(This is the opening portion of Michael’s novel Dead Cat Bounce)
For a long time, I admired the work of John Leslie. I thought he was way ahead of his time. I have a collection of his videos (I believe he only made videos, but perhaps there are some 8 mm films somewhere out there, if only in his own private collection) which I used to watch over and over again when I was in film school. I watched them less after I started making my own erotic shorts, but they were always in the back of my mind, a hidden inspirational mentor. Probably a lot of writers carry James Joyce or other Henry Millers throughout their careers, a mentoring presence in their writerly hearts, although it may be years since they last picked up one of those books.
Leslie the film-maker was misunderstood. For one thing, people said he never should have acted in his own films. But I’m glad he did, because of the kindness and intelligence which he brought to his roles. A lot of the time I can’t get off on a porn video when the male actors are so repulsive, their fingernails dirty or overly buffed and polished so it looked like they’d just finished eating a bucket of fried chicken. I also know for a fact that Leslie was extraordinarily considerate of his female leads, especially Serena, who incidentally was his wife.
But what made Leslie’s oeuvre truly ground-breaking was the quality of the sets and the first-ever use of comedy in erotic film (who can ever forget Ron Jeremy’s mustachioed face and hairy paunch as he slipped a la Jerry Lewis on Vanessa del Rio’s lace panties?). As a professional, I also appreciate the use of color and the clever cost-cutting (using Florida sets rather than going to LA) which took nothing away from the quality of the film, as well as his innate respect for the viewer. When you watch a John Leslie film, you never have the impression that he thinks you, the viewer, are an idiot. No. You are a thoughtful and intelligent masturbator, even if you are watching his film in a two by four booth in a long row of other two-by-four booths filled with other groaning masturbators who do not have the taste and decency to watch a John Leslie film.
The film-maker as auteur. The bright colors of lipstick and nail polish. The unaffected pleasure of the actors. The days when each booth showed one film, rather than each booth an identical connection to a network of 32 or 64 shorts, all of which made in haste and with no regard for the viewer. The glory days of porn, John Holmes, Seka, Marlene Willoughby and Mike Stanton. Women blushed on their breasts from the excitement.
Gordon Goldfield (of the illustrious New York Goldfields) encouraged me. He nurtured me. When I came to him in my junior year of college and told him I was looking into pre-law, he counseled me. “Do what you really feel like doing,” he said. “No one else will.”
And then he laughed. I was lucky to have him as a friend, and I owe it to him that I spent the bulk of my life doing something I really believed in. rnrnNow I am dead. Not that this should be taken as a cry for compassion, much less pity. It is a statement of fact — I am dead — and is written with the hope that death provides hindsight, in the further hope that this may lead to greater understanding for esthetes, maniacs, lovers, the sad, the delusionary, puritans and other idealists, and especially that it will foster a special kind of tolerance that is the mark of a truly great civilization.
I have no idea where I’ll be when I get out — notice that I will never use the word “free”. I will be alone, even if my wife does claim me at the gate. That’s more than I can say for my old friend Michael, who is dead.