Erotic. Romantic. Activist.
In this colorful trip back in time, filmmaker and activist Pat Rocco shares his incredible life story as one of Hollywood’s original boundary pushing gay pioneers.
In the 1970’s Playboy magazine dubbed Pat Rocco the King of the Nudies, but he is much more than an erotic filmmaker. Rocco is an artist, filmmaker, activist, and entertainer. He’s the whole Hollywood package, with one more story to tell: his own.
Rocco arrived in Hollywood with his parents at the age of eleven. By seventeen he knew he was gay, had moved away from home, and was living out of the closet. It was 1951. He had been singing in choirs since he was a very young, and managed to find gigs on radio, in nightclubs, theatres, and church basements. He made his way to television variety shows, starring alongside legends like Paul Lynde and Phyllis Diller.
Then Rocco picked up a camera himself, and began selling his erotic, playful and romantic nude male films in the backs of local papers. In 1968 he was offered his own festival at Los Angeles’ Park Theatre – the first of its kind. It was an instant hit so Rocco continued to pump out more films as fast as he could, pushing new boundaries with each one. In A Very Special Friend Rocco dared to screen the first kiss between two men ever seen on a big theatre screen. Artistic, erotic, and highly romanticized, his films were controversial not for their explicitness but rather their bold political and artistic expression. Love and romance were his political weapon, and just when things on screen begin to heat up, Rocco fades to black.
Rocco was also an activist at the front lines of sexual liberation movement, documenting many protests in the sixties and seventies. He campaigned with Harvey Milk and footage shot by Rocco at San Francisco Gay Pride was used in the Oscar-winning documentary, The Times of Harvey Milk. Activism and politics eventually became the center of Rocco’s life. He was the first President of Christopher Street West (producers of LA Pride), and in 1971, the first to organize a Pride festival following the annual sexual liberation march.
Now 82, Pat Rocco remains passionate and active, despite typical age-related health problems. He still has the air of a classic Hollywood showman, remains involved in civic politics and an outspoken advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights, and is recognized officially by the US Government as an “Outstanding Older American.” He is an ideal documentary subject: articulate, opinionated, charismatic and compelling.
We will take a very personal approach to Rocco’s story through candid interviews with contemporary filmmaker and actor, Charlie David, one generation of LGBT media activists passing the torch onto the next. These interviews will take place in Rocco’s Hawaii home, a shrine to his past, that he shares with David Ghee, his partner for over 40 years.
The film will cover the three main acts of Rocco’s life, and provide an intimate portrait of the man both behind, and in front the camera. We will begin with his erotic films, then explore his social activism, including starting the first homeless shelter for LGBT youth, and finish with an inspiring and romantic reflection of more recent years, screening his films and receiving various honours. His film collection is held in the UCLA archives waiting to be brought back to life. Dynamic seventies inspired motion graphics will tie together his massive collection of newspaper articles, still photographs, and other memorabilia. With Rocco Dared we will blend 21st century HD magic, with psychedelic 16mm sixties art films, creating a groovy, retro meets modern, feel. We will blend traditional documentary interviews with multiple cameras and contemporary cinema verité of reality TV.
Rocco’s story is significant today because despite the recent legal successes in the fight for LGBT rights, there is still much work to do. Despite marriage equality and the mainstream media attention of shows like Ellen, Will & Grace, and The Real O’Neals, the boundaries Rocco pushed, like displays of same sex affection, remain transgressive in society today. Holding hands and kissing in public are still brave, and in many ways, political acts outside of the gay enclaves of urban centers; not to mention, illegal in many parts of the world. With more visibility increased violence often follows. We’ve come a long way in theory, and on paper, but the structures of homophobia remain and innocent expressions of same-sex love are often regarded as lewd, indecent, and immoral. Rocco is a man far ahead of his time.