Rick Castro described Peter Berlin as the Greta Garbo of porn -“ someone who lived his life just as he wished, tantalisingly mixing unashamed disclosure with aloof retreat.

The star of two underground gay erotic classics from the early 70s, Peter Berlin was more than a porn star. He wrote and directed his own films, made the costumes and lived a flamboyant lifestyle that largely consisted of producing himself.

[Peter] created an image that he lived, as near as I could tell, 24 hours a day, for the enjoyment of the rest of us, Armistead Maupin says admiringly in a new documentary about Berlin.

That Man: Peter Berlin tells the story of this unusual man who grew up in a poor family in 50s Berlin before moving to San Francisco in the 70s. Photographed by Robert Mapplethorpe and drawn by Tom of Finland, Berlin became an icon of a new playful, Dionysian, gay sexuality.

The documentary which will have its Australian premiere at the Mardi Gras Film Festival happened almost by accident when a friend of director Jim Tushinski mentioned that Berlin lived in his apartment block.

I certainly wasn’t a fan nor was I particularly interested in porn or porn stars. However, when [my friend] started relating the stories Peter had been telling him -“ about Robert Mapplethorpe, Rudolf Nureyev, Andy Warhol, and about the immense loss of his friends to AIDS -“ I knew these stories needed to be captured somehow, Tushinski explains.

After meeting with Berlin, Tushinski found the man and the story even more compelling and eventually ended up with 40 hours of taped interviews around which he crafted his 80-minute film. The doco also includes excerpts from Berlin’s own films and interviews with fans such as Armistead Maupin and John Waters.

If you would tell me I could re-do my life, Berlin says, I would do it in a split-second. The only thing I would change is the happiness and well-being of others in my life. But me? What a blast I had!

That Man: Peter Berlin screens 7:30pm Friday 25 February at the Academy Twin. Go to www.queerscreen.com.au for info. MCA Ticketing is handling bookings on 9645 1611.

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