A REVIEW OF THE FILM ABUSE (1983)
Abuse, directed by Arthur J. Bressan, Jr., and starring Raphael Sbarge and Richard Ryder, 94 minutes long, was released in 1983.
Bressan on Abuse
Most of what Arthur J. Bressan, Jr. knows about child abuse is on the screen in his film Abuse, which was shown to a receptive audience at the San Francisco International Film Festival.
Known as the maker of Gay U.S.A. and two pornos (“We call the erotic films at film festivals”), Passing Strangers and Forbidden Letters, Artie says ours was the first festival to accept his film, after turndowns from New York, LA, and Chicago. “It gets to be a real bummer…” He feels that closeted gays on the selection committees kept him out of the other festivals: “The gay thing pushed some buttons in people. That’s the way it is.”
Destined to be controversial, Abuse is a love story between a 14 year old abused child (Raphael Sbarge) and a 32 years old student filmmaker (Richard Ryder).
Bressan notes that Hawaii is the first state to lower the age of consent to 14, “and the world has not collapsed.” He predicts that other states will follow suit. As for any thought that his 14 years old hero is too young, Bressan says, “I was nine when I first had sex with a man by choice… I wish there had been an organization then that had picnics for older men and younger boys.”
Sbarge was 15 when he made Abuse; now he’s 18 and still pursuing an acting career. He’s done a picture called Risky Business for Warner Brothers and is up for a small part in a new version of A Streetcar Named Desire with Ann-Margaret. Sbarge was not abused as a child. Artie says, “Neither was I.”
To those who would say a child is better off dead than gay, Bressan responds, “It would be better for any of the 4,000 kids who were buried last year if they’d gotten away – no matter what kind of hornet’s nest they got into: drugs, hustling…”
He says he doesn’t know of any studies of the S/M scene to see whether former abused children are drawn to it and, if so, whether on the dominant side for revenge or the passive side for – continuity?
Despite the documentary look of much of Abuse, Artie says he staged everything, including person-in-the-street interviews and instances of abuse in a public playground.
The burning sequence in the film was shot using “two dollars worth of pigskin” over the actor’s real skin. The five or six kinds of physical abuse shown in the movie are, Bressan says, practically the entire repertoire: “Most abusive parents are not very imaginative.”
Abuse has already opened in New York and been booked in a couple of other cities. Bressan, who lived here for ten years, says he hopes a San Francisco run will be announced soon. He’s realistic enough to know there are few cities in the U.S. where Abuse will ever be shown, but it won’t take much to recoup the $27,000 investment.
Reviewed in the NAMBLA Bulletin (New York), Volume IV, No. 5, June 1983, page 8.