'That Man: Peter Berlin'

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That Man: Peter Berlin
Directed by Jim Tushinski
Opens January 13, Cinema Village

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Skintight white pants made Peter Berlin's legs look marble—and if the '70s gay/porn/gay-porn icon's pronounced cock lost an inch or five he would easily pass for the auto-David docmaker Jim Tushinski thinks he is. Before we agree (and we do), Tushinski must spin Berlin's self-portrait photography and well-documented peacocking as more than predictable narcissism. He has help from Robert W. Richards, who defends Berlin as "very vain, but at the same time, very human in his vanity"; John Waters says Berlin didn't turn him on but he liked "looking at him"; industry contemporaries explain how Berlin's films emphasized seduction and levity and subversion, while his use of Brechtian nonevents earned him Warhol comparisons. As a sex artist, Berlin was both consummate and consummating—clear enough. But as the Germany-to-Frisco transplant whose real name is Armin von Hoyningen-Huene, Berlin had his afflictions. "To be loved and wanted"—that's Berlin's reason for Berlin. His love of seduction found a match in a fear of love itself (obviously); also, all his friends died from "the virus." But these aren't tragedies, and Berlin's no hero, just an inspiration. Tushinski smartly sticks to encomium. "You think these pants make my ass look fat?" Berlin, now in his sixties, says to the camera. He asks because he knows they don't.

 
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