That Man: Peter Berlin (Documentary)
Sound: C+ Extras: C+ Documentary: B
Some gay male icons have crossed over into and/or were
always the focus of heterosexual attention, like John Holmes and Joe
Dallesandro. However, there are many
purely restricted to the gay community that one would be lucky to see once let
alone know by name. Besides actively
sexual hardcore XXX sex film stars, there is Peter Berlin. With a toned, then-exceptionally muscularly
light body with his clean-shaven appearance and “Dutchboy” haircut, a series of
sexually charged self-taken photographs created an unusual icon in that he
never made sexual contact with hardly anyone.
That Man: Peter Berlin (2005) is his story.
One signature in his look was wearing tight cotton pants
that showed virtually everything and how he rarely took them off. Tight in the back, more than “noticeable” in
the front, he inspired a new look within the gay community that became a new
permanent part of the visual fantasy vocabulary, with an outrageous look that
now looks like the unexaggerated version of every bad Hip Hop and Bubblegum
Music pseudo-sex look and dry-hump fest that is so mainstreamed today in
entertainment and advertising.
Director Jim Tushinski did much research and even
interviews Berlin himself extensively, who was more interested in the created
star persona than the fast sex everyone else was. He is outspoken, bold, comfortable with himself and is remarkably
not as overly absorbed in himself as you might think for a man who was an
internationally successful one-man act.
It also looks like his look was imitated by other male sex icons of the
1970s like Leif Garrett, John Travolta, Shawn Cassidy and Andy Gibb among
others, adding to how gays in music and visual arts made heavier contributions
to the mainstream pop culture than anyone wants to admit.
At 80 minutes, the program is loaded with facts, classic
stills and classic archival footage.
However, the total influence is not examined, despite interviews with
several in the know name gay men, including the especially insightful and funny
John Waters. The more existential
questions of why Berlin would have this influence, appeal and be such a key
center of gay male desire. Instead, the
camp angle and gay deconstruction are applied with its predictable
conclusions. That Berlin offers the
most insight in his interviews partly answers why he was so successful and that
begins with a remarkable honesty that made the 1970s at their best so
great. That alone is reason enough to
see That Man: Peter Berlin, but now more than ever, it is also a vital
history lesson for anyone (gay, straight or otherwise) about civil rights,
freedom and how both can make a society thrive.
The 1.33 X 1 image originated on analog videotape, PAL and
maybe NTSC, with some color and clarity, but whoever transferred all the old
film footage used annoying digital video noise reduction (DVNR) causes ghosting
and doers not do the older footage justice.
Some other older videotape also surfaces and fares as well. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is a little better
than the Dolby 2.0 with Pro Logic surrounds, but this is very dialogue based,
so the use of surround is limited. Extras
include extra interview footage with all the principles, deleted scenes of interest,
stills and director’s commentary that is not bad. It still does not add the expected insight, but maybe we’ll get
that from somewhere else.
- Nicholas Sheffo