Over the years there have been a number of films that document the experiences of gay men across the past 70 years. Some take a more narrative approach, telling stories of specific individuals or groups of people. Take for instance The Normal Heart, which looked at activists during the AIDS epidemic, or The Imitation Game, which focused on Alan Turing’s role in the Second World War. Others, looked a little more broadly at progress – take After Stonewall, the 1999 documentary covering thirty years of gay rights advances, as a perfect illustration of that style.
The new Netflix documentary 100 Men straddles these two worlds. It manages to tell personal narratives while providing historical context. In the film, director Paul Oremland revisits the memories of his 100 most significant hookups of his life. He has documented these men, some by name and some by short forms like “the rent boy” or “the accountant”, in a long list. At the beginning of the movie he explains that he is attempting to reach out to and track down all of these men, to find out how their lives have changed since their encounter. His ultimate goal, is to create an image of how the lives of gay men have changed as a whole over his lifetime.
The resulting documentary is truly a unique experience. It explores personal stories of love, loss, and (most prominently) sex. Through each person he interviews we learn more about individual struggles to deal with sexuality in a society still oppressive openly oppressive to queer people. We learn about romance and how it lives in these changing circumstances. We also see honest portrayals of sexuality. The men featured are open about their desires and feelings, as is Oremland himself. In fact, the film touches on bathhouses, cruising, chemsex, sexually transmitted infections, hookup websites (Squirt.org makes a few appearances), gay nightlife, porn theatres, rent boys, open relationships, threesomes, and more.
Overall, the film is a must-watch for gay and bi men. While it may drag a bit in parts, and feature a very unnecessary “Top 10 Hookups” segment at the end, the experience overall is rewarding. It creates a sense of belonging within the greater gay experience, and takes you on an emotional journey that is truly unique.
In the end, you’ll be left with an appreciation for the sexual, romantic, and legal freedom that gay men experience in parts of the world today. 100 Men is worth many watches.