Both Ways (1975) (Film and DVD Review)
Directed by Jerry Douglas
Starring Gerald Grant, Andrea True
Release Date: October 15, 1975
In the nebulous period between the initial moans and groans of porno chic and adult film’s banishment back to the sticky floors of 42nd Street came a brief period of “bisexual chic.” While the Sexual Revolution had largely left gay and lesbian folks behind, for a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment hang-ups were eschewed and anything and everything was available at the sexual buffet…and one was encouraged to sample it all. Whether this bled into the world of adult films or if the films themselves led the way, I don’t know. What I do know, from talking to my elders, is that the film cycle came to a screeching halt as quickly as the bisex chic phenomenon did, just in time for America to dive nose-first into the coked up – but otherwise capital “C” Conservative – 1980’s.
Donald (Gerald Grant, SCORE) lives in comfortable (if predictable) suburbia with precocious son David (Neil Scott) and devoted wife Janet (disco superstar Andrea True.) The house, the car, the family – it’s all idyllic. Donald wants for nothing…nothing but excitement. This excitement, we find, comes from cruising the gay bars of Greenwich Village. One night a young man named Gary catches his eye…and seals his fate.
Heading back to his seedy studio apartment in the city, Donald makes it quite clear that he is the fuck ’em and forget ’em type. Gary agrees, but it isn’t long before what was meant to be a one-night hookup blooms into a full-on affair. This is where the film starts to veer away from where the audience no doubt thought it was heading.
Up to this point, we could be forgiven for thinking that this was going to be a film about a man torn between two loves, between two identities. Not so. As the film unspools it becomes a story of two people whose lives are destroyed by the selfishness of another. Is it the wife who doesn’t want to let go of her suburban dreams or the male lover in search of something more? No, it is our protagonist whose selfish quest for the “forbidden” leads to tragic consequences for all involved.
It could be argued that Donald’s sexual neglect of his wife and wild trysts with his male lover indicate that his heterosexual life is a sham and that his “gay side” is more pronounced that he would like to admit. I couldn’t agree with that, however. It seems clear to me that what excites Donald is danger and taboo and the power it gives him over those who love and need him.
This becomes obvious during a wife-swapping party thrown by Donald and Janet’s neighbors (Darby Lloyd Rains of NAKED CAME THE STRANGER and Bill Morgan.) With a few drinks in her and fed up with marital celibacy, Janet declares: “Somebody’s going to fuck me tonight and I don’t care if it’s you or not.” Even this challenge to his sexual prowess/dominance and the prospect of having sex with another man’s wife under his very nose isn’t enough to excite Donald. He reaches out to surreptitiously grab the other husband’s penis in the midst of the foursome – only to be promptly rebuffed.
It would be difficult to go further into the plot without heading into spoiler territory. While the filmmakers seem to try very hard to make us like and sympathize with Donald, I just couldn’t find it in me to do so. If this had been a story of confused identity and repressed desires, perhaps. However, Donald comes across more as someone who wants to have his cake and eat it too without much consideration for the consequences that may befall the other players in his game.
In fact, when Janet discovers her husband’s secret and confronts him, she is treated as the villain and the film quite merrily seems to gloss over Donald’s shabby (to say the least) treatment towards her. Along the same lines, when Gary expresses his loving feelings for Donald and wants more of a commitment, he is seen as needy and unsympathetic to Donald’s situation. Donald’s inner feelings are considered by the film, not so the other players.
Donald’s conflict isn’t so much that he is gay and married to a woman. His conflict is figuring how he can have both his suburban life and wife while still having his male lover on the side. This isn’t about being true to oneself, it’s about the thrill of danger. I’ve no doubt Donald loves both his wife and his lover, but he seems to love the game even more.
As with any deception, when Donald’s double life finally explodes there is a hefty price to be paid. In BOTH WAYS, it is only Janet and Gary who pay a price while Donald goes on relatively unscathed. A head-scratching message, to be sure.
As for the film itself, for a low-budget sex film it has a whole lot going for it in the technical department. The use of location footage is quite interesting and welcome. Not only do we glance inside a gay bar in Greenwich Village circa 1975, director Jerry Douglas takes us to an amusement park, the campus of Yale University and some of New York’s many beautiful parks. The use of location seems to humanize the characters, taking them out of the sex film box and into reality.
The sex scenes take up very little screen time and aren’t all that explicit, the main thrust (ahem) of the film is the dialogue. While occasionally stagey (director/writer Douglas is a mainly a playwright) the dialogue is delivered by the cast in a convincing way. Andrea True in particular is most effective in this regard.
While I may have been hard on the protagonist, please don’t misunderstand. BOTH WAYS is a very interesting time capsule with strong performances, more-than-competent photography and tackles a subject not often explored in adult cinema before or hence.
Long only available in a heavily-cut form, BOTH WAYS is now available uncut and nicely polished on DVD and streaming from Vinegar Syndrome. The DVD, whose print was scanned from the original 35mm negative, includes a trailer and terrific commentary from director Jerry Douglas. Douglas is obviously quite proud of the film, as well he should be. Recommended.
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