With a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and narration by out actor Matt Bomer, it’s safe to say that you can’t go wrong watching co-directors Bryan Darling and Jesse Finley Reed’s 2022 doc “All Man: The International Male Story” (The Collaborative).
Wrongly overlooked in the Oscars’ documentary category, as well as in the same category for the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association’s Dorian Awards, “All Man” is the movie equivalent of a page-turner.
The story of a “small band of outsiders” who created something that changed the way men, gay and straight, viewed themselves, the International Male catalog/magazine came to be known as “Victoria’s Secret” for men. Instrumental in creating the young men’s (fashion) market, it proved that gay and straight men had more in common than they realized.
Founder Gene Burkard, who died at 90 in 2020, was a gay man who, upon his return from serving in World War II, survived a notorious gay bar raid in Chicago. Years later, in the 1960s, he relocated to San Diego, California, where he could be out and proud. From his home, lovingly referred to as Vaseline Flats, Burkard launched an empire with his first product – the Jock Sock.
At first advertising in the gay newsmagazine “The Advocate,” and then creating his own publication, taking inspiration from the WeHo-based Ah Men fashion catalog and Bob Mizer’s “Physique Pictorial” mag, Burkard was able to reach gay men in urban and rural areas of the U.S. For those not in big cities, IM served a dual purpose. First as an outlet for mail-order shopping, and second as, well, gay adult entertainment, especially in the pre-internet 1970s and 1980s.
The 1980s were also a particularly difficult period for International Male as the AIDS crisis was decimating the community. “All Man” includes a deeply moving segment in tribute to those involved, mentioning the names and showing images of more than a dozen men affiliated with IM who lost their lives.
Darling and Reed also make good use of vintage male fashion footage. Additionally, the informative interviews provide viewers with a wide range of voices. Not only do we hear from numerous celebrities, including Jake Shears (of Scissor Sisters), writer Frank DeCaro, American and British fashionistas Carson Kressley and Simon Doonan respectively, and actor Drew Droege, but many of the IM staff members, some of whom were there from the beginning. Equally important is the interview with the models, including Tony Ward, Brian Buzzini, Steven Lyon, John Watkins, Robert Goold, John Coulter, and David Knight (who was one of IM’s rare openly gay models).
“All Men” is an informative and often titillating documentary achievement.
“All Man: The International Male Story” screens as part of The Donald M. Ephraim Palm Beach Film Festival on Feb. 4 at CMX at the Gardens, Feb. 6 at Regal Royal Palm, and Feb. 11 at Paragon Theaters in Delray Beach. Visit DMEPBFF.org for more info.
Gregg Shapiro is the author of eight books including the poetry chapbook Fear of Muses (Souvenir Spoon Books, 2022). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBTQ+ and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.