James Bidgood, the filmmaker behind the underground gay classic Pink Narcissus, has died at age 88.
Bidgood, who was also a photographer, drag performer, and fashion designer, died Monday at his apartment in New York City, according to The Bay Area Reporter.
Bidgood shot Pink Narcissus over the course of seven years, mostly in his small Manhattan apartment; he was its writer, director, and cinematographer. It depicted the fantasies of a young gay sex worker, played by Bobby Kendall, Bidgood’s roommate. The other cast members included Don Brooks and Charles Ludlam, the famed avant-garde theater artist.
The film was released in 1971 and was extremely popular on the underground film scene, but due to differences with a producer, Bidgood had his name removed from it. The director was listed as “Anonymous” and for many years was believed to be Andy Warhol.
Pink Narcissus was restored and re-released by Strand Releasing in 1999, and Bidgood began to receive recognition. “Bidgood created breathtaking camera movements, elaborate forest scenes, wild Persian fantasy sequences, and a neon netherworld,” Ed Sikov wrote in The Advocate that year. Bidgood said he appreciated the attention, but he would rather have received it years earlier.
1999 also saw the release of a book of Bidgood’s photography, titled simply Bidgood, with text by Bruce Benderson. The artist’s mid-century photographs of young men were erotic and highly stylized. “He staged cinematic extravaganzas in his tiny Manhattan apartment for publications like Muscleboy and The Young Physique,” a contributor to Another Man magazine wrote in 2019.
“I wanted to photograph naked young men as opulently and as attentively as those professional ladies appearing in Playboy-type magazines were photographed,” Bidgood told Another Man. His models’ genitals were hidden, often draped in filmy fabric, to skirt laws against depictions of full-frontal nudity.
Bidgood, born in Madison, Wis., moved to New York City in 1951, when he was 18. He attended the Parsons School of Design and forged a career creating gowns for high-society balls; he also worked as a window dresser, graphic designer, and stylist. He was a drag artist as well, performing under the name Terri Howe at a time when cross-dressing was illegal.
With his late-in-life fame came exhibitions of his photography at galleries and New York’s Museum of Sex. He has been credited as an influence on artists and musicians such as David LaChapelle, Pierre et Gilles, Charli XCX, and Lil Nas X.
A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to cover funeral and burial expenses. His burial site at Cedar Park Cemetery in Hudson, N.Y., will be a place “where admirers can come for years to remember both the artist and the man,” executor Kelly McKaig wrote on GoFund Me.