Frank's Cock (1994) is an eight minute short film by avant-garde, Canadian filmmaker, Mike Hoolboom. The transcript (see below) makes the film appear simple. It's an unnamed character, played by Callum Keith Rennie1, speaking direct to camera about his dying lover, Frank. He represents Frank as unashamedly sexual - from birth - and generously endowed, as well as being someone who teaches his lover other physical skills such as opening a beer bottle with his teeth, building a kite and making an omelette. Even the way Frank listens to the radio (whilst fucking) is physical, 'I guess he liked to hear the radio waves flowing through him. It somehow connected him to everybody else jacked in across the country'.
The confident physicality of Frank in these reminiscences is undercut by the description of Frank now. Dying of AIDS, his body is wasting away and is marked by cancerous lesions. Still, we are told, the same old Frank persists inside that body. Frank says "The body does not believe in progress. Its religion is the present not the future."
Its visual structure makes the film more complex. CKR's talking head is always in the top right hand quadrant of the screen. At the beginning of the film, it is the only thing on the screen. As he talks, however, a separate 'film' begins to run in the top left quadrant, which appears to be footage of micro-organisms. Later, we see in the bottom left, Madonna's film, Sex, and finally all four quadrants are filled when grainy, gay porn starts to run in the bottom left of the screen. Sound is audible from all four sources. The other quadrants empty in reverse order to leave the talking head alone on screen at the end.
We can read these visuals against the monologue of the film. The micro-organisms first appear when the speaker meets Frank. Sex starts when Frank's father is alone in his hole in the ground in Phnom Penh fantasising about eggs, and the porn footage commences with the discussion of guys with really big dicks. The speaker starts and finishes the film alone, however, in the same way the narrative of his life starts without Frank and will end the same way.
1credited as Callum Renney
The IMDB page: Frank's Cock (1994)
Cast / Characters:
Callum Keith Rennie (as Callum Renney)
Runtime: 8 min
IMDB rating: 7.9/10 (47 votes)
Keywords: Homosexual | Profanity In Title | Independent Film
Frank's Cock won the Toronto International Film Festival Award for the Best Canadian Short Film in 1994.
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Callum Quotient: 100 %
What I presume is a publicity still, from this site.
Frank never had a problem being gay.
He said his first sexual experience was in the hospital, in that room, in where they take the babies, in wicker cribs with their names on them? And he was trying to pull off the knob of this newborn, thinking, "I've only got one, I might need a spare when I get home". That's how his mother found him, wanking off a newborn.
I was always... My parents weren't big on gay. You remember the ad, with the preacher holding a shotgun, standing beside his son, and the preacher says, "If I found out my son was gay, I'd shoot him." And the son says, "I think he'd like to shoot me anyway." Everybody's kind of like that.
I had a girlfriend in high school, Donna, but we were friends mostly. And when my parents found out I was gay, they blamed it all on Donna. Like she was an ambassador from the country of women and she'd fucked up somehow, so I was never going back there. But that wasn't it at all. I was into boys, and numbers. I was going to be the Michael Jordan of sex, the Wayne Gretzky with a hard on. You know, I was into these group bangs: you just slip it in, move along, you know, sorta you know, keeping score, and then I met Frank.
He was older than me, almost 30, and we hit it off right away. He said, "Are you into fantasies? I do five." I went, "Yeah." He's like, "Yeah. Coach/rookie, sailor/slut, master/slave, older brother/younger brother, father/son."
I picked older brother/younger brother and, well we've been together ever since.
He told me a real Canadian can open a beer with anything and he showed me how to open a beer with my teeth. [shows his fake front tooth] Took me a while to learn that. He showed me how to build a box kite. Fly it over Land's End. He taught me how to make an omelette that would rise the size of a man's head.
Frank had a thing for omelettes.
Guess he got it from his dad. His dad was... he signed on for Vietnam and he got caught behind enemy lines in Phnom Penh and he lived on bread and water, in a hole in the ground. No light. No food. No people. And you know how he managed? Eggs.
He thought of every way you could cook 'em: bake 'em, boil, fry 'em, soufflé them. And when he got out he went to a restaurant and ordered an omelette. Six. Egg. Omelette. He ate it. Had a heart attack. Died right there in the restaurant. Frank always said it was a good thing, because the rest of his life would have been such a let down. I can never say it without crying.
