Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon [2008]

7/10 | 3.Nov.12
Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon [documentary]

DIRECTOR: Jeffrey Schwarz | USA

Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon is a traditional talking-heads documentary about the once ubiquitous Jack Wrangler and I enjoyed it quite a bit, but I was disappointed that the director didn’t look more deeply into his subject matter rather than zipping right along. I was puzzled that Wrangler is referred to over and over by the interviewees as having broken the mold in the media/popular culture by being gay and “masculine”, that here finally was a gay man who wasn’t a limp-wristed fairy, and so on. I was a young adult consumer of gay pornography at the time Jack Wrangler emerged on the scene and he was by no means exceptionally masculine in the gay porn world then, and certainly not if by “masculine” we’re supposed to think “straight-acting” or butch or dominant top or trade or any number of other categories. Wrangler not only was sexually versatile, but he “read” gay to me: he was unmistakably a gay man. What I found a breath of fresh air about him was how at ease he seemed in his own body and in his own sexuality. But then it dawned on me that this “masculinity” that kept being touted is how he appeared to the larger non-gay-porn-consuming heterosexual world: here he was, a fully sexual gay man who wasn’t a fairy or any kind of scary caricature. Which is not to say that “Jack Wrangler” was anything more than the persona John Stillman came up with when he started performing; he admits at one point that at the height of his considerable popularity he had started to merge his identity with that of the character he played on film and on stage: his ego fed off the lust he inspired in other people. It’s a pity that topic isn’t explored more deeply, but it did make me understand a bit more why Wrangler made the decision to become the top male star in heterosexual pornography despite being gay and, in fact, despite never having had sex with a woman until he was on camera shooting his very first sex scene for a straight porn film. All in all this is a well-made if superficial documentary that left me wanting more, a lot more. And no, I still don’t understand his relationship with Margaret Whiting at all.

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