Who's Renting These Boys?

Wiktor Grodecki's Czech Hustler Documentaries Kevin Moss

Kevin Moss

Ascontrols on sex, sexuality, and capitalism relaxed in the formerWarsaw Pact countries after 1989, pornography and prostitutionflourished. The main center of both industries in the 90s in Centraland Eastern Europe was Prague, which also became the favoreddestination of Westerners eager to explore the "new Paris."Gay porn and male prostitutes were among Prague''s attractions. As theWesternmost outpost of the Slavic world, Prague had always had aspecial place in the Orientalist construct of Eastern Europe. West ofBerlin and Vienna, Prague was nevertheless perceived as the East byits German-speaking neighbors. LarryWolff writes about how Mozart invented nonsense language and sillynicknames for members of his party as he traveled West to Prague.[1]A cosmopolitan who could understand most of the languages of WesternEurope was completely baffled by Slavic. The Slavs'' sexuality, liketheir language, was inscrutable and therefore open to Westernprojection. Edward Said describes the Arab Orient as a place whereWesterners expected "sexual experience unobtainable in Europe"and "a different type of sexuality."[2]While Said''s analysis is framed in heterosexual terms, the sexuallyavailable feminine Orient that can be penetrated and catalogued bythe rational West is neither always female nor always heterosexual.Joseph Boone''s "Homoerotics of Orientalism" shows just howimportant – even central – gay sexuality was in theorientalist project: "the possibility of sexual contact with andbetween men underwrites and at times even explains the historicalappeal of orientalism as an occidental mode of male perception,appropriation, and control."[3]Robert Aldrich''s Colonialism and Homosexuality is an even morethorough examination of the connections between homosexuality andimperialism from the 1800s on.[4] Thesame kind of relaxation of compulsory heterosexuality that allowedFlaubert to dabble in boys in Egypt functions for Westerners inEastern Europe as well. Wolff cites Casanova''s experiments withsame-sex sex (the only such episode described in his voluminousmemoirs) in Russia.[5]For some gay Westerners in the 90s, Prague became the place to lookfor "sexual experience unavailable in Europe." As MattiBunzl documents, Austrian men found a different type of sexualitydescribed through tropes of "availability, passion, andpansexuality."[6]
Czech rent boys – indeed all Czechs, according to the gayAustrians, were not constrained by the homo/hetero binary oftraditional Austrian society – they had a different type ofsexuality. The lower age of consent and economic disparity meant thatyounger boys were more readily available than in Vienna – asexual experience unavailable in Western Europe. Colonial and orientalistexploitation can produce a backlash. Rudi Bleys writes about hownativist Africans began to describe homosexuality, which had earlierbeen described by Europeans as an African vice, instead as a Europeanimport, unknown in native tradition.[7]The same kind of moral outrage that had been part of the racistcolonizing project was reversed: it was the Europeans who hadcorrupted the hitherto pure Africans. As I have shown elsewhere,conservatives in Eastern Europe regularly conflated sexual dissidencewith political dissidence.[8]Valentin Rasputin, for example, said of homosexuality, "Thatkind of contact between men is a foreign import. If they feel theirrights are infringed they can always go and live in anothercountry."[9]
A similar reactionto gay pornography and prostitution in Prague can be found in thefilms of Wiktor Grodecki. WiktorGrodecki is a Pole who studied film in the US, then returned toPoland in 1992. His three films about Czech rent boys, Not Angels,but Angels (Andělé nejsou andělé 1994), Bodywithout Soul (Tělo bez duše1996), and Mandragora (1997) purport to be objective,honest documentaries in which (in the language of the video box) theboys'' "frankness and need to talk become the engine that drivesthe film."[10]In reality, Grodecki''s films are both highly manipulated and highlymanipulative in ways that serve to enforce "normal"sexuality while demonizing various "abnormal" sexualpractices. At the same time they portray these practices as an importfrom the colonizing capitalist West.In The Celluloid Closet VitoRusso documents the ways gay material was censored in Hollywood underthe Hays Code. Plays about gay characters became films about Jews orabout characters with unnamed differences. He cites severalfilmmakers who claim their films are not about homosexuality, butabout loneliness, or insanity, or the power of lies to destroypeople''s lives, about anything but homosexuality.[11]
