“Victoria’s Key for gentlemen.” Which is how Intercontinental Male, the clothing catalogue launched by Gene Burkard is explained in the opening times of Bryan Darling and Jesse Finley Reed’s “All Man: The Worldwide Male Story.” Only the description must have an crucial caveat: This smorgasbord of visuals of adult males in the pretty (if aggressively outrageous) outfits that adorned Burkard’s 1976 creation have been aimed at a distinct subset of adult men. Telling a simple tale about this queer-skewing small business, “All Man” opens up inquiries on how masculinity has been packaged for the American buyer, straight and gay alike.
The comparison to Victoria’s Key is an apt just one, capturing the way the a lot of speaking heads that populate “All Man” converse to and have an understanding of Burkard’s targets and ambitions. Global Male, like that renowned lingerie brand, marketed a life style in addition to providing a lot of fodder for sexual fantasies. Its webpages were complete of shots of ripped, muscled guys putting on every little thing from “jock socks” and customized shorts to pattern-clashing shirts and animal-printed thongs. Right here was masculinity in drag, a bevy of butch male designs someway pulling off ridiculous vogue that pushed previous the drab mid-century uniform of the gray flannel fit.
As Darling and Reed’s film outlines, such congruence of ideals is what will make this cult phenomenon a great vehicle by which to study how American masculinity was reshaped in the latter fifty percent of the 20th century. The garments International Male sold opened up guys to experiment with shade and patterns, expanding the parameters of what it intended to search like a guy. And so, though “All Man” does are living up to its title — tracking the rise of this mail-order business by way of the late ’70s, as a result of the HIV/AIDS disaster and into its eventual demise once it was obtained — the doc has wilder ambitions.
With Matt Bomer examining Peter Jones’ script, the doc aims to current a straightforward and persuasive argument: Burkard’s makeshift endeavor carved out a place the place gentlemen could be ogled. And where by (gay) men’s self-fashioning could start off and stop with mail-get manner images. Earning playful use of catalog archives, the film gives viewers a delectable search at the illustrations or photos that, as the likes of Carson Kressley, Jake Shears and Drew Droege explain, influenced homosexual guys of all ages. The photos promised a eyesight of trendy jet-environment hunks, inviting shoppers to picture what it would be like to be that man, although wanting him way too.
With a tight 84-minute runtime, “All Man” is a breezy affair. In fact, Shiny Light Vibrant Light’s synth disco score, matched with Megan Toenyes’s playful ’80s-impressed animated graphics sustain a buoyant vibe that feels very much in keeping with International Male’s tongue-in-cheek attraction. Nonetheless, as Darling and Reed plainly comprehended, this is a tale that opens up lots of intriguing queries: What did it signify for this vision of masculinity to be as palatable to straight adult males as to (closeted) gay males? What to make of the reality that significantly of the clientele were being ladies eager to make around their boyfriends and husbands? What could this record tell us about the fickle codes of gendered outfits? What could its demise portend about rainbow capitalism?
Consequently, as a chronicle of a queer entrepreneurial achievements, the movie is a delight — even, or potentially primarily, mainly because it often sidesteps the thornier conversations its subject matter delivers up. Converse of the lack of designs of color through its heyday, for instance, pivots rapidly away from these discrimination. Early worries about the brand’s deficiency of business enterprise liability in some way gets smoothed around with communicate of changing engineering. Even the touching tributes to the lots of personnel Burkard’s place of work dropped to the AIDS epidemic feels like a skipped prospect. Instead of even more checking out how queer background like the form International Male developed and nurtured can by no means genuinely be recovered, the sequence plays like an extended (if really sweet) “in memoriam” segment.
In the end, the bevy of vintage beefcake imagery and the actually entertaining conversing heads Darling and Reed have amassed in this article (together with an in-depth job interview with corporation founder Burkard, who died in 2020, as perfectly as with numerous former employees and types) are more than enough to make “All Man” well worth seeking. Functioning as a primer on the organization and on the queries its good results has compelled many a cultural critic to ask in its wake, the documentary will probably depart you itching for a lot more depth, more rigor — just more, definitely. Which, in alone, feels apt. Unlike much more overtly sexual publications, the International Male catalog marketed alone on recommendation, letting subscribers’ imaginations do the rest.