The narrative of America is littered with entrepreneurial opportunists spotting a gap in a market and filling it with the right product at the right time and changing history. Yet Chuck Holmes will probably not feature in any school syllabuses any time soon. As his right time was 1971 San Francisco, and his right product was hardcore gay pornography.
First sold as 8mm ‘smutty’ loops featured out of the back of a catalogue and then as feature length films sold on VHS. Chuck founded Falcon Studios with a passion for sex, and men and an eye for business.
Falcon Videos became a sort of historical record of Male American (homo)sexuality post-Stonewall. In the 1970s, the look du jour was the ‘lumberjack’ – plaid shirt, dirty feet, body hair and mustache – whereas after the famous Calvin Klein billboards of the early 1980s led to a much more collegiate, shaved clean-cut skinny-man look. The films aesthetics (and the fantasies that they depicted) were moving with the times.
Then came the dreaded 1980s and the AIDS crisis. The fear of the disease devastated the business and led to people ‘running back to the closets and straight relationships’. Just as young gay men, such as Jake Shears from the Scissor Sisters, were having a group of alternative and proudly ‘out’ gay male role models on screen, they soon become a montage of obituaries, victims of the virus. Yet during this health crisis, pornography became an alternative to unsafe sex – a sexual release practiced alone.
In the ‘90s, possibly in response to his own HIV diagnosis, Chuck became increasingly political and began to fundraise for candidates and causes, including such high profile figures as Al Gore and the Clintons. He tried to integrate with the power elites across California, but because of the nature of his business few would accept his money.
A huge array of talking head interviews suggests that Chuck was beloved by those around him, and deeply respected as a filmmaker and a political activist. And his legacy is as one of Gay America’s most fascinating unintended historians.