Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon Reviews
The first line of dialogue in Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon immediately establishes the answer that everyone wants to ask a porn star: why did you enter the industry? Jack Wrangler's answer is intriguing as it goes beyond the simplistic answer that it is an easy path to money, and that immediately sets the idea that the subject of the documentary is going to be an interesting one. As the story unfolds, we really get a sense of why. Jack Wrangler is a very interesting man, not so much for his pornographic career but because of how much he defied the conventions that stereotyped the gay community for so long during the more homophobic era of the late 20th century. We get a sense of how he changed the concept of masculinity in his heyday by playing the stereotypical cowboy archetype into his pornographic persona and how that led viewers to understand that the "limp-wristed" gay stereotype is little more than a stereotype. The message in Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon is that a man in the porn industry changed the face of homosexual culture forever. Yet even though that is the message, it is not the easiest thing to feel due to the simplistic manner in which the documentary is constructed.
If you've seen Inside Deep Throat, you'd know that the pornographic industry is a seedy one which is rooted in disrespecting its stars for the sake of a profit, with Linda Lovelace's story compiling a history of physical and sexual abuse. It is interesting to see it from the perspective of a different gender this time around. The industry is seen as more positive from the perspective of a male performer and we get an understanding of how Jack Wrangler actually made progress for the way gays were viewed in society. But we do not look into this too deeply. Inside Deep Throat could have had more depth, but it emphasized the way that it changed the porn industry and the life of the many people involved well enough. With Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon, the focus is solely on one person which is fair enough considering that it is his story. Yet he is not given enough depth to truly justify a full 82 minutes surrounding him, especially when the filmmaking feels so mediocre.
Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon is in such a rush to tell the entire story and not mess around that it proceeds at an incredibly fast pace. Since it only runs for a time period of 82 minutes and is seriously limited in the quantity of people it has interviewed to tell the full story, reserving most of it for the perspective of the titular man Jack Wrangler. Because of that, it feels like a lot of the time that Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon does not take a second to catch its breath and ask why the interviewees feel the way they do about certain things. We get a sense of what happened, but we do not always get a sense of why. Though Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon is an effective depiction of the career of Jack Wrangler, it hardly feels like there is much of a sense of depth in it all. One factor for this is because Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon actually has very few people to interview and so the perspective of Jack Wrangler's life is very limited with the full scope of his described legacy not being felt by the way that Jeffrey Schwarz handles his life story. Though this film is clearly a very personal piece for him, Jeffrey Schwarz feels distant from the feature because he looks at everything in a rather theoretical manner. He successfully gets a lot out of direct interviews with Jack Wrangler himself which gives us all a valid sense of his perspective on his own life story, but the fact is that Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon is in such a rush to tell its story that it forgets what it should honestly be doing and ends up feeling distant from its subject matter as if it were a TV movie funded by MTV. Frankly, Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon works more as a reconstruction of the events of Jack Wrangler's life more than anything because it spends so much time talking about that, but due to the fact that it fails to examine its more complex themes with substance or effective drama, the end result is a fast paced but hollow recreation of Jack Wrangler which really fails to go as deep as anatomy, regardless of what the title may suggest.
I will certainly say though that Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon did give me a sensible piece of education on the way that gay culture has developed over time as well as the I learned that the commercialisation of the gay porn industry was one of the most notable expressions of gay culture during the free love time period of the 1970's and beyond. The fact that Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon is so neutral approaching its material may lack depth, but at the same time it gives a simple and clear perspective on the fact that gay culture is not as complicated as the modern media may lead it to be. So the simplicity in Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon does allow it to take an easygoing and casual look at the material which viewers do not have to desensitise themselves to appreciate.
So Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon has an interesting story to tell and gains momentum thanks to the fact that it has an effective interview with the subject itself for much of the film, but the limited extent that it actually gets involved in its material, the rushed pace and few people that it actually interviews gives it the credit of an MTV TV documentary short.
In the 80's, he met and eventually married a woman -- jazz singer Margaret Whiting. He got out of the porn industry early enough to avoid the AIDS crisis and transitioned his life fully to musical theater. It's a pretty fascinating story and was fortunately told before he passed away this Spring due to emphysema.