Tearoom | Film | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper
click to enlarge Captured on film: a still from Tearoom.
Captured on film: a still from Tearoom.

For two weeks in the summer of 1962, using a two-way mirror, police in the central Ohio town of Mansfield secretly filmed the activity in a public men's room in the town square. The surveillance recorded dozens of men having sex, resulting in more than 30 prosecutions for sodomy, with at least a year in prison time for each.

Decades later, acclaimed filmmaker William E. Jones -- his Massillon is an autobiographical documentary about growing up in a nearby town -- acquired the Mansfield footage while working on another project. The images so fascinated him that he's been screening it, unaltered by further editing, as the 56-minute Tearoom.

Shot without sound, in grainy color 16 mm, it's a stunning document. The men range in age from their 20s to their 60s. They are white and black, fat and thin, in a banker's suit or name-patched mechanic's uniform. Faces humorless, eyes on the door, they masturbate, give handjobs and blowjobs, and perform anal sex; a few exchange money. Michael Sicinski, in Cinema Scope magazine, called Tearoom "one of the most soberingly revelatory political films of recent years" and "a cinematic document of vital importance to the history of gay culture in the United States."

Jones has screened Tearoom internationally; it's also in the upcoming Whitney Biennial. With gay cruising much in the news (hello, Sen. Larry Craig), on Fri., Dec. 14, The Andy Warhol Museum screens the film. Also showing are "Camera Surveillance," a short film by the Mansfield police touting the surveillance operation, and "The Child Molester," a 1975 educational short by the Highway Safety Foundation.

A panel discussion follows, with University of Pittsburgh associate English professor Eric Clarke, author of Virtuous Vice: The Homosexual in the Public Sphere; Mack Friedman, author of Strapped for Cash: A History of American Hustler Culture; queer activist and Planet Q publisher William Hileman; and Pitt associate law professor Anthony C. Infanti.

Tearoom Plus archival shorts and panel discussion 7 p.m. Fri., Dec. 14. The Andy Warhol Museum, 117 Sandusky St., North Side. $10. 412-237-8300

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