In fact, though, they were about homosexuality, even if thathomosexuality was veiled in the film. Analysis of films from Centraland Eastern Europe in the 80s and 90s reveals the reverse strategy:films with overtly queer characters use homosexuality as a metaphorfor something else: politics, nationality, anything but a realanalysis of real homosexuality. In the former Yugoslavia SrdjanKaranović''s Virgina (1992) and Eelimir Eilnik''s Marble Ass(1994) use sworn virgins and transvestite prostitutes to critiquenationalism in Yugoslavia. In Hungary Károly Makk''s AnotherWay (1982) uses lesbianism to disguise the film''s portrayal ofthe Revolution of 1956, and István Szabó''s ColonelRedl (1984) soft-pedals Redl''s homosexuality to reveal howtotalitarian regimes rewrite history. Sergei Livnev''s Hammer andSickle (1994) uses a sex-change operation as a metaphor for theexcesses of Stalin''s system while expressing contemporary anxietiesabout masculinity. Grodecki''sfilms are no exception to this pattern: while they purport to bedocumentaries about gay rent boys, the boys are in fact a metaphorfor capitalist exploitation. Thefirst film of Grodecki''s trilogy, is Not Angels, but Angels(1994). It is made up of a dozen or so interviews with the rent boysand one pimp. The interviews are cut apart and arranged by theme, sowe hear, for example, all the boys tell their names and ages, thenall talk about how they started, and so on. Since the questions ofthe interviewer are (for the most part) cut out, one gets theimpression that the boys are just speaking on their own, tellingtheir stories – as if, indeed, the boys "need to talkbecomes the engine that drives the film." They talk about whatthey like and what they don''t like in bed, about clients, aboutprices for different acts and different situations (the train stationvs. clubs, Czechs vs. foreigners, sucking vs. fucking), about AIDSand safe sex. Yetwhile it claims to be an objective documentary, Grodecki''s film is infact heavy-handedly manipulative and moralistic. It is not so muchthe texts of the boys'' interviews that show the director''s hand asthe staging and camera angles, the montage, the non-diegetic music onthe soundtrack, and the ordering of the material. As the boys revealsecrets Grodecki hopes the audience will be shocked at, the sound ofchoral church music (Bach and Mozart, as well as jarring Tibetanchants) takes over the soundtrack, and the boys'' interviews areintercut with religious statues in Prague shot from below, as if thesaints were looking down in stern judgment. In the section where theboys say that what they do is prostitution (of which many don''tappear to be particularly ashamed or embarrassed), the backgroundmusic is a sad soprano vocalise. In a later section Grodecki uses theRex tremendae from Mozart''s Requiem to accompany anever-faster montage of porn, pinball-playing, and purportedcustomers'' faces to describe the whirlwind of destruction into whichthe poor boys find themselves sucked. Though underplayed commentsthroughout the film suggest that many of the boys do in fact prefersleeping with men, the last scene confirms what Grodecki would likeus to believe, that these poor children being exploited by gay menare of course really straight: one boy says, "a man wanted tolook at me when I sleep with any girl. That was the nicest work." Becauseof the prejudices already encoded in Western culture (including Czechand Polish here – Grodecki is a Pole), Grodecki need onlyhighlight the sexual activities of the boys in order to evoke thedisapproval of the audience. In her article "Thinking Sex,"Gayle Rubin describes how "hierarchies of sexual value…function in much the same way as do ideological systems of racism,ethnocentrism, and religious chauvinism. They rationalize thewell-being of the sexually privileged and the adversity of the sexualrabble."[12]Her diagram shows the charmed circle of good and bad sexualpractices.

