Buck Angel is a very interesting figure. He is the epitome of masculinity – shaved head, rippling muscles, beard and body hair. Yet he’s also known to many as the self-titled ‘man with a pussy’. Buck was raised a girl but transitioned to male as an adult. He had breast reduction surgery but decided to retain his vagina.
He then went into porn and has become renowned in certain circles, not just for his erotic efforts but also for his advocacy work in trying to challenge perceptions of trans people both on-screen and off.
This documentary looks at Buck’s life both now and covers how he got there. It’s certainly quite a story, as Buck had difficulties growing up but eventually became a successful female model. However he became addicted to drugs, which almost killed him, but eventually made it through and then began his transition, before heading into the world of porn.
As well as his past, the doc has time to look at the issues he faces now, not least the difficulty he has distributing his porn, particularly in the US. While he’s quite well known, the fact there is no real ‘man with a pussy’ niche means few companies want to deal with him. However his influence stretches beyond porn, with many feeling that his work has challenged perceptions of gender and masculinity, making people rethink how they see these things. This even leads to an invitation to talk at a prestigious university.
It’s an interesting film with a fascinating subject, helped by the fact that Buck is passionate and engaging. It brings up all sorts of interesting issues about how Buck and the way he lives his life has been important and challenged the status quo.
Unfortunately it never really gets to grip with some of the central issues it brings up. Buck is very keen to point out that he is just a normal guy. Even with his more atypical porn scenes (such as a trans-woman who has retained her penis who is featured in the film, who has her first vaginal intercourse ever with Buck), he suggests it’s designed the show people it’s not so weird after all. However, there’s also an argument that much of Buck’s porn success is down to the fact that he’s not physiologically typical.
The film doesn’t really get to grips with this, partly because it’s something Buck doesn’t really differentiate about. For example, in the documentary he objects to the fact that on Tyra Banks’ talk show he was referred to as a ‘sexual oddity’. He thinks that’s wrong as he’s just normal. However, while the Tyra Banks show’s terminology is rather crass, Angel is unusual, physiologically at least, even if every other respect he’s perfectly normal. If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t have a documentary made about him or have been invited on a chat show. Unfortunately the documentary doesn’t really look at this properly – even if it hangs in the background much of the time. Hell, even the front of the DVD cover refers to him as a ‘man like no other’.
It also doesn’t really explore the criticism some have levelled at Buck, that his porn work has increased the ‘freak show’ perception of trans people as much as it has normalised them in other people’s eyes.
Even so, he’s a surprisingly inspirational figure and the passion he has for his advocacy work is infectious. The documentary is well worth watching, even if it’s difficult at the end not to feel it’s missed some of the story. Buck certainly is just a normal guy, but it’s difficult to deny that (just like most people) there are some ways he’s not typical at all, and indeed his career is dependent on that – so trying to brush over this doesn’t really do the film any favours. After all, there are different types of normal and there’s nothing wrong with that, but Mr. Angel doesn’t really want to deal with the nuances, despite the fact they appear to be important to Buck’s story.
Overall Verdict: Mr. Angel is an interesting documentary about an interesting man, however it fails to deal with some of its key issues, partly because it’s so much on Buck’s side it doesn’t even want to properly deal with or argue against possible criticisms of him.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac