Art Attack! David DeCoteau’s Leather Jacket Love Story (1997)

Matty talks the cult auteur’s joyous B&W rom-com and ponders the link between artists and their art.

You can read LEATHER JACKET LOVE STORY in two ways.

If, like me, you’re a staunch believer that David DeCoteau is one of the most important and pioneering filmmakers in B-movie history, and that each and every film of his is part of a uniquely personal cinematic tapestry, the first is as a defining text in DeCoteau’s artistic evolution. To wit: Homosexuality has always been a part of DeCoteau’s tableux. Teasingly gay images and queer themes peppered debut proper Dreamaniac (1986); stud-lined carve-’em-up Murder Weapon (1989); stringent softcore programmer Naked Instinct (1993); and a good chunk of the spicy T&A flicks DeCoteau shepherded as the driving force of Full Moon’s erotic subdivision, Torchlight. However, like Skeletons (1997) — a thriller about homophobia and intolerance — right before it, Leather Jacket Love Story marked a notable shift in delivery. For the first time, homosexuality was loudly and proudly woven into DeCoteau’s cinematic fabric. 

It wasn’t subtextual or quietly hinted at. 

It was the very heart of the movie. 

The lighthearted yin to Skeletons’ dark yang, Leather Jacket Love Story is a fluffy and funny ‘twink meets hunk’ saga that DeCoteau himself describes as his “coming out movie”. And come out he did! From the explicitly homoerotic posturing of Absolution (1997) and Full Moon returns Curse of the Puppet Master (1998), Talisman (1998) and The Killer Eye (1998); to the boundary-breaking Voodoo Academy (2000) and Rapid Heart flicks that the success of Voodoo Academy inspired, almost everything DeCoteau has made post Leather Jacket teems with his now patented blend of boys, briefs, and wanton gay abandon — all of which are merrily paraded here.

Often referring to the film as something he “had to make” and “get out of his system”, Leather Jacket Love Story also exudes the same sense of independence that’s defined DeCoteau’s subsequent output, both in theme and in terms of how it was created. Having started developing the script shortly after his own actual coming out in 1994, DeCoteau and producer Jerry Goldberg initially pitched Leather Jacket to several major studios before electing to finance and distribute it themselves in order to maintain artistic control and retain the film’s giddy, almost fantastical tone (as opposed to, say, being forced to twist it into another issue picture a la Skeletons or, as the majors saw it, Philadelphia (1993)). Shot for $67,000 across ten days in various Silver Lake locations, and lensed in soft black and white to augment its stylistic mix of classic screwball comedies, verite immediacy, Clerks (1994) esque indie cool, and early John Waters-indebted naughtiness (an allusion furthered by the casting of iconic Dreamlander Mink Stole), Leather Jacket Love Story is a spring-heeled romp about the jocular side of gay life. It’s about the joy of being alive; it’s about liberation, art, music, cafe culture, dating, and casual hook-ups. Imbued with an air of grin-inducing frivolity, Leather Jacket Love Story is a film of tremendous affirmation. It’s the sort of picture where a gang of cartoonishly thuggish homophobes can be thwarted by a trio of kung-fu kicking transwomen in a spoofy, empowering homage to Charlie’s Angels. The kind of feel-good experience where a loving Mom both champions her eighteen year-old son’s artistic aspirations and happily embraces his sexuality frankly and without question, telling him to “not let those tops push you around, unless you want them to!” as he flies the nest. An uplifting and easygoing watch, there’s laughs, a small splash of ‘will they, won’t they?’ drama, and a well-telegraphed happy ending. Leather Jacket is beautifully free and uninhibited — the parallels to DeCoteau’s fabulously open work from this point on are obvious.

Yet as important as Leather Jacket Love Story is within its helmer’s canon, it’s also as breezy and as airy as its titular conceit. So while auteurist commentary can and should be eked from its tale of an aspiring, bright-eyed, young poet (the warm and likable Sean Tataryn) who finds his muse between the bed sheets of a handsome, older, biker jacket-clad bear (a suitably charming but complicated Christopher Bradley), the second read applicable to DeCoteau’s spirited and nicely-done caper is that it’s a romantic comedy, no more, no less. It’s made clear in a key scene involving the late, great Nicholas Worth. Unleashing a bravura turn as a hammy, more seasoned poet called Jack Mehoff (titter), Worth sits down with an awe-struck Tataryn to talk shop but completely rebuffs the young ‘un’s belief that his latest epic sonnet, ‘Tired Sphincter Boy’, has any deeper meaning beyond its zealous hailing of dicks and bumholes. As the bald-headed bard says, “sometimes a poem about fucking is just a poem about fucking.” And as Worth’s baritoned performer goes on to tease, maybe the fact that a piece of art or a piece of entertainment exists to begin with is profound enough a statement in and of itself, irrespective of how it might or might not relate to its creator.  

It’s certainly a notion that DeCoteau — an affable, self-avowed, commercially-driven journeyman who continually sidesteps even the smallest suggestion that his distinguished offerings are drawn from any overarching obsessions or concepts — appears to agree with.

Follow Matty on Twitter @mattybudrewicz

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