[brakujący obrazek: 1]

Figure 1. The sex hierarchy:the charmed circle vs. the outer limits[13]

Grodeckideploys all of these categories, and then some. The sex the boyspractice is (working around the circle) homosexual, non-marital,promiscuous, non-procreative, for money, sometimes in groups, casual,cross-generational, not at home. Later films introduce pornography,manufactured objects, and S/M. Rubin refers to the battles "betweenthe primary producers of sexual ideology – churches, thefamily, the shrinks, and the media – and the groups whoseexperience they name, distort, and endanger."[14] Grodecki, representing the media, uses the church and the family ashis not-so-covert allies in distorting the experience of the rentboys. The church is evoked through liturgical music and religiousstatues. The only thing on Rubin''s list missing from the films is theshrinks. Anothertactic is only slightly more subtle. Grodecki''s films provide atextbook case of the function of the male gaze. John Berger firstpointed out that women appear nude in the visual arts for thepresumed male spectator and owner: "men act and women appear."[15]
Laura Mulvey developed the theory of the importance of the male gazein film in "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema:" "Ina world ordered by sexual imbalance (she writes), pleasure in lookinghas been split between active/male and passive/female. Thedetermining male gaze projects its fantasy onto the female figure,which is styled accordingly."[16]The presumed controlling gaze is both male and heterosexual, or atleast heterosexist. What this means for Grodecki''s films is that therent boys are cast in the role of passive victims, denied any agencyor subject position even as they are allowed to speak what aresupposedly their own stories. Camera angles and staging emphasize theboys'' passivity: the camera often looks down on them, they are shotreclining langorously or even in one case relaxing in a bubble-bath.Their poses and demeanor often suggest passivity, femininity, andvictimhood. Justas in hetero films analyzed by Mulvey, we find here 3 looksassociated with the cinema: "that of the camera as it recordsthe profilmic event, that of the audience as it watches the finalproduct, and that of the characters at each other within the screenillusion."[17]Normally, writes Mulvey, film conventions deny the first two to"prevent a distancing awareness in the audience."[18]But Grodecki wants such distancing here – is the gaze ofthe camera and the audience identical with the active/male voyeurthat objectivizes and victimizes the boys? No, Grodecki wants toreassure his audience, because that gaze is gay, while we are not. Incase the audience has any doubts, he includes a few shots of leeringmale faces, presumed customers, who are probably foreigners andinvariably ugly and old. Of course they are not us, the audience! Itis not we who are objectifying these boys. The faces are shownin lurid lighting, and in these scenes the boys are totallyimmobilized into porn-stills for consumption. They are also silenced:they have neither subjectivity nor voice, they are mute objects forthe enjoyment of the men. Theissue of the gaze becomes more complex in the second film, Bodywithout Soul (Tělo bez duše1996), because it features a Czech pornographer who shoots therent boys in his films. Of course it is no coincidence that thespheres of pornography and prostitution overlap. They are the twomajor forms of commercial sex; our word "pornography" evencomes from the Greek for writing by or about prostitutes. This filmrepeats many of the devices of the first: the boys introducethemselves, describe their work – again to the tune of dramaticclassical music – this time Mahler and Vivaldi – andintercut with Prague statues of angels. Again the film ends on a notethat reinstates the heterosexual family as the privileged norm: afterother boys have talked about preferring boys or living with both agirlfriend and a boyfriend, one says "I do love someone a lot…my father" and the final song speaks of a "mother''s tearsfor her dead son." Rubinwrites that marginal sexual worlds are portrayed by mainstream mediaas "impoverished, ugly, and inhabited by psychopaths andcriminals."[19]
