Gene Burkard’s International Male enabled men to be their fabulous selves.
Synthetic Fabrics. Vibrant Colors. Skin-tight underwear. These are items one would expect to find in a women’s fashion magazine. But thanks to founder Gene Burkard’s International Male, fashion became a gender-neutral phenomenon that would undress masculinity with style.
First time feature directors Bryan Darling and Jesse Finley Reed pull out all the stops to share with viewers the magic behind one of the world’s most beloved catalogs. Premiering at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival, All Man: The International Male Story reveals the catalog’s origins from its evolution of thought to its eventual buyout from Hanover Direct.
Throughout its historical deep dive, the documentary features a voiceover from Matt Bomer, original interviews, and never-before-seen photos. With these, viewers can expect colorful interview backgrounds and hip music from the 80s to match the vibrancy of its concept. However, this isn’t a gimmick by any means of the word. All Man reveals a great history of a “magalog” that gave men the confidence they needed to exist as their true selves. And it is nothing short of sensational.
A vendor of men’s clothing, International Male wasn’t just where men could dabble in fashion. It provided an escape for straight and gay men to dabble into some of their deepest fantasies. The catalog, which is famous for splashing rock-hard abs and fit bodies throughout its spread, gave men a new meaning of masculinity. Often, models wore nontraditional outfits – those that would be considered feminine. Yet, it was an important fashion concept that founder Gene Burkard wanted to incorporate to change the way the world thought about the ‘male identity.’
These are the moments when Darling and Reed’s documentary shines. We as consumers of popular culture often hear about fashion and industry standards when it comes to women. However, the conversation around men in this area is usually nonexistent. In All Man, screenwriter Peter Jones appropriately frames the narrative around the catalog’s impact on our culture when it comes to discussions around masculinity. It makes the documentary that much more appealing. Honestly, it’s downright entertaining too.
All Man is sensational.
While the information presented in All Man comes from a lighthearted tone to celebrate its vivacious achievements, the documentary often ventures into serious topics as well. Observant viewers may notice that in its early history, International Male did not have many models from underrepresented backgrounds. For a catalog that celebrated “all types” of masculinity by not concentrating on one definition, it failed to include others that didn’t fit the standard.
Remarkably, the documentary touches on this. However, it did feel a bit glossed over. For a catalog and film that should be shifting the conversation towards celebrating differences in the ‘male identity,’ there were certainly weak points. And while it is brought up in conversation, it would have been nice to understand the reasons behind why they chose to not push the boundaries in that realm. However, the documentary does do a great job on touching on the impact of the AIDS crisis to the employees of International Male. Viewers can expect to see that above and beyond all the mayhem of the business, the people behind the catalog were family.
When it comes to the concept of masculinity, many people already have their minds made up on what that is and should be. But All Man: The International Male Story is here to change the narrative and prove that being a man is more than looks and actions. It’s about confidence, healthy habits, and feeling ‘good enough.’ That’s what the International Male catalog was all about, and this extravagant and unique documentary tells that story well.
A great blend of information and entertainment, All Man reveals that masculinity is a spectrum. And normalizing the diversity within is key. What may have started out (to the outside world) as a tasteless magazine similar to Playboy, ended up being a resource for men to step outside their comfort zone to be who they wanted to be. International Male gave its readers and buyers freedom. What could be more fabulous than that?