The Film (4/5)
Donald Wyman is the middle aged man with it all: A beautiful and adoring wife Janet, a good paying job, and a fine-looking and healthy young son. Donald even has a young college piece on the side, a stark blonde, ruggedly handsome Harvard student named Gary. Donald’s a man who desperately requires himself to live a secret gay double life and doesn’t want to give up either of the lovers in either of his relationships, but when his selfishness grows unwavering and his partners suspect Donald’s unfaithfulness, Donald’s dual personas blur into a twisted heap of relationship turmoil that paves the way for a crumbling descent into uncontrollable stress, devastating heartache, and, eventually, murder proving Donald can’t have it both ways.
“Both Ways” is the long lost Jerry Douglas written and directed film rediscovered and restored onto DVD from the provocative Vinegar Syndrome label. The dramatic adult thriller tackles early bisexuality in film and exhibits the various ebb and flow perceptions of gay culture. Douglas runs a wonderfully structured, non-linear story using flashbacks and prop placing to display important dated events from the late 60’s to the early 70’s that run parallel to the main characters lives and are used as a catapulting catalyst to motivate characters’ present circumstances.
Without researching Douglas’ film prior to viewing, I always want a fresh and non-influence experience when pressing play on an unknown film and when the first unadulterated scene of Gerald Grant and Dean Tait going hardcore pops up on the screen, I don’t think twice about it because I expected nothing less from Vinegar Syndrome. Then, when Gerald Grant and Andrea True’s scene comes to the forefront, hetero sex is just business as usual for the label. Only when did I recollect the film’s opening scene, did I gasp when disbelief as the opening consists of a bright blue sky, the laughter of a young child and a man can be heard, and then a slow pan to see actors Gerald Grant and an adolescent Neil Scott entering the frame. First reaction: “oh my! This is an adult film! Why is this kid here!?” Apparently, I’m not the first person to make an account of this seemingly dangerous situation as even the director, Jerry Douglas, notes on the director’s commentary that there was a cloud of fear with having a child in a film like “Both Ways,” but he indirectly reassured new viewers, like myself, that Scott had not been, in any way, involved with or even on the same set as the explicit scenes.
With that heart attack out of the way, we can cover the performances of the actors, in and out of the sheets. As thespians, Gerald Grant, Dean Tait, and Andrea True we’re about as bland as a box of stale Cheerios with Grant topping the just slightly over the Tait and True. There has to be some trait of narcissism and impassiveness in Donald Wyman to be yanking on the emotional strings of his lovers and Grant’s cavalier nature exploits that with integrity. Gary and Janet played the second fiddle to each other all too well, but Tait and True just didn’t enthrall their characters with passion. At times, Tait just seems to walk up to or away from Grant with such rigidity and stiffness, I thought he ironed his clothes with his very fined tuned muscular build still in them. True had also lacked character conviction, even when her character had to be sarcastic in her deliveries upon the inkling of deceit from her on screen husband and the tension between Donald and Janet felt forced too many times. As hardcore performers, Tait and Grant’s comfort level naturally edged above the scenes with Andrea True, the more experienced adult performer on set, who usually closed her eyes and just went into la-la land whenever Grant went to town on her crotch.
Though the hardcore scenes were nothing to write home to mother about, the illicit bisexual affair, inspired by one of Douglas’ close friends leading a double life, was much more the focus. In the 1970s, LGBT content was as much more taboo on film than it was off camera and the graphic nature of “Both Ways” proves that societal adversity will succumb to passionate filmmaking. Despite the deplorable actions of Donald that might be perceived as a direct result of his homosexuality, there was much of a beauty if Donald and Gary’s relationship than just sex. Gary cherished Donald, granting him come-and-go access to his New York apartment and being grateful for Donald’s presence at Gary’s Harvard graduation ceremony when even Gary’s father couldn’t attend. In fact, the heterosexual side of Donald was more the true villain here, cheating on his wife and son, failing meet to obligations to them, and leading him to the subconscious affliction of murderous intentions.
Vinegar Syndrome's "Both Ways" is presented in a beautiful 2k scanned restoration of the 35mm negative and the original print, which is fairly pristine, is exhibited it's original aspect ratio of a fullframe 1.33:1. The print's distortions were microscopic and no unnecessary touchups were applied to shorn and revitalize blemishes and other damages. There is natural coloring throughout, balanced darker tones, and the hues were level as level can be for a 1970s production.
The English Dolby Digital mono mix is better than most original prints from over 40 years ago. Clear and present dialogue that's well balanced and synced properly. There's a faint of hiss, but nothing overly uninviting to withdraw interest. No pops or other audio miscues of the sort from start to finish
Aside from the original theatrical trailer, a director's commentary track with Jerry Douglas provides an insiders perspective on all that was once thought lost and is rich in information about the film's background from the idea to the cast members dynamic.
Jerry Douglas' triple X feature rocked the boat with a creamy porn inner lining surrounded with a very societal provoking mainstream outer shell and, yet again, Vinegar Syndrome continues to be a leader amongst restoration forgotten, overlooked, and neglected films, no matter the genre. Though the acting may be a bit humdrum, perhaps a product of the time, an engaging story pulls you into the martial strife and the backdoor relationships of a man torn between two worlds. Recommended.