Grodecki found a perfect medium for this film in pornographer PavelRousek whose day job is performing autopsies at the morgue. If NotAngels, but Angels juxtaposed the experiences of the boys withcontrasting spiritual statues and music, Body without Soulemploys montage to shock by association, almost like aversiontherapy. Grodecki cuts from Rousek directing naked boys in the filmto Rousek dissecting naked bodies in the morgue. The parallels arebrilliant and effective. The scenes begin when Rousek talks about theimportance of having a bottom – a passive participant in analsex – for the film. Discussion of penetrating the buttocks –a site of terror for the straight male – is accompanied byominous drum music. The film cuts to the morgue. The boys undress inRousek''s apartment; Rousek suits up at the morgue. He puts on gloves– which he calls "protection." Grodecki intercutswith immobilized stills here, the better to hold them in our gaze.The Requiem text is ominous, as the interview turns to AIDS anddeath. Prostitution=pornography=AIDS=death (with some drugs andbeatings along the way). Bodies are just bodies, flesh is just flesh.The dance of death, again set to religious music, goes faster andfaster until we reach climax – death on the one hand, a cumshot (cut from one version of the film) on the other, followed byRousek washing up and the boys talking about love Bodywithout Soul complicates the issue of the gaze because we seewhat Mulvey says film conventions usually deny – Rousek''scamera as it records the profilmic event. Again I would argueGrodecki does this to disengage the audience (and himself) fromimplication in the objectifying gaze of the pornographer''s camera.Perhaps if Rousek is himself the object of our gaze, we are not theconsumers of his product. But who is? Germans of course, capitalistWesterners. JohnD''Emilio''s essay, "Capitalism and Gay Identity"demonstrates how beginning in the late 19th century wage laborallowed for some men and women to organize a personal life around anerotic/emotional attraction to the same sex.[20]Increasing mobility and a decrease in the importance of the family asan economic entity helped create an environment in which a homosexualidentity could be constructed by gay men and women who congregated inurban areas.[21]Similar changes in conditions (increased mobility, relaxation ofsocial controls, market capitalism) allowed for the proliferation ofsex workers in cities like Prague in the 90s. Because of theimbalance of wealth between Western and Eastern Europe, however,there has been a tendency for sex workers to become a site ofcolonial exploitation of the East by the West: hustlers from EasternEurope work in the West and Western sex tourists come to EasternEurope for cheap sex. (We can add "sex with an imperialistforeigner" to Rubin''s circle of bad sex.) InNot Angels, but Angels, the boys mention that most of theircustomers are Germans. Body without Soul amplifies this fearof colonization. The implication is that not only do the consumers ofboy-sex and pornography come from the West, but – in a myththat recurs often in the context of Eastern Europe –marginalized sexual tastes (read homosexuality) do as well. And ofcourse they lead to death: Germans won''t buy the films if condoms areused. The box for Body without Soul refers to "sexualtourists" and a "callous disregard for the lethal dangersof AIDS."[22]While HIV may be transmitted on a porn set, it would seem that a pornshoot, in which the cum shots have to be on camera, is not the mostlikely site for infection. Still, if some boys used as actors areinfected, this is blamed on the German consumers (who may very wellbe infecting them in their other role as prostitutes). Even thefearless butcher Rousek cowers before the predatory Western fag: heis afraid to go to Prague''s leather bar SAM (to research S/M for aplot) because "in an Amsterdam leather bar a huge bald manwanted to make love to him." Withhis last film, Mandragora (1997), Grodecki gives up allpretense of making a documentary – though the box still claimsthat "all the events in this film actually occurred, and werephotographed just as the street kids described them." Mandragorais in fact a feature film, scripted by Grodecki and one of the rentboys, David Švec. It is thedramatization of Grodecki''s fantasy of the boys'' experience, thistime with no messy testimony by the boys themselves to get in the wayof the director''s interpretation of their lives. A boy, Marek, comesto Prague from a provincial town after committing a petty theft. Inthe main station (which we already know as a