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Pat Rocco: America's First Gay Erotic Filmmaker


The erotic image above was taken from the 1968 film, Autumn Nocturne and was used as part of the cover of The Los Angeles Advocate, published in December 1968. Autumn Nocturne was a soft-core pornography film directed by Pat Rocco.

In Helis Sikk's article Soft-Core Pornography and Activism in the 1960s she examines the importance of Rocco's work:
Unjustly forgotten, in the late 1960s Pat Rocco became—as the historian Whitney Strub has written— the “first American filmmaker to shoot and exhibit openly gay erotic” films. Rocco diverged from other gay film producers at the time as a storyteller whose shorts included extended narratives that aimed to romanticize homosexual relationships. His films were intentionally soft-core without explicit un-simulated displays of sexual activity. These films played an important role in not just popularizing gay film, but in legitimizing gay identity with positive portrayals of male intimacy. When the Park Theatre switched back to mainstream programming and the gay film scene moved toward more commercial hardcore pornography in the 1970s, Rocco quit the film industry but continued his activist work as a photographer and community organizer.

Rocco’s aesthetics and intent were a perfect fit for The Los Angeles Advocate. Founded in 1967, it was the first commercial, and now the longest published, national LGBTQ publication. The Los Angeles Advocate was a bold contrast to the publications of the more conservative homophile movement in the 1950s. As Andrew Lester shows in his discussion of the documentary, The Rejected, homophile politics of respectability came with a unique set of “possibilities and limitations.” However, the magazine was much less radical in its agenda and erotic content than the groundbreaking Philadelphia-based publication, Drum (1964-1967), as Marc Stein has argued. The journalist and historian Jim Kepner recalled that although undeniably an ambitious business endeavor, “gay self-respect was a primary concern” for the magazine’s editor-in-chief and founder, Dick Michaels. Embracing the sexual aspect of gay male culture while continuing to report on serious topics, such as police violence and changes in policy, were part of his mission for the publication. When the banker David Goodstein bought the publication in 1974, the strategic convergence of politics and eroticism continued, although its profit-seeking basis moved sexually explicit content off the covers to the inside and back of the magazine in order to attract mainstream advertisers. READ MORE

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