Film Review: Trouser Bar at BFI Flare

Everybody watches porn or has watched it a few times in their lives, although most people won’t ever be comfortable talking about it or even admitting to it. My acquaintance with the genre has always been rather average-to-low and inevitably most frequent during the adolescent curiosity peak and the whole figuring-out-my-sexuality process. In all honesty, I’ve never found pornography that enthralling since it simply tends to become monotonous rather quickly, failing to keep my attention engaged. I prefer to be teased by the unseen and let my imagination do the rest of the work and that’s why, just like overtly-splatter-gory horror films leave me indifferent, I’d rather watch artful eroticism than explicit hardcore sex.

Trouser Bar

Trouser Bar, especially because of its format as a 20 minutes short film, feels like it’s stuck in between trying to be artful, (having the inevitable restraints of the case when it comes to graphicness), and yet wanting to convey the climactic feel of a porno. It’ll probably achieve its goal with most of its viewers yet I couldn’t help but feel a bit underwhelmed by this approach. Given the interesting aesthetic choices the filmmakers use in order to create a heightened sensorial experience, by the time credits roll it all seems like a lost opportunity, reducing things to soft-core porn.

Entirely set in a menswear boutique in the 70s, the film is basically an erotic fantasy where the shop assistants “get it on” with a couple of customers who are looking in through the window whilst one of the employees is dressing up mannequins and when he spots their lusty stares, he returns the favour. Once the two gentlemen enter the boutique, it doesn’t take long for things to get steamy in the changing rooms. Helping one of the two customers with a fitting, the shop assistant promptly acknowledges how’s he’s measuring trousers for a particularly endowed gentleman. The path to fellatio is just a zip away and as the situation quickly escalates as the other customer peaks through the curtains and gets eventually spotted.

As you can easily predict from all of the above, the voyeuristic move is not met with hostility but rather the exact opposite and although there isn’t really a plot to spoil, it’s best to diverge our attention away from further details and move on to the film’s style and mood which is what the filmmakers, pardon the pun, nailed in making this piece. Despite the budgetary limits of a short film, Trouser Bar is accurately produced when it comes to costumes and production design and its greatest merit is the lack of dialogue and sound, except for an original piece of music whose retro disco vibes perfectly set the tone of this voyeuristic erotic fantasy.

Produced by David McGillivray, playwright and screenwriter who has recently produced the documentary Peter De Rome: Grandfather Of Gay Porn (2014), Trouser Bar is a further homage to the late cult filmmaker who made gay pornography in New York since the 60s, back when homosexuality was illegal. McGillivray has revealed how he first heard De Rome talking about the infamous screenplay for Trouser Bar when the producer was making the first of his documentaries on De Rome, Fragments: The Incomplete Films Of Peter De Rome (2012). The late filmmaker mentioned he had this script written by none other than the great late John Gielgud, one of the greatest ever interpreters of Shakespeare, Oscar winner and knight.

Gielgud never officially came out and even had a mental breakdown when caught cruising in a Chelsea public toilet in 1953, something that he never spoke about even if it didn’t wind up damaging his career. That’s why the making of Trouser Bar has become a bit of a controversial matter since its announcement. Gielgud was a fan of De Rome’s work and became friends with him, which led him to write his first and only screenplay, a short film inspired by his fetishistic love of corduroy, leather and tight trousers.

McGillivray was baffled that De Rome never made the film since Gielgud wrote it in 1976 when the filmmaker was still active. Upon De Rome’s death two years ago, the producer decided to make the film as a tribute to the late filmmaker and friend. Although he was inevitably met with opposition by the Gielgud estate, McGillivray carried on with the production since the estate technically don’t have a say on the material, yet there’s still controversy on distribution and release and that’s why the film’s world premiere at last month’s BFI Flare, London LGBT Film Festival was a big deal for all the parties involved.

The passionate producer hired Kristen Bjorn to direct the project, considering the gay porn filmmaker the De Rome of the 21st century. Their intention was not to make a hardcore pornographic film since the script was never meant to be anything more than an erotic fantasy. And indeed there isn’t a single shot of male genitalia on display, let alone in action. The stylistic approach is that of a fantasy and the passers by who become onlookers aroused by what they see through the shop window add a light note that complements the scope of the film rather fittingly. Yet, despite the savvy filmmaking only shows heads and body moving from behind or sideways, carefully avoiding anything explicit, what’s happening before our eyes is evident.

Like everything else in life, when it comes to porn, it’s all a matter of taste and nowadays of course the market has the most absurd subgenres to offer, catering to any sorts of curiosity, fetish or plain perversion. I may be not the ideal person to critique Trouser Bar since aside from appreciating the aesthetic execution I found the story dull but then, once again, I tend to consider porn rather dull. Truth is that even if the filmmakers call the film an erotic fantasy, isn’t that exactly what porn is supposed to be? Trouser Bar tries to cheat a bit on what’s trying to sell and with all due respect for its honorable intent, I still find it nothing more than soft-core porn.

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All pictures reproduced courtesy of David McGillivray

Francesco Cerniglia

Francesco Cerniglia

Screenwriter - Film Journalist
Francesco is a London-based gay writer born and raised in Sicily who left his homeland behind in 2006 to pursue his passion for cinema. After 5 years in Los Angeles where he studied filmmaking and worked in script development, he's been living in London since 2012, working as a freelance film journalist and script reader whilst honing his screenwriting craft on the side as the ultimate career goal.
Francesco Cerniglia


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