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Lost Queer Classic 'Drifter' Resurrected

Lost Queer Classic ‘Drifter’ Resurrected

Drifter, Pat Rocco’s forgotten ’70s queer drama has resurfaced in Kino Lorber’s DVD/Blu-ray release of a restored print…

By David-Elijah Nahmod

Pat Rocco (1934-2018) was ahead of his time. A gay activist during the days and years before Stonewall, Rocco had the courage to make queer themed films before it was safe to do so. Around 1969 he produced and directed Drifter, a feature length drama about a bisexual hustler. Unable to secure a distribution deal for the film, Drifter languished on the shelf for several years, until 1974 when it was briefly screened at a gay porn theater in Los Angeles, even though it isn’t a porn film. For the next five decades, Drifter went virtually unseen. Now, it has been resurrected on DVD and Blu-ray by Kino Lorber, purveyors of classic, cult and underground cinema. 

It’s important, when viewing the film today, to keep an open mind. Drifter, also known as Two Way Drift, was shot on a minuscule budget with a cast of unknowns. This is not a major studio production, and it shows. Yet Drifter remains a fascinating curio, worth seeing at least once for its historical value.

Joed Adair stars as an aimless, bisexual hustler who goes by the name Drift. With only a small bag containing his few possessions, Drift hitchhikes around the country, making money off his body, sometimes trading sexual favors for a place to stay. Newly arrived in Los Angeles, he moves in with a young man name Wagner (Dean Shah-Kee) and Wagner’s female roommate (Bambi Allen). Both seem interested in Drift, and he seems interested in both of them. Drift’s bisexuality is confirmed when he visits an adult bookstore, where he peruses both the male and female magazines. 

In the park Drift meets a young woman named Karen (Inga-Maria Pinson). They spend a pleasant afternoon together and agree to meet the following week. But Drift needs to make money. He turns to Geno (Joe Caruso), a sleazeball who helps him hook up with paid tricks. One such trick is Dana (Gerald Strickland) a sad, lonely, middle aged gay man, who, realizing that he’s over the hill, says that he wants to transition to female. 

The inclusion of Dana in the story is a good example of how ahead of his time Rocco was. Transgenderism was barely discussed fifty years ago, yet Rocco included a trans character in his film. 

The film follows Drift on his various adventures, which include flashbacks to a semi-platonic live-in friendship he had in Arizona with a young man named Steve (David Russell.) Drift is on a path to nowhere. As the story comes to its conclusion (spoiler alert), it looks like Drift might—might—change his ways. 

It took a lot of courage to make Drifter. Most queer people were deep in the closet at that time. There were no LGBT equality laws and queer people were routinely harassed by the police. Yet Adair and his Drifter co-stars played their roles without fear. Drifter may be cheaply produced and feature slightly sub-par production values, but it’s still a film that was years ahead of its time. 

Kino offers a decent print of Drifter, remastered so that the film looks as good as it possibly can. The Blu-ray includes four short films by Rocco. These films, which feature all male casts, are plotless and exist soley to allow the actors to take off their clothes. One of the shorts stars Adair. 

The disc also includes a commentary track by film historian Finley Freibert, who did his homework. He offers a fascinating history of the film’s production and of the lives of its stars There are also optional English subtitles. 

Drifter is available on both DVD and Blu-ray. It is also streaming at Kino Now, Kino Lorber’s in house streaming site: kinonow.com.

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