Andy Milligan’s First Film “Vapors”

Filmofile
3 min readMar 3, 2024

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Andy Milligan was a self-taught writer, actor, and costume designer who lived and worked in Greenwich Village in New York City. In 1965, he got himself a 16mm camera and decided to try his hand at filmmaking. He chose the infamous St. Marks Baths as his subject matter.

The St. Marks neighborhood is just east of the Village. Astor Place is the dividing line between the Village with its bohemian, gay, experimental, hippie atmosphere on the west side, and St. Marks AKA The East Village with its similarly bohemian, but poorer, edgier crowd. St. Marks was more rundown and served as a home for not only creative types, but runaways and drug addicts. It would later become the heart of the punk scene in the ‘70s.

Back in 1965, being gay was not only a sexual orientation but, for many, it was a world view. Being gay was illegal, and so gay people were lumped in with all the marginalized undesirables. The Village was a refuge where gay people could find a sense of community and support. It was also an area that was regularly patrolled by police, who would often conduct brutal raids on bars, bath houses, and other establishments where gay people gathered.

Vapors is a 30-minute melodrama about two men who meet in a bathhouse and find emotional intimacy while surrounded by men engaged in casual sex. The film takes place inside a very small room where men go to have sex. Thomas is a veteran of baths and is waiting in the room for someone to come in. He is coy, and a bit jaded, and lounges in the semidarkness expecting just another quick encounter. He is visited by Mr. Jaffee, who is new to the baths and a bit awkward. Jaffee has come to check out the scene, but he is not used to casual sex and unis not sure of what he is looking for. The two men meet and Jaffee’s sincerity and naiveté slowly disarms Thomas, until the two are exchanging intimate and sincere feelings.

There isn’t much more to the film than that. The loud and flamboyant boys of the baths twitter outside the door, gossiping about sex, and periodically barging into the small room where Thomas and Jaffee are talking. The boys of the bathhouse provide both a stereotype of the campy effeminate homosexual, but also create a point of contrast illuminating the difference between sex and intimacy.

Jaffee is a closeted, suburban father, who is tired of the charade. He is one of the many unseen gay men in the world who suffered in silent isolation. Thomas and Jaffee never have sex, but they share a moment of deep connection before they part.

The film is raggedy. It’s shot in very grainy black and white, and couldn’t have cost much more than the price of the film stock. It was not shot in the baths, but in a nearby apartment on Prince Street. The cheap, gritty feel works well with the story and is a strength rather than a weakness.

The film was written by Hope Stansbury, who would become a frequent collaborator with Milligan in future productions. Milligan would go on to make a slew of trashy sexploitation and horror movies, none of which reflect the seriousness or depth of Vapors.

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Filmofile

I have an MFA in painting and I’m an art professor but I managed to convince my school to let me teach film. My website http://www.filmofileshideout.com/