“Victoria’s Top secret for gentlemen.” Which is how Global Male, the garments catalogue established by Gene Burkard is described in the opening moments of Bryan Darling and Jesse Finley Reed’s “All Male: The International Male Story.” Only the description must have an significant caveat: This smorgasbord of photographs of males in the captivating (if aggressively outrageous) outfits that adorned Burkard’s 1976 development had been aimed at a certain subset of adult males. Telling a simple tale about this queer-skewing company, “All Man” opens up inquiries on how masculinity has been packaged for the American buyer, straight and homosexual alike.
The comparison to Victoria’s Secret is an apt just one, capturing the way the a lot of talking heads that populate “All Man” communicate to and recognize Burkard’s aims and ambitions. Intercontinental Male, like that famed lingerie model, marketed a life style in addition to supplying loads of fodder for sexual fantasies. Its pages were comprehensive of pictures of ripped, muscled men carrying every little thing from “jock socks” and tailor-made shorts to sample-clashing shirts and animal-printed thongs. Below was masculinity in drag, a bevy of butch male versions in some way pulling off ridiculous style that pushed earlier the drab mid-century uniform of the grey flannel suit.
As Darling and Reed’s movie outlines, these congruence of beliefs is what will make this cult phenomenon a fantastic motor vehicle via which to look at how American masculinity was reshaped in the latter half of the 20th century. The clothes Intercontinental Male marketed opened up adult men to experiment with coloration and designs, expanding the parameters of what it meant to look like a gentleman. And so, whilst “All Man” does live up to its title — monitoring the increase of this mail-buy organization by the late ’70s, by the HIV/AIDS disaster and into its eventual demise as soon as it was acquired — the doc has wilder ambitions.
With Matt Bomer looking at Peter Jones’ script, the doc aims to existing a easy and persuasive argument: Burkard’s makeshift endeavor carved out a area wherever men could be ogled. And in which (gay) men’s self-fashioning could commence and finish with mail-buy manner pictures. Building playful use of catalog archives, the film provides viewers a delectable appear at the photos that, as the likes of Carson Kressley, Jake Shears and Drew Droege make clear, influenced gay males of all ages. The pictures promised a vision of stylish jet-placing hunks, inviting shoppers to visualize what it would be like to be that person, whilst needing him too.
With a limited 84-moment runtime, “All Man” is a breezy affair. Certainly, Vibrant Gentle Brilliant Light’s synth disco score, matched with Megan Toenyes’s playful ’80s-influenced animated graphics manage a buoyant vibe that feels quite considerably in preserving with Intercontinental Male’s tongue-in-cheek appeal. However, as Darling and Reed plainly recognized, this is a tale that opens up numerous intriguing queries: What did it imply for this vision of masculinity to be as palatable to straight men as to (closeted) gay adult males? What to make of the simple fact that a great deal of the clientele ended up gals eager to make around their boyfriends and husbands? What could this background explain to us about the fickle codes of gendered outfits? What could its demise portend about rainbow capitalism?
So, as a chronicle of a queer entrepreneurial success, the film is a delight — even, or probably specifically, since it often sidesteps the thornier discussions its matter brings up. Talk of the absence of models of shade through its heyday, for instance, pivots immediately away from this kind of discrimination. Early concerns about the brand’s absence of enterprise legal responsibility by some means will get smoothed above with talk of shifting technological innovation. Even the touching tributes to the many staff Burkard’s business office dropped to the AIDS epidemic feels like a missed possibility. Alternatively of further discovering how queer history like the type International Male designed and nurtured can by no means truly be recovered, the sequence performs like an prolonged (if really sweet) “in memoriam” phase.
Ultimately, the bevy of vintage beefcake imagery and the really entertaining conversing heads Darling and Reed have amassed in this article (together with an in-depth interview with company founder Burkard, who died in 2020, as properly as with a lot of former personnel and designs) are plenty of to make “All Man” worthy of trying to get. Functioning as a primer on the organization and on the inquiries its success has compelled numerous a cultural critic to request in its wake, the documentary will probable go away you itching for additional depth, additional rigor — just extra, definitely. Which, in by itself, feels apt. In contrast to far more overtly sexual publications, the Worldwide Male catalog marketed itself on suggestion, permitting subscribers’ imaginations do the rest.