Out and About
13th Annual Austin Gay & Lesbian International Film Festival
101 Rent Boys: Love for Sale
"Love is a four-letter word," says a hustler in 101 Rent Boys, the often surprising new documentary by Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey (The Eyes of Tammy Faye). It's a telling declaration, given the circumstances: Love is a four-letter word for many of the men interviewed in this film because they'd rather turn tricks than bother with that emotion (besides, "you can't turn a ho into a housewife," as one of them says). To others, love is a dirty word because they want it and don't have it.
To find the 101 rent boys of the title, Barbato hired Rick Castro (who co-directed White Hustler) to scour Santa Monica Boulevard for hustlers who would take $50 to go to a hotel room and talk about themselves in front of a camera. Barbato went into production thinking he would interview them for 15 minutes, but each session lasted about two hours, and Barbato didn't really "interview" the rent boys; they just talked. "We thought maybe like five or 10 would be interesting," Barbato says from his office in Los Angeles, "but they all had incredible stories." Like the one who didn't even know his mother had died until after she had been cremated and who says she is now watching over him, and the hustler whose wife isn't angry at him for doing what he does as long as he doesn't bring home a disease. Or the man whose neurofibromatosis, which manifests itself as mole-like tumors all over the body, is turning off potential customers. Barbato says he didn't quite know how to feel at the end of the interviews. "There would be that really weird thing of having to hold back tears," he says, "or then having to hold back a hard-on but that weird combination of extreme emotions in this tiny, hot, charged room. That was really draining."
At the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, where 101 Rent Boys premiered, Barbato introduced the film by saying, "I think you're all going to be incredibly disappointed," because the heady promise of titillation inherent even in the title of this documentary is actually somewhat muted. The film has its clothing-optional moments, but "it's not really like a jerk-off film for gay men," Barbato readily acknowledges. Instead, it's the whole hustler: the befuddlement some of them express about their fates, the elation some of them feel when they satisfy their customers, and for all of them, the recognition that time, which makes things sag, is the cruelest john of all.
101 Rent Boys screens Tuesday, Aug. 29, 9:45pm, at the Arbor.