TRAILER Written and directed by Ilppo Pohjola, made in cooperation with Yle/TV2 and Tom of Finland Foundation.
In the late 1940s, the artist Tom of Finland began turning his sexual fantasies into drawings. He gained world renown with the publication of his work in American men’s magazines. Gay men began to shape their bodies, look and entire self-image according to his idealised views of masculine-looking men dressed in leather or uniform. His drawings expressed a self-determined lust for life, liberated from any sense of guilt, which was perceived as a counterweight to social oppression.
This essayistic work is the only film about Tom of Finland in which he himself appears. In it, the artist talks about his experiences during World War II and the motivation for his work. Other artists, such as Isaac Julien, describe the fascination that Tom’s fetishist world exerts on them. A comprehensive retrospective of his drawings is juxtaposed with images of an underground cinema quality in which bodies move like gladiators to darkly mechanical techno sounds. Tom of Finland’s subcultural icons deconstructed mainstream perceptions of male homosexuals at the time; they still inspire the queer community today to understand the body as political destiny, to adapt it to one’s own identity and make it visible.
Digitally restored from the original camera negatives and audio sources.
Tickets are available three days in advance of screening
While sex between men was partially decriminalised 50 years ago in the UK, in Finland it took until 1971. And it wasn’t until very recently that the Finns were relaxed enough about homosexuality to openly acknowledge one of their country’s most famous exports. In 2014, they put his unmistakably erotic artwork on a set of stamps; this year, a biopic became a mainstream hit at the nation’s multiplexes. Almost 100 years after his birth in the town of Kaarina, Tom of Finland had come home.
Tom’s birth name was Touko Laaksonen. By day, he was a senior art director at advertising agency McCann Erickson. In his spare time, however, he drew his sexual fantasies – bikers and lumberjacks, mounties and policemen going at it hammer and tongs in forests, prisons and parks, the smiles on their faces almost as big as their enormously tumescent penises. Initially published in American gay proto-porn magazines such as Physique Pictorial, they were disseminated worldwide in dime stores, sex shops or leather bars through an international underground of fans, despite laws against the distribution of such explicit material.
Tom’s pictures fuelled both the sexual fantasies and the aesthetic of many gay men. The fetish for police and military uniforms and the leather-clad look – often including a cap, chaps and biker jacket – worn by Freddie Mercury, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and, of course, Glenn Hughes, the the Village People, was directly inspired by his work. Initially drawing men in riding breeches and army officers in brown leather bomber jackets, he got into the biker look after seeing Marlon Brando in The Wild One. Thereafter, says Durk Dehner, a Canadian friend of Tom’s and now the custodian of his work, Tom’s and the nascent gay leather scene would inspire one another. Tom would draw his fantasies and send them to friends. They would get a tailor to replicate the sexiest garments in the pictures, photograph themselves in them, and send the pictures back to the artist. “Then he’d get more ideas – it was evolving,” says Dehner.
An Evening Celebrating the Art and Influence of Tom of Finland At a legendary cinema in Soho as part of Pride in London.
The event starts with a discussion on Tom’s influence on fashion, not only in the leather community, but also putting it in a wider frame by looking at sexual liberation and the impact of popular erotic imagery on fashion in general.
The discussion opens with an exclusive video interview with Jean Paul Gaultier where he talks about Tom’s influence on his work and life.
Discussants for the evening are Roy Brown aka Roy Inc and Shaun Cole. Singer/songwriter/producer and performer Roy Inc has worked with artists such as Sting, Donna Summer, Verve, Neneh Cherry, Pet Shop Boys and Frank Ocean – and been shot by some of the most inspired fashion photographers of our time including David Bailey, Jurgen Teller and Nick Knight. Dr Shaun Cole is Associate Dean Postgraduate Communities at London College of Fashion. He was formerly Head of Contemporary Programmes at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Cole has also written and lectured on the subject of menswear and gay fashion and his publications include Don We Now Our Gay Apparel’: Gay Men’s Dress in the Twentieth Century (2000), Dialogue: Relationships in Graphic Design (2005) The Story of Men’s Underwear (2010) and Fashion Media: Past and Present (2013).
Tom of Finland (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920-1991) is one of the Gay world’s biggest icons. His drawings have had an enormous influence on the visual appearance, attitudes and self-understanding of Gay people. Tom’s ultimate Leathermen are known all over the world and they are key icons of Western visual culture.
The second half of the event consists of the screening of the classic documentary Daddy and the Muscle Academy by Ilppo Pohjola, the only film ever made with Tom of Finland himself. The film uses a variety of visual elements, including Tom of Finland in his own words. Tom tells his life story, starting with his childhood in rural Finland, and going on to the influence on him of WWII, his drawings and his experience in the United States. Tom also describes his drawing method and explains the personal and professional motives behind his drawings. Leathermen from different parts of the United States talk about how Tom’s drawings have influenced their own lives. There are also interviews with fellow artists Etienne and Nayland Blake, Bob Mizer of the Athletic Model Guild and Durk Dehner of the Tom of Finland Foundation.