DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of D.I.Y. or Die, Naked Fame , That Man: Peter Berlin


Title:  D.I.Y. or Die: How to Survive as an Independent Artist

Release Date:  2002

Nationality and Language: USA/English

Running time: 60 minutes

MPAA Rating: Suggest R

Distributor and Production Company:  MVD/Dean

Director; Writer: Michael W. Dean


Cast:   Ian MacKaye (Fugazi), Jim Rose (Jim Rose Sideshow), Jim Thirwell (Foetus), Lydia Lurch, Mike Watt (Minutemen), Ron Asheton (Stooges), Madigan Shive (Bonfire Madagin), Lynn Breedlove, Liza Matlack, Li’l Mike Martzke, Kevin Wengler, Steve Albini, Paul Sudo, Maggie Estep

Technical: Video

Relevance to doaskdotell site:  Sales culture vs. artistic temperament



This documentary lays out what I feel about my own work (with the “Do Ask Do Tell” books, websites and movie proposals)—I take the “do it yourself” approach so that I can “tell the truth” without the influence of OPM (“other people’s money) or conflict of interest. Art, in many forms, is a way of telling things. Think about novels, music, opera, plays, movies. Some kinds of art seem to say less to me. For example, the walkthrough mazes in the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, Spain (as of late April 2001, anyway), seemed (as one guest said) designed to “make you feel like shit.”  Not all art is expressive. On the other hand, sculpture (of an alien twin fetus) and woodcut (or another planet’s landscape) by starving artist friends-of-mine from my NYC days are quite expressive.


Most of the video appears to be shot in NYC, but there is one scene outside Union Station in Washington, DC. Technically, the film is quite simple. IMDB indicates that it has no copy protection, and the DVD brazenly begs, “Burn This DVD” (for non-commercial purposes) as a working subtitle.  But let’s get back to its basic level of debate now.


Of course, the many artists express their protests against the evil “system.” You can imagine how this goes (keeping people in their place, the place that they inherited from their families, or maybe even the place that they earned by competing in a meritocracy). Now, I can pretty well grasp where the “other side” is coming from. I am seen by some people as a “self-promoting queer” (to quote Clive Barker in his 1996 novel Sacrament) who speaks out against a lot of conventions without directly taking responsibility for vulnerable people the way people once took responsibility for me—that is, without “paying my dues” even though I pay my bills. I am seen as wanting to step on people’s toes, to show them contempt, while avoiding the kind of closeness and commitment it takes to raise families and support life for its own sake, to keep civilization going. Art, in fact, could survive as an aesthetic object even if civilization ended (with a “Childhood’s End”).


As I discussed in my own books, self-publishing is very much double-edged: it gives you the ultimate freedom to be yourself and say what needs to be said, and yet denies authentication from others, especially bean counters. The artist here says that he or she care about having his work seen by others, regardless of making money. The independent artists stays on his own path, following self-chosen goals, and perseveres long enough to have an impact on some community, which might be quite small and circumscribed. It may be the willingness to stay small and private that keeps a certain moral focus.


The artist works out of a labor of love, and works “because he has to.”  He or she needs less and less. Creativity must win out in its battle for time with adaptiveness (not the same as adaptation), as with the creative life that we so often talked about at the Ninth Street Center (and by the way I have an unpublished 90 minute black-and-white video of an early 1980s talk group that covers some of this same territory—some day, maybe, it will make the movie “art houses,” too…) The artist eschews the established system of agents, editors, publicists, and various middlemen looking for their “cut” (which is how Hollywood—the Evil Enemy—works, given the “third party” rule for considering scripts). The artist lives on very little, and can get by on menial, graveyard shift jobs that wouldn’t create publicity conflicts of interest, or require loyalty to other causes or interests outside the self (though these interests could, for most people, be like raising a family). The artist is in a practical sense competent and knows how to work. The artist survives. One of the artists on the DVD discusses having cancer.


The video could have made more of the influence of technology, which has made “self-promotion” easier than at any time in the past. Of course, this is double-edge, too, as the freedom offered by the technology is so easy to abuse with unethical get-rich-quick schemes. That is, hopefully, a long way from the world of art. The virus-writer and artist may share the same rebellion against the “system” but otherwise have opposite motives.


The Internet, of course, gives the independent artist the nouveau opportunity to be “discovered”—and bypass pleonastic third parties. After all, who wouldn’t want to stand on the podium of the Kodak Theater some day and earn an Oscar.


Naked Fame (2004, TLA/Here!/Regent, dir. Christopher Long) is a documentary of the “career switcher” moves of gay male porn star Colton Ford, slightly past 40, to singer. He has a lot of support from his slightly younger lover and partner Blake Harper, who has a good job as a nurse when he wants it and will go to work to support his lover’s career change. Blake, however, has sometimes been a star himself and is actually the more attractive of the two to my eyes. Ford is already a bit gray. (Was he a star at one time in Colt’s “The Hairy Chested Male”?)  The film documents the transition, especially the work with one seedy agent who looks pretty ridiculous in shorts on film with his pot belly and balding legs. The two stars, themselves, are wonderful. They look after their friends, as in one scene where they find someone bombed out on meth on New York City streets. There are a few glimpses of circuit parties and of mainline disco. In one scene, the two lowers appear to be walking in the gay district of SE Washington DC (I know it pretty well). Otherwise, they bounced between New York and L.A.  Making it in the entertainment world does sound like a mixture of “who you know,” and being good and persistent enough at manipulating your opportunities.


The DVD includes a half-hour interview with Colton and Blake.


That Man: Peter Berlin (2005, Gorilla, dir. Jim Tushinski, video, 80 min, sug NC-17) is a documentary biography of 1970s porn star Peter Berlin, who made his own life (mostly in San Francisco, after coming over from Germany) an art form, as he shunned opportunities with Hollywood that could have brought him fame in a more conventional fashion. He is interviewed today at age 63, when he is still trim and fit, and shown extensively as a 30-year-old living in the San Francisco Tenderloin district, where he still looked like a permanent adolescent, very lean. His gentler but “masculine” personality won people over continuously; he seemed to be protective of his friends. There are a few shots of total and near total nudity, of which gay critics have taken note.  It is remarkable also that he remained HIV negative during the epidemic as his friends died; some of this he attributes to safe practices, but he may well be one of the lucky men with an apparent natural resistance to HIV, a medical possibility that still should be explored in developing newer HIV vaccines.



Related reviews: Hustle & Flow, various GLBT films; My Date with Drew; Giuliani Time


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