site of prostitution) heis robbed and beaten himself and falls into the clutches of a pimp.He is drugged and raped, then beaten again. Another boy, David,befriends him, and they try to move out on their own, but keepfalling back into the cycle of beatings, crime, drugs, prostitutionand pornography. Newthemes introduced in this film include the provincial/big citydistinction (needless to say, the province is unspoiled, the citycorrupt – this is standard fare for conservatives in EasternEurope) and the even stronger emphasis on family. Marek is corruptedby the big city. When he and David return to David''s home town forhis father''s birthday (he is too ashamed to go in the apartment), theworking class men in the bar vent their anger at the boys''ostentatious wealth: "we work all our lives and can barelyafford a beer, these big city boys come and buy a bottle of scotch –and corrupt our girls!" (We can add "sex in the big city"to Rubin''s circle of bad sex.) David cries at the rift with hisfather. Marek''s father too plays a role in the film, even coming tothe corrupt big city himself to find his lost son. When he says he is"looking for his boy," the pimps offer him another one. Ofcourse he gets justifiably angry and trashes the bar and beats thefags. Later a boy offers his services, and the father follows him,only to cry and embrace him. Marek and his father miss each otherconstantly by seconds. A final poignant scene has them in the men''sroom of the train station separated by a stall partition –Marek having overdosed and slit his leg with a knife, his father onhis way home to the sanity of the provinces. Still, family in thefilm seems curiously truncated: David misses his father, Marek''sfather comes after him. One wonders where the mothers are. Inprovincial Eastern Europe, this is an odd omission. Marek''s father isviolent: he beats Marek and later other gay men. But this is never anissue for Grodecki. Neither is the fact that in Ústínad Labem everyone talks about work, but they are only seen to behanging out at the local bar. Unemployment is not a problem, but drugabuse and homosexuality in the cities are problems. Thegaze of the characters employed in Mandragora is meant toparallel that of the audience. Both Marek and his father are shownfresh from the provinces, and the camera focuses on their faces asthey watch in puzzled shock the excesses of Prague: a drag queensinging, boys dancing with each other, two boys kissing! Perhaps thefather''s most shocking voyeuristic moment comes in the bar brawl,when he pulls down the curtain of the darkroom to reveal what lookslike an orgy, with everyone naked and oblivious to the absence of thecurtain. Marek, on the other hand, is shocked but also intrigued bythe gay life he sees, and he eventually falls in love with David. InMandragora we get the full panoply of objectifying characters,including the clients, who are predictably bizarre, ugly, criminal,and Western. There is a married professor from Heidelberg; there is aBritish queen who lives in a palace and puts Marek on a pedestal andthen beats him bloody; and there is Rudy, the "American" –really a Czech who has returned from exile in style. Rudy wears acowboy hat, drives a Cadillac, rents a whole floor of the PragueHotel, and hides his money in a small model of the Statue of Liberty.First David and Marek drug and rob him. But payback comes when helures David in and sodomizes him with a pool cue, then hands him overto the police. Thescene with the British man is worth analyzing at length in terms ofthe gaze and objectification. He puts Marek on a pedestal literally:he makes him strip and stand on a pedestal in the pose of Donatello''sDavid. The dialogue perfectly captures the process ofobjectification, in which the object is there purely for theenjoyment of the owner/viewer, who in this case apparently reachesorgasm through verbalizing the aesthetic experience. But it alsopoints to the problem of colonization, since the viewer''s knowledgeis expressed in complex English Marek can''t understand. Marekis reduced to being an object, an immobile statue for the viewer''spleasure, but which viewer – the Englishman or the filmaudience? Speakingof the use of language, it is interesting to note that while Germansare described as the primary customers for both prostitutes andfilms, the language of hegemonic colonization in the film is English.In Not Angels But Angels one boy speaks English because he wasborn in the US, but another has obviously learned it for professionalreasons, and he hopes to meet an American who will take him abroad.In Mandragora Marek shows he has learned the ropes byinitiating a conversation in a club in English, and it is in Englishthat he first confesses "I am prostitute." Inan interview with a Russian gay journalist, Grodecki confirms allsuspicions about his intentions.[23]
