Saturday, December 26, 2009

CHRISTMAS CRACK-UP: A John Waters Christmas

(John Waters and Jed at the 2008 Task Force Leadership Awards)

A John Waters Christmas

     How could you not love a guy who says, "Let's pie the Pope... not to hurt him, just to ruin his outfit!"?  Back in 2008, The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force honored openly gay filmmaker John Waters with a Leadership Award in New York City.  Also planned to be honored that year was a lowly Lieutenant Governor named David Paterson.  Paterson found himself to be New York State's top politico by the time the Awards came around, thanks to the Elliot Spitzer hooker scandal.  Via a videotaped message, Paterson tried his hardest to be funny ("Help!  I'm trapped in Albany!") in his acceptance speech. However, politicians-- even when they try their best to be funny-- just aren't funny, at least intentionally.  John Waters may be primarily known as a film director, but this man is a gifted comedian without even trying to be.  It was a real trip to compare the embarrassed giggles of the 2008 Awards attendees when Paterson tried to be humorous, versus the laugh-out-loud reflections of John Waters just being... John Waters.  Not many film directors, as talented as they may at making movies, can keep a New York City audience rolling in laughter for an hour and a half-- which is just what happened at "A John Waters Christmas" on Tuesday, December 22nd at the hotspot B.B.King.  

      Underneath the crazy characters and outrageous situations that populate John Waters' movies, there was always a shrewd commentary on pop culture and American society running through.   For Waters' fans, this is not a new revelation.  As a total cinemaphile, I was wondering if The Prince of Puke would talk about his next project for the big screen-- or, maybe, why we have been waiting so long to see his next cult classic-to-be.  After all, it's been five long years since his last film, "A Dirty Shame".  But while the raunchy raconteur did reference his own work many times in this sold-out show, his films were only one of seemingly dozens of kitschy cultural curios-- from the '50's (when "twinks" were still known as "chickens") to 2009-- that Waters reflected upon that night.  There was the story about the woman who had crabs in her eyelashes (All together now: Ewww!), or his priceless recollection of his visit to Elizabeth Taylor's house.  There was Waters' reflections on plastic surgery ("Why do 60-year old women get cocksucker lips?") and anal bleaching (He made us ponder, How come we never get to see any "before" and "after" photos?).  Dressed in a red suit, he emphatically declared, "I'm feeling 'Christmas crazy'-- torn between anarchy and capitalism; needy, greedy, horny for presents; and filled with an unnatural need to be good!!" at the show's opening.  Being a Christmas show, we were treated to everything from Waters' own childhood Yuletide memories, to gift suggestions, to the director's own wish list.  Waters revealed that yes, the urban legend is true: A Christmas tree really did fall on his grandmother-- a scene which ostensibly became the inspiration for one of the most emblematic moments of 1974's "Female Trouble".  (Waters' first concern was that his gift wasn't injured!).  Regifting, according to Waters, is a tacky no-no.  Gift cards mean you just don't care.  And fruit baskets as Christmas gifts are just wrong. (Substitute porn or drugs for fruit, however, and you're good to go!).  And, how do you spice up your own family holiday gatherings?  Start with putting a whoopee cushion in the turkey so that it farts when you carve it.  Some of the many prized ornaments on his cracked Christmas tree of a show was a few anecdotes about the late great Divine, which the audience really ate up like... well, I'll avoid a "Pink Flamingos" reference.  

     John Waters is busier than ever.  He makes endless appearances in front of the camera, as a commentator and as an actor.  He beamed at how "TV Guide" Magazine picked the 1997 episode of "The Simpsons" that he guest-starred in ("Homer's Phobia") as one of the best episodes of that show ever.  Waters is always looking for his next big, offensive thing to make his mark on America.  How about an amusement park called "Pukerworld"-- with black cotton candy and such attractions as... the man with no tattoos?!  The world's skinniest model?!  Or...the "Weak Man"?!   Or, a magazine called "Drip", about the "lonely side of celebrity"?  Or, "The John Waters Christmas Special" on TV?  Why not?  Isn't it high time we revived those campy holiday variety shows of the '70's, a la Paul Lynde?  If so, who would be one of Waters' plum guests? Levi Johnston, playing the part played by the anonymous actor known only as the "chantant l'anus" in "Pink Flamingos"!

