Color, 1975, 84m.
Directed by Jerry Douglas
Starring Gerald Grant, Andrea True, Dean Tait, Darby Lloyd Raines, Katherine Miles
Vinegar Syndrome (DVD), VCA (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)
A companion film of sorts to Radley Metzger's increasingly popular cult film Score, Both Ways presents a more sobering look at male bisexuality during the '70s sexual revolution from the same writer, Jerry Douglas, who also takes on directing duties this time. An accomplished Broadway director and writer, Douglas had already dabbled in adult films with 1973's classic The Back Row, which he would go on to more or less remake in 2001 when he resumed his directing career at the end of the '80s. One of the stars of Score, Gerald Grant, was brought back for the second of only two movie leading roles, though he would also pop up in minor bits in Umberto Lenzi's Eaten Alive and Metzger's very funny Naked Came the Stranger.
Suburban lawyer Donald Wyman (Grant) splits his time between a suburban family life with Janet (True) and time in the city with "best friend" Gary (Tait, stage star of Let My People Come), who also happens to be his lover. A "sucker for blondes" of both sexes, he traverses the worlds of upstate New York straight life and the gay scene of Greenwich Village, eventually embarking on an exploration of the swingers' scene with Janet (who has no idea of his action on the side) and their neighbor (Raines), who loves her "orgy time." However, Donald's desires get the better of him during the festivities, which sets off a tragic chain of events.
Though marketed and exhibited as an X-rated adult film, Both Ways has something very different on its mind than delivering mindless hardcore action. The actual explicit material only makes up a tiny fraction of the running time, which is more concerned with delivering a piercing character study of three characters in crisis and the obligatory '70s art cinema nods like kaleidoscopic visual effects and shots of balloons drifting into the sky. Grant is very good in a tricky lead role, while True (a rare but not unique example of an adult performer who also became a disco star) has one of her meatier roles here as a wife forced into circumstances Hollywood wouldn't dare until Making Love the following decade. Douglas's direction is adventurous even when it slips up, such as a Chabrolian scene of violence near the end that could have been handled far better, and he manages to generate an air of melancholy and dreaminess that's very difficult to recapture today.
Needless to say, Both Ways was a challenge to market when it opened in 1975 on the porno chic circuit from Double Scorpio Productions, a one-shot outfit consisting of Douglas and one business partner. A VHS running 80 mins. 35 sec. appeared in 1992 from VCA, retaining the hardcore content but inexplicably hacking away the entire opening sequence showing Donald's happy home life with his wife and son. However, that was nothing compared to the wholesale butchery of the 2008 VCA DVD, which arrived in the wake of the legal freak out over The Tin Drum and other productions with young actors in sexually frank material. Despite the fact that Donald's son has nothing to do with any of the sexual footage, every single scene with the young actor was removed, rendering the film completely incoherent and hacking the running time down to a ridiculous 71 mins. 14 sec. running time. (Sadly, this wasn't unique as many vintage adult films were cut to bits on DVD by VCA.)
Douglas himself attempted to find a complete original print over the years to no avail, but thankfully Vinegar Syndrome has come through with a 2016 DVD release sourced from the original 35mm negative and presenting the film complete on home video for the first time at 84 mins. 20 sec. The original 1.33:1 aspect ratio is preserved here, and the image quality is a tremendous jump from the murky old master we've been stuck with for decades. It's still a gritty and intentionally ragged-looking film, of course, but this is likely as good as it can ever be presented in SD. The constant jittering and significant print damage from past versions has been removed as well, making this far more watchable from start to finish. Extras include the theatrical trailer and a new audio commentary with Douglas and Adam Baran, which finds Douglas in a very sunny mood at seeing his labor of love finally back in circulation. He goes into great detail about the real-life experiences of a friend he first picked up at a bar who had decided to explore his bisexual side after conceiving his first child, which eventually led to much domestic turmoil. They also talk at length about all of the actors, including the fact that Grant preferred working in every sense with Raines instead of True. All told, it's a great presentation of a unique and fascinating example of an era when cinematic boundaries seemed to be disappearing entirely.