Archive for January, 2011

Back to the future

Posted: January 11, 2011 in Uncategorized

Bikers club members in Los Angeles

The iconic image of the Leatherman and biker was viewed and imbued by much of society as caricature of hyper masculine homosexual or the opposite of caricature effeminate man.  Yet, for the first part of the twentieth century, society did not know of the term “homosexual’ or what was an accepted homosexual displayed characteristic.

Up through the turn of the century, the effeminate man was often seen as an intellect, wistful, or enlightened in art and culture.  The homosexual man was a cosmopolitan man and accepted in society without regard to sexuality.  Society up through about 1914 did not know of the term “homosexual” and up until that time only considered same-sex sexuality as sexual inversion, more to do with cross-gender identification as opposed to the association of same-sex sexuality.

When leather arrived as a gay sub-culture in post-war United States, it was again an extension of the military all-males society developed under hyperbolic conditions of war.  Men in World War II wore leather bomber jackets in their fighter planes and bombers.  The men who flew these fighter missions were between the ages of 18 and 22, because of their lack of fear, feeling of invincibility and virility.  The military considered men beginning at age 23 were too old to fly fighter missions.  This in turn only strengthens the imagery of the strong, virile man who wore leather.

Satyrs Anniversary Photo

Because the United States was a massive war machine during World War II, little focus was given to the effeminate man either in entertainment, culture, arts, fashion and the aristocratic society.  After all, even women worked in factories churning out the tanks, guns and planes used during the war. The strength of the nation was the solidarity of men and women to fight the Nazis and Hitler.  But post-war that all changed.

The hyper masculinity associated with leather, captured in the art work Touko Laaksonen (Tom of Finland) showed Tom’s view of beautiful naked man, made even more sexy and beautiful by dressing him in leather.

Tom grew up in Europe, served in military during World War II and impressed with images of masculinity.  His previous views of homosexuality were that men were well dressed in fancy clothes and effeminate, reinforced by his meeting of such men in Helsinki.  This was to change later in his artwork though the well dressed man would then become ‘targets” of sexual derision than that of the provocateur.

In the late 40’s Berlin’s leather underground scene was burgeoning after years of repression by Hitler.  Dresden and Munich were still extremely repressive, whereas Berlin and Hamburg’s lax stance on the homosexual movement, social gatherings and sexual display in direct violation of penal codes in place were a result of agreements with the police and various gay organizations.  Leather was associated with the working blue collar class, military or a tradesman.

The leather clad muscular biker men of the 1950 have emerged as the personification of freedom, rebellion and masculinity in Western Pop Culture.  The sub-culture world of the gay motorcycle community was complete with its own code of honor, hazing and rituals much of which was developed from the communal enclosed societies that military service often provided.

Since Marlon Brando’s portrayal of a rebellious youth in the movie, The Wild One, the biker became one of American most powerful iconic image of twentieth century.  Though the fashion varied slightly over the decades from Brando’s character, the essence of masculinity remained much the same.  Even such portrayals in modern movies including, Easy Rider and The Terminator, the decades provided an imagery of independence, unattached and unhindered by social stigma.

A group of gay men in Los Angeles, young, handsome men, most of who previously served in the military often gathered for the usually youthful night of hanging at a local beer hall or someone’s home.  Sometimes the night of camaraderie and drunkenness lead to an evening of sexual group activities.  In November of 1954, after a night of drinking, the men sat around the pool the next morning nursing their hangovers and discussing their common link.  Motorcycles it was said was their common link.  The brotherhood of men began the formation of the Satyrs Motorcycle Club that day.

But understand why these men formed the group; we have to go back in time to see what life was like in those days.  So let’s go back in time to early Los Angeles history to see how we got to the formation of the brotherhood…

Iconic Gay Male Biker

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By Garry Bowie

Writing a blog is a matter of consistency and discipline…oh, and time.  Back in 2000 when then Satyrs’ member Scott Bloom and I began videotape interviewing of all of our members to create an archival document of our elder members before time took them away along with their memories, we never envisioned the significance of that early effort.  Surprising to many, the original project never started off as a documentary film project. This was the second time “the day the universe changed”…at least for the Satyrs.

Joe Gallagher, Mr. International Leather 1996, approached the Satyrs in 2000 about submitting for historical deposit of our meeting minutes, photos and video interviews into the Leather Archives and Museum.  Scott Bloom was involved in the film industry doing editing and I had a small production company and sister video production rental company.  It then donned on the both of us that a documentary film was right in front of us, but how would we make this film?

After much discussion and with subsequent discussions with Joe Gallagher, our plans were to tell the story about the Satyrs Motorcycle Club of Los Angeles, the oldest continuously running gay organization, and the men behind the stories.  Our backdrop would be painted with the current events of times by each decade as we told the story from the beginning to the end.