He was prompted to make the film by a return in 1992 from Los Angelesto Europe where he found Eastern European children working asprostitutes. "I had never seen people from my native landsselling their bodies." The clients, he says, were mostlyGermans. The boys come into Prague from the provinces and are"infected with the vices of the city." Body without Soulis "about everyday evil, the emptiness of evil;" inMandragora the boys "grow out of death, are infected withdisease, and deprived of hope for the future." He cites AgnesVarda on the lack of documentarity in documentary films, adding "Youhave to pay these people, tell them when to begin speaking, when tostop, ask them to repeat something." While he doesn''t go so faras to confess scripting them, he comes pretty close. Perhaps mostdamning, he confesses that "homosexual prostitution became forme a metaphor of many other things" and laments that many peoplefailed to understand this. Gay audiences do not like the films, andCzech audiences think they will tarnish the reputation of the CzechRepublic. Areview by Czech film critic Jaroslav Sedláěekreveals exactly what Grodecki means.[24]First he praises the director for "authenticity withoutdisgusting naturalism," even nudity is used only where needed(in other words, he doesn''t disgust his audience with too manydepictions of actual homosexual sex). But the same reviewercriticizes Grodecki for unnecessarily excluding the "normal"(i. e. straight) world from the film. "If it weren''t for thetrip to Ústí nad Labem, where we see a young husbandand wife pushing a baby carriage, we might think the Czech Republiccontained only innocent creatures for sale and deviant foreigners."And why such a grim portrayal of the provincial factory town, whenthere are so many lovely spots in our countryside? It calls intoquestion the verisimilitude of the whole film! Sedláěek''srosy view of the provinces bears little resemblance to real factorytowns after the fall of communism. Grodecki''sRussian interviewer – logically – asks if this is notsimply homophobia, to which the director replies, "the CzechRepublic is a very tolerant country. I don''t think homophobia existshere." He goes on to say that he too grew up in a "tolerantcountry" (Poland), which explains why he doesn''t know what a gayaudience is and doesn''t have any desire to know. "Groups didn''texist, we had simply people." After this simultaneous erasure ofhomophobia and a gay public, Grodecki goes on to express amusementthat his films "receive great reviews at regular film festivals,but are excoriated by the gay press at gay festivals." In otherwords, his films are approved by a "tolerant" public, butnot by the audience whose very existence he denies. How amusing isit? Ifwe look at the trilogy as a whole, there are some very interestingtouches. The titles all play into the deployment of spiritual valuesas the backdrop for the boys'' experiences – remember thatGrodecki himself says they are about "evil." Mandragora isidentified on the box as "a plant which according to East Indianfolklore grows under the gallows from the sperm of hanged men…life grows out of death, but life which is already condemned,infested, illusory." The connection between sex and death isclear. Grodecki points out that the root takes the form of a penis.And mandragora is also mandrake, from which a narcotic was distilled– narcotics play a major role in the film, both rohypnol andspeed. "Body without Soul" refers to a line of questioningGrodecki forces the boys into – they sell their bodies, but nottheir souls; the body as flesh being reinforced by Rousek as he movesbetween directing flesh in porn and dissecting flesh in the morgue.Grodecki goes further to claim that the Greek "porno"literally means "body without soul" – in fact itmeans "prostitute," probably derived from pernemi,to export for sale, especially of slaves. Whichbrings us back to the first film. Not Angels, but Angels hasthe richest title, even if it is