The Academy Awards Museum recently featured three short films by trailblazing Los Angeles-based filmmaker and gay rights advocate Pat Rocco (1934–2018) last week, courtesy of Outfest UCLA Legacy Project at the UCLA Film & Television Archive.
Films featured were “Sign of Protest” (1970), “Meat Market Arrest” (1970), and “We Were There” (1976).
The short film “Sign of Protest” documents a February 7, 1970, gay liberation march outside Barney’s Beanery in West Hollywood, protesting a famous sign that read “Fagots [sic]–stay out” which hung proudly over the bar.
Rocco plays the role of neutral reporter on the scene in this activist interpretation of a newsfilm, interviewing the bar’s owners and patrons, as well as the protestors, and allowing their comments to speak for themselves.
Rocco is shown speaking with the daughter of the bar’s owner, who states nonchalantly that the sign has been up since 1959 and was originally accompanied by many more (since removed). She further states that the sign is part of the restaurant’s history and will not come down unless Barney’s is legally mandated to remove it.
Rocco then goes over to the sign posted above the bar and interviews customers about their opinion of it, which is largely positive.
Next, Rocco joins the 50 protesters outside and interviews Morris Kight, founder of the California chapter of the Gay Liberation Front, the organization that spearheaded the picket and a young Rev. Troy Perry, founder of the gay-affirming Metropolitan Community Church, who reiterates many of the comments heard from other protesters that the sign is offensive and should be taken down as a civil rights violation. He also mentions a June 26, 1964, LIFE Magazine article about Barney’s Beanery and the controversial sign where the owner says homosexuals should be shot.
For those who missed on the big screen or wish to revisit it, the short film is available on YouTube, however, view at your discretion due to language some may find offensive.
Trailblazing Los Angeles-based filmmaker and gay rights advocate Pat Rocco (1934–2018) began his moviemaking efforts as a creator of queer male erotica in the late 1960s. When the public’s appetite shifted to hardcore, Rocco pivoted to documenting moments of LGBTQ protest and collective joy in his adopted city, often appearing on camera as an always gracious (and meticulously coiffed) interviewer of his many subjects. Whether out in the streets capturing a demonstration of Barney’s Beanery in West Hollywood against their defamatory anti-gay signage (Signs of Protest), on the scene of an escalating situation with law enforcement at a gay bar (Meat Market Arrest), or capturing LA’s energetic early Pride parades (We Were There), Rocco’s films always culminate in moments of hope and a spirit of liberation that feel akin to Varda’s own joyful yet always inquisitive Weltanschauung.