       While we're on the subject of that movie, I'll make a safe bet that everyone who left the Times Square venue that night after Waters' show had a shit-eating grin on their face that will last until the new year.  It would be a shame if, like the OTHER perpetually smiling man wearing a red suit, John Waters comes around only once a year to entertain us.  How about "John Waters' Midsummer Night's Wet Dream" come June? John, are you listening?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

"TOGETHER at Town Hall": The New York City Gay Men's Chorus: 30 Rocks!

"TOGETHER at Town Hall": The New York City Gay Men's Chorus
30 Rocks!

     Sing OUT, boys!  "Together at Town Hall" was the 30th Anniversary Holiday show by the New York City Gay Men's Chorus.  The lively concert featured many priceless moments-- including a funky version of Harry Connick, Jr.'s "I Pray on Christmas!", a high-spirited "Together Wherever We Go" (from "Gypsy") with some Chorus in-jokes ("No fits, no fights, no feuds and no EGOS!..."), and a smooth-moving Santa Claus reinvented as more sexy than saintly. The energy level of these 200+ men (and one woman!) started out high and stayed elevated until till the last note.  But with all the show's individual high points, "Together at Town Hall"'s biggest achievement was how its creators managed to pack so much into one show: so much energy, so much holiday spirit, and so much reverence for The NYCGMC's sometimes turbulent history.  And, oh, la variété!  Yuletide classics like "The Twelve Days of Christmas" (complete with audience participation) were performed alongside a medley of rarer songs, like the medley of  "Appalachian Carols": traditional American carols that are folky with some dynamic fiddle work.  These songs (with names like "The Cherry Tree Carol") may not be familiar the way songs like "Silent Night" are, but the audience picked them up right away.  The Chorus' uptempo numbers like Sondheim's "Back in Business" (from "Dick Tracy") really got both les chanteurs and the the audience going, as did the night's Special Guest Soloist, Broadway star Victoria Clark.  This Award winning blonde diva (Among other accolades, she won the Tony for her role in "The Light in the Piazza" in 2005.) has a voice like peaches and cream.  Her "Christmas Eve" and "O Holy Night" left the audience amazed, and her sassy take on "Santa Baby" with a skit featuring "Santa and his Merry Band of Men" was a campy, kitschy delight.  Ms. Clark's rapport with the boys of the Chorus as well as the audience was clearly palpable.  The attendees loved the high-spirited songs, but the absolute pinnacle of the night was the astonishing, poignant "Light One Candle".  This song, written by Peter Yarrow in 1983 and popularized by Peter, Paul, and Mary, really packed a wallop-- particularly as performed by the Chorus' Jeremy Wilson (Who, as it was pointed out, was born in 1980, the year NYCGMC was founded!).  With guitar, Wilson sang with The Chorus' Charter Members alongside him.  "Light One Candle", incidentally, was written as a Hanukkah song-- but when listening to the lyrics, the song's themes of (1) remembering and honoring the past, and (2) keeping the faith during challenging times, should resonate in a big way with both the Chorus and the entire GLBT community.  The dynamic finale of "Together at Town Hall" was a "mash-up" of three songs: "Go Tell It On the Mountain", "United We Stand by Brotherhood of Man", and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" (If you're having a hard time imagining that synergy of songs, I guess you just "had to be there"!).  Collectively, the combination of those three emblematic classics made a perfect anthem for our community for the last few years. 