Interestingly enough, both Scott and I no longer had an interest in creating an archival document for the Leather Archives and Museum.  Scott and I continued working the project over the months with the plans to eventually completed it for the club’s 50th Anniversary in 2004.  Neither of us had decided our roles in the filmmaking process other than the task at hand, including videotaping, researching, scanning, editing and other production work.  Joe Gallagher moved on to other interests and Scott continued honing the raw footage into a rough timeline.

Eventually Scott came out with a rough cut and we were discussing a title for the documentary.  I favored a film title with a secondary title. Scott favored a simple title.  This was the result of each of our experiences, Scott working in television and I having been a filmmaker and documentary filmmaker.  It was the year of the widely viewed documentary film “SuperSize Me” which had been nominated for an Academy Award.  I felt strongly about a main title and secondary title; and challenged Scott to see how Academy members will vote.  Having formerly been a member of the International Documentary Association and met past Academy Award documentary filmmakers, I knew that the Academy members often never watched a documentary film (not as popular in those days until Michael Moore and Rob Epstein changed that) and often voted simply by the sound of the title.

We were both on our phones to each other watching the Academy Awards live on television.  Scott was rooting for SuperSize Me and I had no favorites other than something with an elaborate title.  Then the nominees were announced; the winner: Born Into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids.  Scott moaned loudly over the phone…I yelped, “Yes!”.  To punctuate my point, the previous year’s Academy Award winner was, The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara.  We then decided over the phone, Original Pride: The Satyrs Motorcycle Club.

One of my favorite old shows was a show presented by science historian, James Burke entitled, The Day the Universe Changed (subtitled “A Personal View by James Burke”) originally broadcast in 1985 by the BBC.  In the United States the 10-week hour-long series was broadcast October 13–December 15, 1986, on PBS and was rebroadcast on The Learning Channel in 1993.  I point this out for one reason, in doing the research about our Satyrs Motorcycle Club, the internal history led me to the external history of the Los Angeles and the world.  In order to get to the beginning, I had to go back in time to find what caused the shift in local and world views on gay men by the early 50’s.  In fact, the research for Los Angeles took me back to over 150 years.  History that created forever the changes that affected the world, some of it by societal views of the time and some forever forged in time, unknowingly, by these men.  I assure you, not one of these fine men of the Satyrs Motorcycle Club are aware how they changed the universe.  I was aware of our modern historical significance of the gay community but not to the extent that I am so wildly excited in completing the next chapter in the storytelling of the Satyrs.

The new documentary is a five-part series, an anthology of the complete record of the club, the men, the culture, the community of Los Angeles and of the world.  I only have a main title at this point, titled: The Long Road Forward.  The secondary title will eventually come later. It will be a fascinating ride for all of us, especially if you follow this blog/journal as I discover fantastic historical significance to our modern daily lives.  The film’s first episode is entitled, “The Brotherhood“, a term that’s been around since about the 1200’s. The film should make it’s world premiere in September 2011 at Badger Flat.  That’s not much time to get the thousands of photos, slides and documents scanned. Nor to transfer old 8mm films, record new interviews of the remaining surviving elder members and stitch the rich Los Angeles history into the fabric that formed the Satyrs.

This will be a long fast ride into the past.  My challenge will be the discipline needed to post here an entry of discovery, story telling and documentation of findings.  Just the little bit that I have uncovered in researching this more in-depth follow-up documentary to Original Pride is exciting. It is sort of what I imagine as an archaeological dig would feel like, finding those treasures.  I hope you will follow this journal and invite other friends to subscribe to the blog-journal as well, as I post new discoveries or insights.  The future posts won’t be as long as my first entry, but they will be exciting, educational, inspiring and have historic photos and videos attached.  If you’re a history buff, you’re in for a treat!  If you’re a member of the gay community,I know you will learn about modern history that 99.9% of our community doesn’t even know.  The first pushback from oppression started several decades before the Stonewall Riots. It was called the Los Angeles donutshop riots.  But you’ll have to follow along to see how all this connects to the Satyrs Motorcycle Club.

Nice thing about time…we didn’t have this capability to blog/journal to the world in 2000 as we created the first documentary film.  Scott became the director of Original Pride. Now, you have the opportunity to participate in the making of a documentary in a way I don’t think has ever been done before.  Your comments and input will even shape each documentary episode.

Technology can be great, but the downside of it all can be that is could all be lost forever in the digital 1’s and 0’s of the universe never to be seen again.  This is my attempt to ensure that this history is never lost, digitally, analog or otherwise.  Now let’s go change the universe….