Ballet Down the Highway

In #2 in Tuesday’s posting “Dancing with the cars”, I returned to the world of male ballet dancers with a photo of Bolshoi soloist Jacopo Tissi suspended in mid-air during the ballet Etudes — a demonstration of extraordinary athleticism. Tissi himself is young (born in 1995), good-looking, well-spoken (he gives good interview), and also an amazing musclehunk. A friend I showed this posting to then noted that I also posted a lot about the conventional fantasy figures of gay porn — cowboys, firemen, truckers, pizza boys, hitch-hikers, and so on — and was there a genre for male dancers too?

The short answer is no, for fairly obvious reasons (which I’ll write about below). But my question then was whether there’s any ballet-based gay porn. The answer here is yes, at least one film: Jack Deveau’s 1975 Ballet Down the Highway. Straight trucker falls for gay male ballet dancer, lots of mansex ensues.

Which has now gotten showings as an art house film, at a venue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

(#1) Poster for the Brooklyn showing in 2015

Some linguistic notes. Porn films are notorious for their titles: playful, often outrageously so, riffing on titles and other formulaic expressions (case in point: Deveau’s mansex-in-the-sand flick Dune Buddies, playing on dune buggies). So how do you pack ballet, trucking, and sex into a title? Go with the ball of ballet (yes, it’s a stretch, but that never deterred anyone in the porn industry): (high)balling down the highway, having a ball balling the boys.

Background from GDoS (omitting the cites and dating):

noun highball: 2 [the small hanging ball used as a signal] (US) a signal, orig. used by railroads, meaning ‘proceed’.

verb highball [< the noun 2]: (US) 1 pertaining to speed. (a) to leave at high speed … (c) to drive fast

verb ball [< highball 2]: 1 to travel at high speed, to leave

2 [< noun ball ‘a party, a celebration, a riotously, extravagantly good time’] (orig, US black) to have a good time, to enjoy oneself

3 [< noun balls ‘testicles’] to have sexual intercourse

Rich raunchy territory.

The flick. On the Letterboxd site:

(#2) Poster from the period

Ballet Down the Highway 1975 Directed by Jack Deveau

A comedy of manners about a crazed horny truck driver (Gar(r)y Hunt) who crashes in on the budding relationship of a ballet star (Henk Van Dijn) and young dancer (Jeff Sullivan).

Review by Evan  ★★★½: Has a novel concept (presumably straight truck driver falls in love with ballet star) and a pretty deliciously meanspirited ending, but otherwise just feels like your standard Deveau production — all class, from the actors to the locations and original score. As with Left-Handed [also by Deveau], I’ll never get bored of movies where straight dudes are stood up and abandoned by the queers they obsess over.

You can watch a ballet montage from the film here. And the sex is available on YouTube too.

And from the ArtHaps calendar back in 2015:

(#3) The ballerino and the trucker

Sat Oct 10, 2015, 11:59 PM, at Spectacle, 124 S 3rd St., Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Opposites attract when a New York ballet dancer’s car breaks down on the highway and he is rescued by a closeted truck driver. An ambivalent romance blossoms until he finds the city apartment he shares with his boyfriend, a fellow dancer, filled with horny truckers. Filled with sadness and unrequited longing, BALLET DOWN THE HIGHWAY is directed by Jack Deveau, whose disco-tastic DRIVE screened at Spectacle in 2014.

There’s some tradition now for treating gay porn as an artistic genre worthy of critical analysis — going back at least to Wakefield Poole’s Boys in the Sand. Public screenings of these works as performance art are, however, somewhat tricky, since they require not only the customary suspension of belief, but also suspension of arousal (or revulsion, depending on your sexual inclinations): these movies were, after all, made to get guys off (every 10 to 20 minutes).

But they are also stories, exploring the psychology of relationships and identity as these develop through experiences. BDtH has a pile of hard-core mansex, but it’s also a sad story of obsession, folly, and unrequited love.

Casting gay porn. Casting a story film requires matching actors to characters: the part of the cute hitch-hiker calls for a twink; a gladiator or fireman role needs a big muscle-hunk. More challenging are roles embodying a gay porn stereotype but also, for the sake of realism, calling for a display of competence in some actual masculine activity. A repairman character doesn’t have to exhibit skills at home repair (all he has to do is wield a tool from his toolbelt, and coupling follows in mere moments), but a football player character ideally should demonstrate that he can throw and catch a football, tackle and be tackled, with at least minimal competence.

There are in fact a fair number of gay pornstars with sports backgrounds who can manage a believable performance on the field. But porn flicks are put together on tight schedules with small budgets, so casts are often just thrown together, and a football player character might just be shown running down a field with a football under his arm, or (very often) shown only in interior shots, wearing football gear in the locker room.

Much the same would be true for a ballet dancer character: you’d expect a pornstar playing such a character to establish it by demonstrating at least minimal competence in dancing (though I suppose a director could try to get away with only off-stage shots of lean muscular men in dance belts). This way wasn’t open in Deveau’s TDtH, since the script calls for the trucker to be undone by the dancer’s performance. The script has in fact two male dancers in it, played by young men who have been through ballet classes and can dance competently (but unremarkably).

Gayporntypes. Still, despite the fact that male dancers are, in general, natural objects of gay male desire, they don’t seem to figure as as a character stereotype in gay porn: there’s no conventional gayporntype (as I’ll put it), no trope, of the male dancer.

The inventory of porntypes is built on an index of high conventional masculinity (either of the youthful or the mature type), inhering both in places and identities. A brief list of some concomitants of a high index:

loci of high masculinity: frat houses, men’s sports teams, mostly-male work spaces (garages, construction sites, firehouses, ranches, etc.), mensrooms, men’s prisons, arenas for boxing and other martial arts

places where men’s bodies are routinely on display: gang showers, locker rooms, swimming pools, beaches; body sports (gymnastics, swimming and diving, wrestling)

places for mansex or cruising for mansex: cruising areas, gay baths, tearooms, gay bars

conventional fantasy men: cowboys, cops, firemen, gladiators, truckers, leathermen, etc., but also hitch-hikers, delivery men (esp. pizza delivery boys), repairmen

In contrast, some occupations for men have low indexes of conventional masculinity, because they are associated (in the public mind, and often in real life as well) with women or gay men or both: for instance, hair stylist, secretary, organist, librarian, fashion designer, and yes, ballet dancer. Hair stylist, fashion designer, and ballet dancer are not gayporntypes, because, alas, they’re seen as too faggy.

Jack Deveau. A note on the BDtH director, from IMDb:

Jack Deveau was born in January 1935 in New York City, New York, USA as John R. Deveau. He was a director and producer [of gay porn films]. He died on December 2, 1982 in New York, New York.

Director (16 credits): 1986 In Heat (video), 1982 Times Square Strip, 1980 Just Blonds,  1979 Fire Island Fever, 1978 Dune Buddies, 1978 A Night at the Adonis, 1977 Rough Trades, 1977 Sex Magic, 1977 Hothouse, 1977 The Boys from Riverside Drive, 1976 Le musée, 1976 Wanted: Billy the Kid, 1975 Good Hot Stuff, 1975 Ballet Down the High Way, 1974 Drive, 1972 Left-handed

On this blog, on 10/16/17 in “Revisiting 8: Rod Canyon”, a reference to Deveau’s A Night at the Adonis (the dirty porn theater trope).

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