     Those who were lucky enough to have close-up seats at the Town Hall could really see the look of joy in these guys' faces as they sang.  I suspect it's not just their joy of performing, but also the collective happiness that NYCGMC has survived amidst the financial troubles that plagued a lot of nonprofit organizations this year.  Many credit the new critical success and the survival of the group to new leadership by Dr. Charles Beale, who joined the Chorus as Artistic Director in September 2007.  Angelo Cilia, Membership and Social Chair of NYCGMC (and the man who stepped in as Sexy Santa at the last minute...), commented, "Not only is Charlie a talented musician but he's also a brilliant arranger and programmer.  I've had more then one person tell me how amazed they were with his arrangement of the Finale of the show, which combined those three songs.  We are lucky to have him as our Artistic Director."  Here's to another 30 years!
     The New York City Gay Men's Chorus performs all year long.  For more information, visit!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009



      Is the public ready to see Tiger's woody?  It's hard to believe that it's been less than a month since the juggernaut of the Tiger Woods scandal has taken over the news, eclipsing everything from national health care to the Copenhagen climate conference.  Starting with the car crash heard all around the media on Nov. 27th, the disgraced all-American role model has allegedly been romantically linked to about a dozen women (But no men... yet!).  These include NYC full-time socialite Rachel Uchitel, San Diego cocktail waitress Jaimee Grubbs, and two XXX film stars-- Joslyn James ("Porn Star Brides") and Holly Sampson ("Romantic Routine", "Sexual Cleansing").  Most recently, lovers of male celebrity skin have been waiting to see reported nude photos of the 33-year old: some taken by the golfer himself (Love those I Phones!) and some taken by an alleged mistress or two.  Model Jamie Jungers has claimed to have photos of Woods naked and passed out in a hotel room.  The busiest man in sports has apologized for his "transgressions" and has admitted to marital infidelity.  On December 9, "Playgirl" Magazine stated that they were interested in publishing photos presumed to be Woods.  A spokesman for "Playgirl" stated that the magazine for gay men-- uh, I mean women-- was approached by a "third party" with pics that appeared to be the real deal.   At this point, Tiger's people have neither confirmed or denied the presence of naked photos.  However, on December 11, his lawyers obtained an injunction in the High Court of Justice of England and Wales to prevent "unspecified claims about his private life from being published in the UK press"; specifically, prohibiting the publication of any images of Woods naked or in the throws of sexual ecstasy.  Hmmm... On December 14, "Playgirl" nixed the idea of publishing the photos, partially because they were not able to be 100% verified, and partially because the magazine prefers to have the consent of the men who appear in their mag au naturel.  Perhaps the skin mag was worried about a repeat of August 1997, when Brad Pitt sued "Playgirl" for publishing nude photos of him, apparently snapped and published without his permission.  Or maybe the alleged photos were not of Tiger, but of another 6'1", 185 lb golfer of Asian/Native American/Caucasian/African-American descent...  So, my fellow voyeurs, it may be a while before we see Tiger's golf balls.  Things may not look good right now for the star who was born Eldrich Woods-- but then again, notoriety is not always a bad thing.  Nekked pics of Mr. Woods  would definitely get the star some new fans who, I'll betcha, have NEVER seen a golf game.  And, a porn film parody called "Tiger's Wood" is already in the works.  The XXX film company Vivid (which is not producing "Tiger's Wood", BTW...) is offering up to $1 million to any former Woods mistress who will star in an upcoming Vivid porn film.  America, the land of opportunity! 

Friday, December 18, 2009



    Considered by many to be a classic of gay literature, Christopher Isherwood's 1964 book "A Single Man" makes the transition from novel to film courtesy of openly gay fashion designer Tom Ford, in his directorial debut.  The simple theme of the novel is grief and loneliness: a middle-aged man known only as "George" goes about his daily ritual of life while mourning the death of his lover.  Given that this was the early sixties (Times they were a-changing... but not that fast!), we can only imagine that because this relationship was a "love that dared not speak its name", the main character's torment must have been greatly magnified.  Regardless of the decade the movie was set in, however, the human feelings remain the same-- and George's emotional challenges should resonate with any viewer who's ever undergone a similar experience of loss, or who has to go home to a house that's suddenly empty.

