magazine After Dark and assuming all gay men looked like that.) But who, exactly, is the man behind the image, a man whom some describe as being as mysterious as Garbo? Is there anyone there? And what happens when a worshipper of his own youthful image finally grows old? Using artfully composed montages of countless Berlin photos, footage from Berlin's films and vintage newsreel from the heady days of gay lib, filmmaker John Tushinksi adresses these questions and more with an affectionate, respectful film that's never less than engaging, no matter what your knowledge of '70s porn. Exhibitionistic, enormously vain (wouldn't he have to be?) and still boyish at 60, Berlin himself tells his own story with amazing candor, starting with his post-WWII youth in Germany, his travels across Europe, his arrival in San Francisco and the creation of the persona that would make in famous. Through it all, a poignant sense of Berlin's isolation — a natural consequence, perhaps, of creating oneself to be seen and little else — particularly when he speaks of his frustrating search for someone who would excite him the same way he seems to have excited countless others. Among those who are on hand to offer their own feelings about the man known as Peter Berlin and his art are fellow porn legend Jack Wrangler, groundbreaking gay writer Armistead Maupin, pornographer Wakefield Poole and director John Waters, who remembers Peter from his days in San Francisco, and still doesn't quite get what he's all about.

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  • Released: 2006
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: With his Dutch-boy haircut, down-to-the-navel scoop-neck muscle shirt and tight, white low-rise trousers that seemed more painted- than pulled-on, '70s porn-star Peter Berlin was a carefully constructed, unabashedly gay and surprisingly public icon at a ti… (more)

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