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L.A.’s Sesión Continua Exposes the Queer History Lurking in Gay Porn

Once a year in Los Angeles, a darkened theater lights up with a fleshy flash from our collective queer past. Hot off their month-long On Location festival, film and performance outfit Dirty Looks is back with their annual Sesión Continua: a 24-hour porn theatre.

Returning for its fourth year to a small black box theatre in Historic Filipinotown called Son of Semele, Sesión Continua screens vintage gay, lesbian and bisexual erotica for a full 24 hours, from Friday, September 14 at midnight all the way until 11:59 p.m. on Saturday, September 15. Skipping back to pornography’s theatrical heyday, the films on view were all made before homes across America welcomed VCRs into their living rooms.

We spoke with organizer Bradford Nordeen about what to expect from this year’s marathon and why gay porn matters.

What can we expect from Sesión Continua in its 4th year?

Last year we projected a couple movies on 16mm film for the first time and this year we’re expanding on that, showing six features and a bunch of trailers, which is the largest screening of its kind in L.A. since at least the late ‘80s. The program also includes a lost film — a pornographic murder mystery called The Cast of the Hooded Man.

Why is it important for you to bring porn back into the theater?

What surprised me about this project, which I launched with my former collaborator Clara Lopez Menendez, was realizing that porn was the only way gay men could put their lives on screen in a commercial way before, like, the ‘80s. So you end up getting the whole run of genres: westerns, horror, spy movies, all with a different sort of action. There’s even an insanely sweet film this year about a tailor that’s really not a porn film, but the director tossed a sex scene in the middle that has no real function other than to get the movie made.

Do other sorts of things go down while the movies are rolling?

Well, we take full control of the space, so we outfit it to look like an old porn theatre. Signage, a ticket booth, the whole nine yards. But in terms of what goes on inside the theatre, in the dark? I like to keep an encouraging yet hands-off approach. Whatever happens, that’s great, so long as it’s between consenting adults. Artist Ron Athey told me that he and Vaginal Davis used to get plants to start action when they would do events in the ‘90s. Planting a seed. We shall see.

Any favorite films not to be missed in the 24-hour marathon?

Well, we don’t publish the schedule, because I wanted to shake things up a bit and prevent visitors from just going to what they want to see, which is basically what internet porn is entirely these days. It’s also a rights thing — screening rights and porn are really murky, but we’re working with distributors Vinegar Syndrome this year. We’re publishing a lot of the titles, just no schedules.

There’s a gay blaxploitation that we’re showing on film that I haven’t seen yet called Black Heat. I’m really excited for that, as well as the Hooded Man. And every year I seem to drum up some excuse to show my favorite porn, a horror movie called Falconhead, but this year we’re showing the uncut sequel, Falconhead II: The Man Eaters. Cue uncut joke here, I guess.

It’s my second year working on this with porn archivist Joe Rubin, who also worked on On Location, and he came out of that project rather insistent that we focus regionally, so this year you get to see Los Angeles grow through the ‘70s and ‘80s. It’s not just about the fun ‘70s fashion and porn music — it can be about the buildings and bars, too.


Alex Black

Alex Black is a writer, musician, and Enya fan. His long-haired chihuahua RuPaul is the unofficial INTO mascot.

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