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Daddy & Muscle Academy
Daddy And The Muscle Academy, directed in 1991 by Ilppo Pohjola, is a fifty-seven minute film that is part documentary and part reenactment of its subjects illustrations. For those unfamiliar with Tom Of Finland, he was an artist that specialized in gay erotica and whose exaggerated hyper-detailed illustrations of the manliest of men, often engaged in graphic and taboo breaking sex with one another, has become some of the most celebrated art of the gay counter-culture. This film is made up mostly of interviews with Tom himself (born Touko Valio Laaksonen in 1920, which made him 70 when this was shot) but also contains input from some of the people that he worked with and influenced in addition to some fetish-heavy reenactments of some of his drawings.
The interviews themselves are quite interesting. Tom speaks about growing up in his conservative homeland, what things were like for gay men like himself at the time as well as his experiences in the army during the Second World War and how this shaped his view of the men he was attracted to. He talks about how and why he took the pen name ‘Tom Of Finland' after getting published in an some American magazines that he'd submitted artwork to and he also discusses how and why his style became more and more exaggerated as the years went on. There's talk here about how he feels about his drawings that involve women, his appreciation for leather boots and tight fighting uniforms and how his work wound up being appreciated and distributed in America, which led to his moving there. He also talks about using real models and photographs to aid in his compositions. Anyone with an interest in illustration will appreciate learning more about how and why he was able to do what he did, regardless of sexual orientation or preference. Tom speaks candidly from his apartment studio about his life and his work. He's a mild, seemingly quite shy man with a quiet demeanor about him (which is, interestingly enough, quite the opposite of many of his characters).
The interviews with fellow artists and those who worked with Tom, such as the man who helped him take back the control of his artwork once it started getting bootlegged, help to flesh out not just his influence, but also the ‘business' side of his career. We learn here about one of his first American exhibitions that took place in New York City, how early on calendars were made up using his work and about how his fellow artists feel about his output. This material is also worthwhile, as it just gives ‘more' to the story.
As to the reenactment footage, it's got an artsier vibe to it than the rest of the documentary. While nowhere near as graphic as the illustrations themselves, there's still plenty of beefcake on display as various men clad in leather but in various state of undress pose for the camera, sometimes alone and sometimes together, in a dimly lit industrial setting. In many ways this doesn't do much to expand on the film's subject, though it could probably be argued that it does show the influence of Tom's art on these particular men as voiceover work states over and over again as we see this footage that ‘I am one of Tom's men.'
The film's major shortcoming is that it's fairly brief, clocking in at just under an hour. You get the feeling that Tom had more stories to tell than we hear (this is backed up by the interview footage included in the extra features department) and that there could have been more people interviewed about his influence and impact than there were. At the same time, this was shot in 1990, and Tom Of Finland's influence and status in the gay underground and even the mainstream has only grown since then (as evidenced by the fact that last year he was the subject of a biopic). Otherwise, this is interesting stuff, a rare look into the mind of a man whose artwork and influence is really only just starting to get its due.
Daddy And The Muscle Academy arrives on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition presentation framed at 1.33.1 fullframe, which would appear to be how it was shot. The first couple of minutes of the movie honestly look like they were taken from a tape source, complete with what looks like tape roll in one spot, but once we get past that part things clear up nicely. Detail is decent enough and while it never pops the way a different film might (keep in mind this is mostly men talking in dimly lit rooms or posing in black leather in dimly lit rooms), the image handily rises above what standard definition would be able to provide. You notice it mostly in close ups of the interviewees faces but you'll also pick out some nice detail when the film shows off some of the illustrations too. There are no noticeable problems with any compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction and the elements used for the transfer were clearly very clean as there isn't much in the way of print damage to discuss.
The only audio option on the disc is a DTS-HD 5.1 master audio track. Tom speaks in Finnish for the bulk of the film, the other interviewees in English. Optional subtitles are provided for the movie in English. Clarity of the track is fine. There are spots where some of the dialogue overlaps a bit, but this was clearly intentional on the part of the filmmakers. The levels are a bit high, meaning the track is louder than you might expect it to be, but once you adjust your volume a bit there are no issues. Despite the fact that this is mostly a ‘talking head' style interview piece, we do get some surround activity during some of the reenactments and with the score placement.
The main extra on the disc is an interview with Tom himself that runs just over ninety-five minutes in length. This appears to be basically the unedited interview footage that was shot to be included in the feature itself but there's a fair bit here that didn't make the cut, so to speak. As such, we get quite a bit more footage of Tom talking up his past, discussing his style and just telling more of his story. It's quite interesting.
Outside of that there's a still gallery here that contains over 100 of Tom's illustrations, a trailer for the feature, a trailer for the Tom Of Finland 2017 feature film, menus and chapter selection.
Daddy And The Muscle Academy probably could have been longer and more in-depth than it was, but that complaint aside what's here is well-made and interesting. Kino's Blu-ray release looks and sounds decent enough and contains some good extra features. Those with an interest in the subject matter can consider this one recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.