Gay Porn Interview: Joe Gage on David Hurles and Old Reliable
A few weeks back, I met up with director Joe Gage, who took me to meet David Hurles, the pioneering gay pornographer and founder of the Old Reliable company. Despite a recent stroke, Hurles and Old Reliable are experiencing a revival of sorts these days — John Waters dedicated a chapter to him in his recent book, Role Models and last year the Marianne Boesky gallery organized a show dedicated to his ‘outsider porn.’ His shots of hustlers, addicts and murderers in the 70s and 80s were in many ways the an antidote of the slick images being produced by studios like Falcon and Catalina.
Gage is shooting a documentary on Hurles, and I followed up with him to talk about the project.
What drew you to Hurles in particular? Were you aware of him when you were making the Kansas City trilogy?
My producing partner Sam Gage and I had driven up from Los Angeles to San Francisco to meet with Wakefield Poole and get his advice about making Kansas City Trucking Co, which was in the planning stage. He put us in a room at his place, and sometime during that weekend, I came across an 8mm spool of film. (It must have been out in the open, because I swear I wasn’t rifling through his belongings.) I slapped it onto a handy nearby projector and was introduced to the vision of an ex-con hunk who stripped down, lit up a cigar and casually strode around a sketchy hotel room with a rock-hard erection sticking out in front of him. I was instantly in love with the all-American dirty mind of the great David Hurles.
Well, you’ve both got a ‘realness’ that doesn’t fall into costume or camp — that’s part of why I think it still so potent. Did Hurles influence your aesthetic at all, or were you already pretty firmly set on the look and feel of Kansas City?
He didn’t influence my aesthetic as much as allow me to realize that there were others out there who had a similar vision–who appreciated a certain, very specific kind of reality as much as I did.
How you got from that 8mm loop to deciding, “oh, this would be a great documentary.”
I followed his output over the years from afar. My life went on and I never noticed when he and Old Reliable faded away. Years later while I was gathering research material for a movie with a wrestling background called Alabama Takedown, I discovered a cache of wrestling tapes for sale on Ebay. I bought two for (I think) around fie bucks each. They arrived wrapped in their original flyers, which listed each for (I think) $59 each, and were sent to me by Old Reliable from a Hollywood address. I discovered that David had moved down from San Francisco and had evidently fallen on hard times.
The seed of an idea was born: what would his story be like? I put the thoughts on the back burner and continued with my own work until one day a photographer friend of mine sent me a batch of party pictures from a L.A. gallery opening of his work. One snap featured Taschen editrix Dian Hansen in the company of David Hurles. I quickly contacted the photographer, who put me in touch with Dian, who put me in touch with David. The next time I was in Los Angeles, I sat David down in front of a camera and talked to him for an hour. A project was born. An ongoing, long-running project.
What happened to Old Reliable? You say he fell on hard times, but I’m curious how much of that was personal and how much of it had to do with changing tastes and distribution.
His downfall was entirely personal, which is one of the main thrusts of the piece. The urge to watch men masturbate has not abated, and the distribution methods have actually made his kind of material explode all over the internet.
So what happened to Hurles? At his height he was making millions, right?
Not millions, but enough to eventually squander on all the usual suspects, in all the usual ways. I’m treading very carefully on this territory in the piece.
It’s an odd situation to get to know someone while making a film about them. Because you’re not only documenting their life and history, you’re also synthesizing it into a narrative. I always wonder what it must be like to be on the other side of that lens. Has David’s own story differed from your original conception of how the story would unfold?
For years I had a friend who was an exclusive drug dealer to the top dogs in NYC showbiz and literary circles. He had it all–a luxury car, a luxury loft, hot and cold running boys…he eventually lost it all and sank into poverty and obscurity. I compared his story with David’s and realized the only essential difference between the two was David’s unique vision of the world and the raw talent he possessed to do something with it. At this point, I’m following along to see where the path will lead.