Everly: Thanks for getting back... I’m trying to interview people that were models or posed for pictures for print and also for Pink Narcissus. Jim also wants me to have people dish the dirt on him but that’s up to you… you know how he is. You are the only one I could locate that ever posed for him so I’d love to have you take on the whole operation. Also if you know of anyone else I should talk to I’d appreciate any leads…
Brooks: My first thought is “where are they?” — some, I know are gone, some whose names were never really known, some who may still live in whereabouts here and there and never think of Pink Narcissus. I honestly can’t say I know of anyone who to this day who is still around. Have you contacted Bobby Kendall (Kagan), he should be of retirement age now – last I heard he was an engineer, married, living in the Midwest. I can name a dozen who have died (Arthur Williams, Cliff Tobey, Charles Ludlam, Eddie Barton, Joanna Schielke, Larry Ree, Harvey Yerkes, Andrew Starr, Donald Kvares, etc.), but that is of little use to your needs, unless identifying actors in the film is desired. When Bidgood decided to credit the film as made by "Anonymous," he also stripped everyone's credits at the same time — whether he ever intended to give same or not. Dishing the dirt is not really my expertise and summoning up facts is laborious. However, I have kept date books and other forms of recorded material over the past half-century and I see that a good part of 1969, most of that spring and the entire summer, leading into fall, I spent almost all of my waking hours working on the film. It might be of interest that I met Jim Bidgood in what might be considered a rather strange fashion, at least for that era -- disillusioned with theater, relationships and personal life, seeking to validate what I believed to be my own worth however misguided that may have been, I placed an ad in the personals for modeling — one each in Screw, Gay and The New York Times. Among the many calls I received, several were for films, and I can’t say whether Bidgood called me directly or whether I met him through other filmmakers, e.g., Avery Willard, Don Stephens, Bob French, et al – however, I have fond memories of Jim introducing me to his little opus, avidly conjuring an epic ode to the male whore. Well, that was right up my alley!
As to your questions:
Everly: 1) Besides modeling for photos and acting in the film did you help with anything else, i.e. making props or wardrobe, etc? Jim said that you were the one that would round up people for the crowd scenes in Narcissus. So any insight into who was there, what the shoots were like, what was the motivation for people to take part, etc.
Brooks: I worked on every aspect of the film; however, a majority of time was with sets and properties, lighting, filming, recruiting street people and people I knew in theater to work in the film — we never really had a “crowd” scene per se, the loft was small and the sets did not accommodate a great number of people — half a dozen might be a “crowd” — the theater people I brought into the film recommended others including Charles Ludlam who contributes the bizarre slapstick to the Times Square scene, including the pizza maker, the blood bank and the “Get ‘em While They’re HOT!” cart vendor. There were at least six different “Johns” – not by plan at first, but because they never came back! So, plan B, many johns and finally, Bobby was his own at the end. The motivation for people to take part, as you ask, well, it varied — Jim could convince anyone to do anything once he got them in the door — he’d find out what they liked and got it going. There was, of course, it was the 60s, drugs and sex. No pot, Jim despised it, but there were poppers and uppers aplenty. If that seems dilettante, no, it was all just, as you say, motivation — there was little in the way of remuneration for the work, not the amount of time required to be sure — hours, I mean hours and hours of time would be spent on some little detail that Jim would get hung up on, and should anyone dare to object, well, if looks could kill, they would; and if that didn’t work, desperate tears did. Jim made sure the scenes were fresh with the sweat and saliva of Satan’s muse!
Everly: 2) How did you become involved with Jim? Where did you meet and what did you get out of the experience?
Brooks: My main interest in acting had been only due to seeing the glamorous stars upon the silver screen, time and circumstance did not seem to destine any kind of celluloid collision in the immediate future — it was also a rebellion, I turned to pornography (although today, it might not qualify as such) simply because I was ready for my close-up, as Holden’s narration in Sunset Boulevard, “the cameras were finally rolling” — however, with Jim, the price was extremely high. If I had to name the most egotistical schizophrenic madman I’d ever met in my life, I would put Jim among the candidates. I felt that he knew why I was there, and held a carrot on a stick, dangling it before me like some mad Frankenstein taunting a starved Igor! Sets were built and torn down without shooting, seven hours of makeup would go unfilmed, people would come and go with the passing of a day or two and still… I remember not sleeping for five days straight. It became just Jim and myself, he accusing me of having fallen asleep — my eyes pulled tricks, the world disintegrated into worms of light swimming and swirling in circles while the smells of the loft’s garbage and cat litter permeated everything, the hopelessness of completing impossible tasks, the Jekyll and Hyde of a self-flagellating de Sade commanding an erection metaphorical or real for the epic yet whimsical demands of a flaming master of chiaroscuro, the abra cadaver of speed freaks.
Everly: 3) How long were involved in Jim’s life?
Brooks: Twenty-three years.
Everly: 4) What were the shoots like? Can you describe the process?
Brooks: I can recall a few that went well. I think if anyone knew what a particular goal was at any point of time in the filming, there may have been less madness and more productivity. However, the Times Square scene certainly called for some of the insanity that wound up regurgitating itself onto celluloid. The scenes that just Jim and I worked on, the pearls, the miniatures, butterflies, mice, broken mirrors, took a goodly amount of time, but when we were on a one-on-one and Jim kept to a schedule all went very smoothly. This was later in the filming, so perhaps we’d found a method of working together. I remember the final edit before Sherpix provided an editing room and then stole it away — it was very much the same as what is seen on screen. The thousands of discarded frames that lay on the floor of the loft and I never bothered to take any — believe me, they wound up in the garbage! Jim had plans for layers upon the film, ghosts that moved in slow and fast motion — some of the editing of the film seems arbitrary and hackneyed — this was Sherpix trying to get the film into release. Overall, however, the end result is somewhere around the “intent” albeit without the quality that was intended in many cases of the editing. The story is there, the final cut is lost.
Everly: 5) Why did you have a falling out? (It seems to be a recurring theme in his life…)
Brooks: I have never had a falling out with Jim. I love and respect him as an artist and admire his work ethic, his honesty and his dedication to his art, his respect for other individual’s lives and wishes are, of course, secondary to the “thing” at hand, which is always James Bidgood.
Everly: 6) Did you know Alan? Can you tell me anything about their relationship and how his death affected Jim?
Brooks: No. Alan came after Pink Narcissus — during that time I had joined a religious order and had little contact with almost everyone in my past life — when I left the order, I had contact with Jim again assisting with the recording and rewriting of his script “FAG” — it was during that time that I heard of the relationship and how happy he had been with Alan.
Additional notes: Jim and I also worked together in relationship to my plays of “Superfreak, the Death of Joe Cino ”, “Xircus, the Private Life of Jesus Christ” and two plays at St. John’s University, “Once Upon a Mattress” and “A Streetcar Named Desire”. The last play we worked together on was “The Little Book of Professor Enigma” by Harry Kondoleon at Theater for the New City (which he dubbed a multiplex toilet) — I introduced Jim to the late actor/dancer/teacher Bill Maloney during the St. John’s University productions and they became good friends, working together with costumes for the production and recording for Jim's script — Jim seemed upset with me when Bill died in 2001 and has not spoken with me since.
I send a Christmas card every year, and hope that it will not be returned as addressee unknown…
More on Pink Narcissus — HERE.
Interview with James Bidgood in Bright Lights Film Journal — HERE.