Vapors (1965)

Run Time - 32 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Vapors is an intriguing short subject for those with an interest in the treatment of homosexuality in motion pictures, but the film is dreary and slow-moving enough to be valuable only for its frankness in a closeted age. With the feel of a filmed play (understandable, since director Andy Milligan was involved with off-Broadway productions at the time), Vapors focuses on two characters who are apparently ill at ease with their desires. Thomas is skittish yet wide-eyed, anxious to learn the ropes of the bathhouse. Mr. Jaffe is more outgoing, yet seems drawn to men only out of hatred for his wife. Both are clearly seeking a physical connection, though aside from a chaste kiss on the forehead, none is made; the more Jaffe talks about his unsatisfying home life, the more ghastly the details become, finally leading him to flee after describing the bizarre death of his son. The boy was a high school football player who was attacked and partially devoured by snakes while swimming, which is either a clumsy attempt at symbolism or simply an extremely weird detail. After Jaffe leaves, Thomas is finally visited by a man who will give him the anonymous encounter he was hoping to find (this leads to a daring bit of frontal nudity that was censored from most prints). The other bathhouse regulars are depicted as mincing, sexually voracious queens, and the overall tone of Vapors is depressive and seedy, hardly the forerunner of more gay-positive films that have already been made. As negative and misogynistic as it may be, Vapors is not exploitative or pornographic, and is probably accurate in reflecting the shame many homosexuals felt in having to submerge their desires in the pre-Stonewall era.