Then there was Frank's cock. I know size isn't everything. But it just seemed to fit, you know. For the first time in my life when he was inside me, I felt like home. I was home for the first time. And you know what they say, you can tell the size of a guy's dick by his hands? Well, Frank had these little pastry chef fingers. I thought it was all padding. I thought he was all padding. You know, but you've seen it before, those guys on MTV, those skinny little guitar rats with the bulge that goes halfway down to their knee? You know, curtsey of Kleenex and... Frank didn't need the help.
And a lot of guys, if they have a really big dick, they can't get it hard. All they can manage is about half mast. And believe me, I've tried. I don't know why. Maybe if all the blood went into their cock it would leave their brain, they'd pass out and die. Don't know.
Nobody ever touched me like Frank did. You know, like it would last forever. We didn't know back then. Nobody did.
Frank would have sex the way most people go to the opera. He'd go, he'd pick a day on the calendar and go, "Okay. On this day here, the 14th, we'll fuck." And when Frank said fuck, he meant we'd go at it all day. The doors closed. The phones jacked out. And we'd be listening to the radio. Always. CBC. You know Peter Gzowski? Morningside? Do-do-do-do? Well it was a little hard at first. You know, he's got his tongue around my balls, he's jerking up and down on my stick and my eyes are rolling back in my head and all I can hear is, "When did you know your blues band wasn't going to make it and you would run for Prime Minister instead?" It was just a little hard to keep my head inside the radio and my balls at the same time. But that was a thing with Frank. I guess he liked to hear the radio waves flowing through him. It somehow connected him to everybody else jacked in across the country. I don't know. Maybe he just had a hard on for Gzowski.
I never had anyone lick my ass before. I know this is going to sound sentimental, but everyone has their own way of worship.
We've been together nine years. In December it will be our anniversary. Our tenth. But I don't know if Frank's gonna be around to see it. He's in St. Paul's. They got this whole ward of guys who look just like Frank. When you walk in, it's a little scary, at first. He's lost a lot of weight, he's got these marks on him - that's the Kaposi - but when you talk to him, he's inside all that, same as ever. I talked to him this morning. He said, "The body does not believe in progress. Its religion is the present not the future."
He's always saying crazy things like that, so nothing's really changed. Except, he's dying. And I'm gonna miss him. He's the best friend I ever had.
Notes: this transcript is based on an existing document by an unknown author (thanks to neu111 for sending it to me) but I have made extensive revisions.
Do I want to show this to my parents / friends / co-workers?
At least I only had to suffer for 8 minutes
Nope, no violence here
Don't mention the war
Does emotional violence count?
Sex is violence
Big dicks are never not funny
You have to laugh with the guy
Surprisingly funny, in a bitter-sweet way
So sad! No room for laughter
All over that screen, baby
Micro-organisms going at it liek woah
Pass me my reading glasses. Why isn't the porn bigger?
Eight minutes isn't really enough
So much sex, so little hotness?
We're all about sexual celebration here
It's all so small: maybe I missed the violence
What do violent micro-organisms look like anyway
Wham, bang, thank you, sir.
All sex is violence
He's a real sweetie
He's open and caring
He wasn't so caring when he was young
How can you trust a guy who doesn't have a name?
How many people does [unnamed character] kill?
I don't think he has a violent bone in his body. And besides he's too busy fucking.
He really loves Frank. I don't think he'd hesitate to protect him.
You know, it wasn't a beer bottle that knocked out that tooth.
Kite fighting is not as genteel as it sounds. My goodness, no.
Frank's demise? Not natural. Just saying.
How crazy is [unnamed character]?
He's only crazy for Frank.
He lost a tooth opening a beer bottle, so not entirely sane.
He cooks omelettes in the size and shape of a variety of body parts.
He believes Frank's story about wanking a newborn.
He gets distracted by the radio when Frank's tonguing his balls. WTF?
Now. Just HOW HOT is [unnamed character]?
Those porn guys at the bottom of the screen so want him to join them
Madonna's thinking only of him
He makes the micro-organisms wiggle, baby!
I'm too scared of Frank
Yeah, just not feeling it. Sorry.
Very very gay
Canon gay, baby
Really, there's no arguing
Are you blind and deaf?
He's here and I'm buying him a beer
Does he die?
