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Art

Fred Halsted's Experimental Porn L.A. Plays Itself: Even Dalí Thought It Was Freaky

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Fri, Dec 16, 2011 at 10:00 AM

click to enlarge This guy got away with some crazy shit.
  • This guy got away with some crazy shit.
Porn and experimental cinema. Natural bedfellows. Unfortunately, at a certain point the porn world starting cranking out a standard set of scenes for all occasions. But before porn was an industry, notorious experimental filmmaker Fred Halsted got away with making some crazy shit in the name of art and sex.

So says filmmaker and Halsted admirer William E. Jones, author of the just-released biography Halsted Plays Himself. Tonight at Human Resources, in addition to signing his book, Jones is hosting a screening of Halsted's notorious 1972 L.A. Plays Itself.

After watching the film when it was screened in New York in the 1970s, the eccentric artist Salvador Dalí reportedly is quoted as muttering "new information for me." Have you seen some of Dalí's work? Need I say more? You might learn something new yourself.

Jones describes the book as an attempt "to solve the riddle of this man's life," though he admits, "certainly some things are still mysterious." And for a man whose line of work was about putting it all out there, that's saying something.

Jones first happened across Halsted's work while trawling through archives of pornographic film, working a day job producing compilations of gay porn. "In the process, the most interesting thing I saw was Fred," says Jones. Among the repetitive [insert standard porn imagery here], Jones was fascinated by the fact that Halsted's films were, as he saw it, aesthetically interesting, not just pandering to sex as an easy sell.

Jones points to the importance of Halsted's work as it emerged in the 1970s as truly unique. "He positioned himself between experimental film and porn," Jones says. Instead of attempting to create artsy porn, or sexy experimental film, Halsted's work presses against boundaries that had defined and confined each genre. Ultimately, situating his work in this way was what Jones describes as "the gamble that wrecked Fred's career."

Jones says, "He counted on the S&M scene to be palatable to art house audiences," which turns out was not the case. While Halsted's model may not have been monetarily feasible, his work remains important in the scope of the genres he attempted to bridge. "There is an element of the social in the work as well as attempting to just see how much he could get away with," Jones adds.

The screening of L.A. Plays Itself and book signing for Halsted Plays Himself will take place this Friday, December 16 beginning at 7 p.m. at Human Resources, 410 Cottage Home St., (213) 290-4752, humanresourcesla.com.

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