Forget that bargain-basement Muhammad biopic. Adi Sideman’s unforgettable 1994 documentary Chicken Hawk: Men Who Love Boys is almost as rudimentary a piece of work, but it’s a genuinely unsettling viewing experience with the actual power to offend, not just employing cheap agitprop tactics to inflame already-delicate sensibilities.
The film takes an unflinching look inside the pro-pedophilia North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA), whose membership seems remarkably media unsavvy — even 18 years ago. Sideman maintains a controversially nonjudgmental stance, though his subjects take the rope he hands them and not only hang themselves but use it for autoerotic asphyxiation while ordering kiddie porn under their real names. The barely hourlong doc was screened in a handful of theaters and banned in multiple cities, then issued on VHS by Film Threat. It hasn’t seen a home video release since, but it’s not exactly the sort of movie that invites repeat viewings beyond its shock-your-friends value. It does have its fair share of moments that sear themselves into the brain, however: the teacher gazing down from his window onto a school playground, declaring it “the promised land” while bemoaning his persecution; the profanity-laced rants greeting Italian-accented hotline operator Renato Corazzo upon his return home; the seemingly related taste for large-scale, über-tacky paintings of athletic boys in short shorts. And then there’s Leyland Stevenson, whose glassy-eyed recollections of his campsite activities make him such a leeringly creepy poster child for the organization that caricature would be redundant.
Sideman will be on hand for PhilaMOCA’s screening, which will accompany the main feature with a program of thematically appropriate shorts. The original theatrical run paired Chicken Hawk with an inadvertently hilarious-in-context 1960s-era “don’t talk to strangers” educational short called Red Light, Green Light, but expect these films to head in decidedly more purposefully disturbing directions.
Fri., Sept. 21, 8 p.m., $7, PhilaMOCA, 531 N. 12th St., philamoca.org.