You really want to know? Are you sure? Really sure? Well, then. (highlight to read)
::Totally not dead! \o/::
There's a dearth of articles about this short film.
Synopsis here of some of Hoolboom's films (dating back to '94, I think). The relevant extract:
Franks Cock (1993) remains Hoolboom's most explicit AIDS narrative. Centred around a first per son confessional, actor Callum Rennie narrates the saga of 'Frank', his former mentor, lover and confidante. He describes the difficulties of growing up gay: his introduction into gay life ("I wanted to be the Michael Jordan of sex. Wayne Gretzky with a hard on"); being Canadian ("a Canadian was someone who could open a beer with anything"); sex ("I never had anyone lick my ass before, I know I'm going to sound sentimental but everyone's got their own way to worship") and, of course, Frank's cock ("I know that size isn't everything, but it just seemed to fit, you know?"). Frank finally succumbs to AIDS and dies, leaving his lover to tell his story. While Rennie recites his tale of lust and mourning directly to the camera, the screen splinters into four equal parts, each displaying a different bodily attitude. Rennie talks throughout on screen right, beside him unfold abstract images photographed inside the body, below this a cropped version of Madonna's Erotica video flickers past and, completing the square, the fourth screen shows close-ups of gay pornography. This four-sided mosaic is a frank evo cation of the effects of AIDS, the body broken into dispersed vantages as the narrator attempts to bind with words what this disease will render lifeless and inert.
Loving a Disappearing Image
This is an article by Laura U Marks in which she uses a number of experimental films, including Frank's Cock to explore
how a viewer identifies with a decaying or disintegrating film or videotape, given that cinema is, in effect, dying even as we watch it. She discusses several experimental films and videos that take as their subject the disintegration of film, often erotic film. A psychoanalytic model of melancholia is posited for this identificatory process, but it is found to be unsatisfactory since it is premised on the maintenance of the ego's coherence. Instead a model of devotional melancholia is posited for how one might love a disappearing image.
Her specific commentary on Frank's Cock:
Frank's Cock by Mike Hoolboom is one work that invites the viewer to relate to an image precisely in its dissolution. The film does this both by having a structure in which each part loses its separate coherence by being juxtaposed with the others, and by using images that are themselves hard to see. The screen is divided into four parts: first, in the upper right quadrant, a man comes on (Callum Rennie), telling the story of Frank, his lover, who is dying; then, in the upper left quadrant, shots of wiggling micro-organisms appear (they connote viruses, but to me they also look like the Brownian motion of people moving around in a bar); then, in the lower right, Madonna's Sex video comes on; and in the lower left emerges a grainy dub of gay pornography. Although the story of Frank's lover commands the space of the film, it shifts from being a confessional AIDS movie where we identify, perhaps condescendingly, with the speaker, to one that divides our attention across four interior movies, each of which disperses the others. Divided this way, the image refuses a single narrative that would comprehend the loss. The film also asks us to celebrate fucking, and the mingling of micro-organisms, as we listen to the lovers unapologetic tale. It provides a variety of images of sex: the swimming one-celled creatures compete for attention with the choreographed forms of Madonna and her lovers, begging the question, with which do you identify more? Critics celebrated the film because it made the figure of a gay man with AIDS " universal, " but I would suggest that this means not simply open to universal identification. Instead (or as well), the film moves beyond identification to an acknowledgement of dispersion.
Marks's approach is based on haptic visuality or 'touching with the eyes'. The full (revised in 2002) version of her article is here - it's certainly thought-provoking.
Canadian Film Encyclopedia
Brief summary of Hoolboom's work with clips of things that are not Frank's Cock
Article on Hoolboom's Public Lighting (with passing reference to Frank's Cock)
Another article on Public Lighting (but without any passing reference to Frank's Cock)
Out of print book on Canadian experimental film - stupidly expensive to acquire secondhand (if you can find a copy at all)
Not so expensive work about his life in 'underground movies' (but dammit, the used copy I ordered never turned up)
None that I've been able to find.
C6D Valentine Card
So far as I know, there is no legitimate source.
This film is significant as part of Hoolboom's body of work, provoked by his contracting HIV, which explores the body and its impermanence.
Some have found CKR's performance off-puttingly camp, but it's well worth looking beyond that for the love story, the celebration of frank sexuality, and the tragedy.