The first time I ever heard of Buck Angel was in 2007, when I was interim editor-in-chief of an alt-weekly, the New York Press. A freelance writer told me this trans porn star, a man who chose not to transition his vagina into a penis, would be performing at the Black Party, the giant annual fetish dance party.
The article we ran on Angel ended up being easily one of the most read and most commented of 2007. Angel's performance with a raft of gay porn stars at the party, however, was not as successful. The general feeling of the crowd ran somewhere from "Ick!" to "Get him off!" That was, as far as I know, the event that put an end to any hopes of becoming a star in the gay adult film industry.
"Mr. Angel" contains a brief scene in which Angel is meeting with Michael Lucas, to see if Lucas' company would distribute Angel's films in the U.S. Lucas tells him no one asks for a hot guy with a vagina. Angel responds that after him, they will.
Actually ... they didn't. Angel's porn sputtered for a few more years before he turned to the college lecture circuit, where his unique architecture was more appreciated. He also appeared as one of many "oddities" (as they were promoted) on Tyra Banks' daytime talk show. The high point of his life, it would seem, was winning two porn film awards, including Most Outrageous Sex Scene.
In other words, Angel hasn't exactly rocked the world. But that doesn't deny him his place in history. "Mr. Angel" is riveting, not because Angel himself is so dynamic, but because of his fascinating backstory.
Rejected by his parents (his father breaks down on camera), Angel became a crackhead after a successful career as a female model. After transitioning, he won the eye and heart of a woman who specializes in piercing. The two moved from New Orleans just ahead of Katrina, and now live in Mexico in what looks like very comfortable digs.
'Mr. Angel" successfully integrates not only the various strands within Angel's quite interesting life, but the strata of society itself: Family, work and mission. Aside from wishing the film's creator, Dan Hunt, had at least touched on what happened at the Black Party, my only real criticism is that Tristan Taormino is effectively the only talking head other than the Angels. (Dan Savage appears very briefly.)
I don't hold any grudge against Tristan, but the documentary definitely suffers from not including a few people who would have been more relevant, such as Pat Califia, not to mention at least one academic. Camille Paglia immediately comes to mind, and filming was even done in Philadelphia, where Paglia lives and works.
Distributed by Mr. Angel