Based on actual events – those words always add a certain level to any film or short. In this case, “Caught” is a short film by Monte Patterson that captures the essence of the 1962 Mansfield, Ohio Police Department sting operation. While the location is different to that case, this short examines and mimics how similar operations were carried out – and still are. “Caught” is a brilliant short that treads the fine line between bliss and danger amid a darker, hidden area of Queer life and Queer history.
Synopsis of “Caught”
Our leading man, Hank (Benjamin Pascoe), pulls up to the public restroom along the highway, passing rows of classic cars and a couple guys just hanging about… waiting. Inside, while using the restroom, another guy is receiving a blowjob in the stall. Intrigued, he looks over but finishes, washes his hands and quickly leaves. Except while checking himself in the mirror on the paper towel dispenser, the camera suddenly flips to show through the mirror. After Hank leaves, the camera even zooms in on the action. Skip ahead to Hank arriving at home, to wife (Liz Wicker) and young son. While common for a 60’s family relationship where the wife is subservient, there’s clearly tension between our couple.
On a different day, Hank returns to the bathroom; curious to know more. A young man (Seth Caskey) enters, displaying subtle cruising signs while combing his hair in the mirror. A quick glimpse of a camera lens is shown. After a short bit, Hank turns to see what might happen, but the arrival of another gentleman gives him fright and he leaves quickly. Back at home, it’s Sunday and Hanks’s wife makes him breakfast while he reads the paper before she heads to church with their son. In this free time, he returns to the restroom. The young man from before enters as well only this time, a lot more happens: our young man teases Hank, enticing him over to the stall where he’s dropped his pants and exposed himself. Hank then man turns and responds in kind. We see a man behind the two-way mirror filming it all. As Hank heads into the stall, we glimpse the scene in reverse from the camera lens.
Next, cheery music is playing while Hank takes a stroll in the woods besides the restroom before driving home. Tears are rolling down his face as he pulls in at home though, and later he cuddles with his wife while watching a movie. Skipping ahead, a police officers dumps multiple reels of film before he and a few others watch the recorded sex acts and take notes. During this montage, we see various men partaking in sex acts in the bathroom caught on film paired with their arrest and mugshot; all while the same cheery music plays. We actually see Hank return and hookup with the younger guy – but during the actual sex, the camera runs out of reel! By the time he reloads and they continue watching, it’s all over. Even the police chief shakes his head no.
Another morning, Hank opens the door to pick up the morning paper. Opening up the morning paper, he’s shocked to read the headline: it’s all about an undercover sting and multiple arrests! He goes back inside, kisses his wife and tries to make love. Except he stops before they get very far, as he is unable to continue. His wife watches from the window as Hank leaves the house frustrated, getting into his car and driving away. Our last shot is of Hank as he sits in his car at the highway restroom – this time, the only car in sight.
“Caught” is a powerful short film, and brilliantly written. The subject matter is quite risqué and even difficult to show on screen. After all, we are talking about gay men cruising for sex in public restrooms with strangers. There are many within the community who look down upon these acts but by doing so, they are ignoring an important facet of Queer history. Back when homosexuality and acts of sodomy were illegal, many gay men had to live their lives in hiding; sneaking away for quick moments of sexual release like the ones shown. Cruising was quite common – and in fact, it still occurs today. But “Caught” also addresses the wrongs of the times – or rather, the fact that because it was illegal, cops singled out and ran sting operations in a manner that can now only be described as harassment and even discrimination.
Monte Patterson took a specific sting operation and wove a story that is rather hard to put into words – perhaps that’s why there is actually very little dialogue! There is intrigue and tension as our leading man witnesses the first instance but realises that he’s actually interested. To watch as he explores his sexuality is something so many of us can relate to; the hesitation and fear of acting on our urges, the pleasure after finally letting go and following those urges through. Yet woven into this short is the dramatic irony that, while he is exploring his sexuality, that same sexuality is being targeted by the police who secretly capture these interactions on film. Cruising always carries a risk of getting caught, for some that’s actually what makes it appealing. For Monte to juxtapose these two elements and to show the subsequent arrests is a powerful statement. And by editing the scenes to set the timing so that our leading man only just escapes being caught on camera in the act – it draws you in and evokes a powerful connection, even making the viewer question what is right or wrong.
Artistically, this short film is simply stunning! Being set in the 60’s, the vibrant and bold colours of the era dominant from the colours of the classic cars to the wife’s dresses, and even to the blue tint of the restroom itself. Everything just pops. Also worth noting is the keen attention to the period details: the cars are vintage, the costuming is perfect for the era, and even the reel film used to record in the sting operation. We clearly know when we are watching the recorded footage because it’s grainy and difficult to note clearly.
However, there are two powerful moments that just hit me. First up is the juxtaposition of the underlying score of rather cheerful, happy music all during the montage of recorded sexual acts, police arrests, and mugshots. The two elements should not go hand in hand, but here they work beautifully together in harmony that adds a haunting facet to the film. The second moment is the end. Even though our leading man has no idea how close he came to being caught himself and having his mugshot on the front page with all the others, he returns wanting more. He’s tasted the forbidden fruit and even though he tried to push it aside and return to his wife, he cannot ignore the appeal. Yet he’s all alone. It’s a finale that can only be viewed and felt, my words cannot truly describe that moment.
The only issue I have about “Caught” is that it is too short! I do feel that there are unanswered questions I would be interested to know more about, such as our leading man’s actual sexuality and how that decision affects his relationship with his wife and son. But they also are not needed. “Caught” is a short film, and for a short to leave me wanting more – that’s successful.
Whether or not you agree with cruising and public sex today, and while the Queer community has advanced so much in the past few decades, we cannot ignore our past. Cruising and tearoom sex with strangers was the only way many closeted gay men could cope; yet because homosexuality and sodomy were illegal, those men were also targeted by the police. Monte’s powerful short film brings both facets together to tell a story. Every gay man needs to watch “Caught”.