the most obscure. The Czech isAndělé nejsou andělé, "Angels are notAngels," which just implies that these boys are not the angelsthey appear to be. But it is the English title that has a moreinteresting resonance. It is apparently a reference to a quotationfrom Bede''s Ecclesiastical History, (II:1), usually given inLatin as "Non Angli, sed angeli," and ascribed to PopeGregory I (540-604). The story is that the pope beheld two Englishslave boys in a Roman slave market, and when told that they wereAngles, he responded, "not Angles, but angels" – theyhave the faces of angels, and such should be the co-heirs of theangels in heaven. The title is apt, therefore, not only because ofthe connection between boys and angels, but also because it refers tointer-national, even colonial exploitation (or at leastobjectification) of beautiful boys, reifying the Greek etymology ofpornos / porne / porneia from pernemi. Theprogression of the three films increasingly emphasizes theobjectification of the boys, while simultaneously distancing theaudience from implication in their objectification. The first filmshows the boys as talking heads, with the faces of a few anonymousexploiters (male gazers) intercut to distance the film audience fromthe objectifying position. The second film includes a pornographer toperform the same role. And the third incorporates a host ofobjectifying/exploiting/gaze-wielding men who are marked asemphatically not heroes the audience can identify with. Forall Grodecki''s heavy-handedness in Mandragora, though, thereis some slippage even here – perhaps showing the hand of therent-boy (or ex-rent-boy) co-writer? (David''s status, by the way,belies the premise of all three films – that the boys aresucked into a vicious cycle of drugs, sex, and victimization that canonly end in death. At least one of them co-wrote a film!) Marek''sreminiscences show that his father beat him. This suggests a questionthe filmmaker had failed to ask in the first documentary films,though some boys volunteered the answer anyway: why do theyleave home? Many were thrown out by their families. Why? They don''tusually say, but could it be because they are gay? And they come toPrague because it is a place they can be gay? The provinces are asbleak and gray in Mandragora as they are in reality. Marekseems to be really gay in the film, and the plot suggests that hisrelationship with David is not merely exploitative in eitherdirection. There is love here, though the possibility was overtlydenied in the earlier "documentary" films. Furthermore,there is a problem with the real marketing and reception of thefilms. Ostensibly made for a straight audience to decry theexploitation of boys by gay Westerners, the films have beenco-produced with Western help, shown at gay & lesbian filmfestivals to audiences of mostly gay men, and even marketed throughWestern pornography providers.[25]The last is of course the most bizarre, and the film most often foundis Body without Soul, which deals with the Czech porn industryitself. Gay audiences in general, and gay porn consumers inparticular must develop a particularly layered approach to Grodecki''sattempt to distance the audience from the objectifying pornographer.They (we?) must recontextualize the raw images, taking them out ofGrodecki''s moralizing frame, to see the boys as the aesthetic objectsthey are in the film within the film. That kind of decontextualizingis certainly what I do with the interview material. This discountingof the frame – perhaps with the complicity of the filmmaker inthe case of the porn – recalls the way Soviets used tointerpret articles about Western culture. They would ignore theideological diatribes against Western decadence that framed longquotations while avidly reading the quotations themselves. I say withthe complicity of the filmmaker – or at least the distributor –because there are two versions of the films available. The versionsold through mainstream commercial channels in the US pixellizesanything that smacks of boy-porn, while the version shown atfestivals and presumably the one sold through gay porn channels doesnot. (That this is a ploy to placate viewers or perhaps the lawadopted post-production is clear in one scene in which even theEnglish subtitles are pixellized!). The pixellized porn may preventsome viewers from enjoying the gaze, but what of those who buy theunpixellized version and fast-forward through Grodecki''s frame –as one would through the plot scenes of a porn film? Hencethe question of my title: who''s renting these boys? If it is indeedprimarily gay consumers of porn, then Grodecki has implicated himselfcommercially in the very process of exploitation he claims to decry.Not that the boys would really mind. For all Grodecki''s attempts topassivize them into the status of victims, their agency keepsbursting through. Even in the first film some say they choose theircustomers, not vice versa. According to Grodecki and his press theyare boy-victims, street children, kids (which problematizes theirportrayal in the US: is this kiddie porn or not?). But not only arethey in my view the agents of their narratives, many of them choosingtheir profession, they are also not legally children: the age ofconsent in the Czech Republic is 15, and almost none of the boys isyounger than that. They''re clever, too. They live by playing roles,and the role of passive victim for Grodecki''s propaganda may be justone more paying role for them – he hints at this himself. InGrodecki''s narrative the boys are of course straight kids, coercedinto prostitution by violence and drugs, gay for pay. But in Bodywithout Soul one of them says, effectively, "who are theykidding saying they''re straight?" In Mandragora we learnthat many say they''re straight to drive up the price. Maybe the boysare just good entrepreneurs, capitalists themselves, rather thanhelpless straight victims of Western and gay exploitation. Yeteven if many say they like sex with men, almost none of them claimsto enjoy passive anal sex, which produces a frenzy of demand for theone willing to be passive in the porn films. The porn directors inBody without Soul and Mandragora are constantly asking,"do you do everything? if you don''t get fucked, you don''tdo everything." Marek''s volunteering for the passive role inMandragora in this context comes as a shock: "It''s not sobad, just relax," he says. David (who''s been living and trickingwith him for months) responds, "I never suspected you likeboys!" His shock mirrors that of the director and the projectedaudience. But he does like boys; and even if he takes whatappears to Grodecki to be a passive role, the power dynamic may notbe as straightforward (pun intended) as Grodecki would like us tothink. It''s these queer moments that slip past Grodecki''s controllingheterosexist gaze that make the films worth watching.Kevin Moss


[1] Larry Wolff, Inventing Eastern Europe. Stanford: Stanford U Pr., 1994 p. 106-115.
[2] Edward Said, Orientalism (NY: Vintage, 1978), 190.
[3] Joseph Boone, "Vacation Cruises; or, The Homoerotics of Orientalism," iPMLA 110 (1), 1995, 90.
[4] Robert Aldrich, Colonialism and Homosexuality (NY: Routledge, 2003).
[5] Wolff, 54-55.
[6] Matti Bunzl, "The Prague Experience: Gay male Sex Tourism and the Neocolonial Invention of an Embodied Border," in Daphne Berdahl, Matti Bunzl, Martha Lampland, eds., Altering States: Ethnographies of Transition in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union (Ann Arbor: U Mich. Pr., 2000), 83.
[7] See Rudi C. Bleys, The Geography of Perversion (NY: NYU Press, 1995).
[8] Kevin Moss, "The Underground Closet: Political and Sexual Dissidence in Eastern Europe," in Ellen E. Berry, ed., Genders 22: Postcommunism and the Body Politic (1995), 229-251.
[9] quoted in Lionel Joyce, letter to the editor of the New York i>Review of Books, April 11, 1991, p. 61.
[10] Produced by Miro Vostiar, packaging - 1995 Water Bearer Films.
[11] Vito Russo, The Celluloid Closet (NY: Harper & Row, 1987), 126.
[12] Gayle Rubin, "Thinking Sex," in The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader (NY:Routledge, 1993), 13.
[13] Rubin, 13.
[14] Rubin, 23.
[15] John Berger, Ways of Seeing (London: BBC/Penguin, 1972), 47.
[16] Laura Mulvey, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema," in Visual and Other Pleasures (Bloomington: Indiana U Pr., 1989), 19.
[17] Mulvey, 25.
[18] Mulvey, 25.
[19] Rubin, 23.
[20] John D''Emilio, "Capitalism and Gay Identity," in Making Trouble (New York: Routledge, 1992), 3-16.
[21] D''Emilio, 7.
[22] Packaging - 1997 MKS Video.
[23] Gay.ru http://koi.gay.ru/art/kino/kino9.htm (8/12/99).
[24] Jaroslav Sedláěek in Cinema. http://www.cinema.cz/rec/mandrago/ (25/4/99).
[25] Fig Leaf, Vol 2, Issue 17, for example.

Kevin Moss

back    print   pdf

pl en

  • graphic design: