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Looking for Mr. Bidgood.


In Pink Narcissus, James Bidgood's groundbreaking 1971 film, a pouty-lipped young man named Bobby Kendall lies naked on a field of ultragreen grass, the sky electric blue above him. Lest in self-adoration, he draws a reed across his porn-quality torso, pausing on his left nipple--shot in extreme close-up and bathed in such an unearthly light that it resembles Saturn suspended in an infinite sky. Bobby captures a yellow butterfly and uses it like a fig leaf, then lets its wings flutter gently against him. Grasping a jewel encrusted chalice, he dribbles golden fluid on his beautiful navel Maxfield Parrish, meet Chi Chi LaRue.

In his heyday Bidgood created outcast art on the homo fringe. (it's hard to believe, but nude muscle boy reclining on gilded beds while playing lutes were once considered tacky.) But this month the 66-year-old Bidgood has finally arrived--if not in the mainstream, at least in high queer culture. Bidgood, a lavishly illustrated book of his fabulous art, is being published by Taschen; along with hundreds of gorgeous color photos, the book features elegant essays on Bidgood's work by the novelist-critic Bruce Benderson. And a newly restored print of Pink Narcissus will appear at lesbian and gay film festivals in June and July and as part of the Strand Releasing retrospective at New York City's Museum of Modern Art July 6 and 11.

Bidgood, a former costume designer for Junior League balls in Manhattan, found his metier in Muscle Teens, Demi-Gods, and ether physique magazines, for which he shot erotic stills of slim bodybuilders clad in the same Mardi Gras costumes he'd designed for society matrons--though in rather more revealing postures. Bidgood captures this deliriously romantic erotica in all its Technicolor glory--chiseled boys posing in riotously artificial "natural" settings (including an undersea world with blazing-red sea flowers and a sequin-laden treasure chest). But Bidgood's genius really comes out in Pink Narcissus.

This is no porn quickie with interchangeable twinkles showing off their armpits. Bidgood's ambition rose to a far loftier level Despite his shoestring budget, Bidgood crafted breathtaking camera movements, elaborate forest scenes, wild Persian fantasy sequences, and a neon netherworld, almost all in the cramped confines of the Manhattan apartment he shared with Bobby Kendall, who never figured out what Bidgood saw in him. "Why do you want to take pictures of me?" Kendall asked when they met. "1 think I look like a monkey."

On the subject of his own recent fame, the otherwise Camay Bidgood turns serious. "I'm grateful for the attention," he says. "it would have been better 40 years ago."

Sikov is the author of On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder.
COPYRIGHT 1999 Liberation Publications, Inc.
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Author:SIKOV, ED
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Date:Jun 8, 1999
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