An important but long-gone part of New York City’s gay history is The Continental Baths, the bathhouse formerly located in the basement of The Ansonia Hotel in the Upper West Side.
Though open for less than a decade, it had a major impact on the city’s post-Stonewall LGBTQ community prior to the onset of the AIDS epidemic. It was a social destination, one where folks frequented for a hookup, sure, but also for its live music venue, where the likes of Patti Lupone, Barry Manilow, and Bette Midler all famously played early in their careers.
Thankfully, The Continental’s unique pleasures remain preserved on film in director David Buckley’s Saturday Night At The Baths from 1975. The sex-positive dramedy was groundbreaking for its time, openly discussing sexuality and presenting queer characters who were more than a punchline or a tragic plot device.
Its story focuses on a musician named Michael (Robert Aberdeen), a Montana transplant who takes a job as a piano player at The Continental with encouragement from his girlfriend, Tracy (Ellen Sheppard). The couple becomes fast friends with bathhouse manager Scotti (Don Scotti), who seems to sense something in Michael—is there a mutual attraction there? While Michael might be in denial, Tracy proves to be open-minded and pushes her beau to explore things further.
It’s safe to say this love triangle, of sorts, brings all three of them out of their shells. And Saturday Night At The Baths treats viewers to some scenes of passionate lovemaking—one straight, one otherwise—offering sensual moments that are as lustful as they are tender (Harry Styles would be thrilled).
There’s also the fact that much of Saturday Night At The Baths was filmed on-location at The Continental, and there’s a documentary-like way in which Buckley lenses the venue’s famed performances. He even stages a drag show featuring the likes of “Judy Garland,” “Diana Ross” and “Shirley Bassey.”
So, yes, the film has its fair share of erotic pleasure for the looky-loos, but it also offers a unique peek into the past—a look at a New York gay scene gone by.
Thanks to its subject matter, this low-budget work of independent filmmaking was hard enough to find in 1975, but still seems to be something of a rarity in the age of digital streaming (DVD copies are available online, but at a steep price). That makes its upcoming repertory screening at Austin’s Prism LGBTQ film festival all the more exciting: An opportunity to catch this little-seen piece of queer cinema history.
For those in the Austin, TX area, Saturday Night At The Baths screens on Saturday, August 27—more information can be found here. And while it doesn’t appear to have an VOD or streaming options available at the moment, we’ll be sure to let you know when it does!
In the meantime, you can check out the trailer for Saturday Night At The Baths below to get a sense of this rare blast from the past: