Peter Berlin, if nothing else, is an important piece of American cultural history. His films are regarded as some of the finest gay hardcore films ever made.
That Boy, Peter Berlin's second and final feature, opens with Berlin walking into an open field, perhaps Presidio Park (?) as a famous (although I've presently forgotten the name) piece of classical music blares. There he finds a fragment of mirror and stares at himself. He then begins to masturbate as an unknown figure stands in front of him.
Now the film really begins as Helmut (Berlin) strolls down a street in The Castro. He passes through a crowd of S.F. street personalities as they flock around him and chase after him. An unseen first person narrator begins talking about the effect Helmut has on anyone he encounters.
It is revealed that the narrator is in fact a blind hustler who is rescued by Helmut while trying to cross a street. As the two then go about spending the day together, the hustler describes a series of surreal fantasies about sexual encounters he imagines having with Helmut (although none of these encounters actually involve the hustler).
What makes That Boy such a hard film to review is its general lack of narrative but simultaneous refusal to completely become an experimental film. The film therefore fluctuates between being a standard, albeit loose, narrative film, instances of cinematic magic realism, and a pure constructionalist experimental piece. All of these stylistic choices are linked together by an overarching theme of Helmut's (Berlin's if one wishes to take the film more literally) extreme sense of narcissism.
Often described as Berlin's ultimate exercise in extraordinarily optimistic self-importance, That Boy couldn't be anything less. While Berlin's character of Helmut appears to be a shallow, vein shell of pomp and muscles, if one watches the film closely, it becomes apparent that Helmut never seeks out the attention he is so frequently given and it is those attention givers who lavish him with their undying obsessiveness.
The film and Helmut truly bare their respective hearts in an incredibly narrated scene of Berlin and the hustler sitting in a cafe. As Berlin sits opposite the hustler, he begins to postulate as to what the hustler is thinking. Helmut states “This boy intrigues me because he dresses so well, he takes such care in his appearance, and he must have done all this from memory too. I wonder...what must be locked inside his head. What dreams, what images. Whether there's love or merely bitterness." Although this statement is the character of Helmut's opinion of the hustler, it speaks very clearly to what all of those obsessed with Helmut find so intriguing about him and even more so, what the audience thinks of Berlin as an individual.
In this sense, it can almost be inferred that the character of Helmut, the man who is only fantasized about but never actually touched, represents the actual personality of the hustler while the hustler epitomizes everything that is true of people's actual perception of Berlin.
Helmut continues his postulating, concluding with “He [the hustler] will never know me except in his imagination,” speaking most directly to the imagination of this boy who most greatly symbolizes all of those who worship Helmut (or Berlin). But since the hustler is blind, he is the only one who Helmut will ever really let have him, for it is only this boy who can never judge Helmut superficially. Helmut finally states “I think I have found a friend…someone who will talk without fear and listen in return.”
So now, after all of my interpretation which probably doesn't make much sense unless you've already seen the film, I will make this statement: SEE THIS FILM! Whether you're gay, straight, or anything else, SEE IT! It's a masterpiece of underground American avant garde of the same caliber as the works of Anger, Kuchar, Brakhage, and others. Any lover of great experimental cinema should make a point to seek out this film.
Beautiful! That Boy is mastered off a wonderful 16mm print. The color is not perfect and there are a couple lines here and there but considering the rarity of this film, it looks amazing!
First and foremost, Peter Berlin provides an excellent audio commentary which not only describes the making of the film but the culture of San Francisco at the time (1974). He discusses what he feels his role in that culture was and goes into detail about some of the other personalities of the time.
Also included are two short films Berlin made for mail order use a photo gallery, and a trailer for Berlin's other masterpiece Nights In Black Leather, made 2 years before in 1972.
This film is nothing short of a masterpiece! SEE IT!