     "A Single Man", the film, takes place over the course of a day.  Colin Firth plays the titular role, English professor George Falconer-- a Brit living in America.  George is meticulously planning his suicide right down to the last detail.   Via flashback, we meet his youthful lover of 16 years, Jim (Matthew Goode).  In one early scene of supreme acting, Firth first learns of his partner's accidental death via a phone call by Jim's family member, who adds polite yet stinging insult to injury by telling George that "only family" are invited to the funeral.  In a cinematic stylization, the flashback scenes of George's happier days are warmly and brightly lit, while the scenes of his current melancholy existence feature more dulled lighting.  Later on in the film, we meet George's friend and former lover: the appealingly over-the-top Charlotte (Julianne Moore), also a Brit.  While Moore's character is occasionally campy (She smokes pink Sobranie cigarettes; and in one scene when applying her makeup, she appears to be channeling her inner drag queen.), Moore and Firth's scenes together feature some of the finest acting and most poignant scenes in the movie.  George also finds himself to be the object of intrigue of one of his students, Kenny, played by Nicholas Hoult.  (With a chiseled face and body to match, Kenny seems to have come straight out from an Abercrombie & Fitch ad, if Mr. Ford will forgive the comparison to another designer.. Incidentally, Hoult's character is always lit in that same warm, bright light I mentioned earlier.) The youth seems to want to get to know his professor on a more personal level.  Teacher and student do meet up for a session of nude swimming and then drinks at George's apartment.  What happens (or doesn't happen) between them, as well as the scene that follows after that, is pretty heavy... and very open to interpretation.  Audiences may have hoped for a conclusion that was a little more, shall we say, "gay" ("Gay" as in homosexual, and as in happy...), but I have no doubt that Ford's choice of this ending was likely faithful to the novel...  as well as to the time period the movie is set in.

     The movie is a feast for the eyes.  "A Single Man" lovingly recreates the fabulously distinctive decor of the early 60's, starting with the men's and women's fashions and styles (Love those lacquered hairdos!) right down to the scenery-- from the cars to the vintage coffee machine in the office that sold joe for 15 cents a cup.  Modern movie-goers, affected by mass ADD, may be put off by the movie's slow, deliberate pace; It almost seems like Ford wants the audience to take their time to appreciate the visual aspects of the film and to soak in the characters' thoughts and motivations.  The film never sacrifices substance for style, however; It's an impressive debut for Tom Ford and a triumph for actors Colin Firth and Julianne Moore. 

     "A Single Man" is now playing. See more at

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

NOW HEAR THIS! Adam Lambert: "For Your Entertainment" CD Review

Adam Lambert: "For Your Entertainment" CD Review

      "I'm here for your en-ter-TAIN-ment!" Adam Lambert declares on the title track of his freshman CD. It's a safe bet that recently, America's most visible openly gay singer also became one of America's most talked-about celebs even among those who never watched a minute of "American Idol". The song that inspired Adam's now-notorious TV performance is the second song on the singer's highly anticipated debut album-- complete with elastic, addicting rhythms and thick glossy coating intact. But can the rest of the music on "For Your Entertainment", the album, match the singer's new notoriety? Or is the new CD just another prefab piece of pop fabrication, as slick as the much-discussed album art?

      The opening track, "Music Again", gives us rock guitars, an electronic-heavy club vibe, and a "Yeah! Yeah!" early '90's boy band spirit running through. Underneath all the (over)production, though, it's a flashback to when rock-pop dared to dominate the radio (The song even seems to throw in a hook from Ratt's 1984 hit "Round and Round")... and the divo can certainly scream and gnarl as well as his 27-year old vocal cords can be expected. The third song, "Whadya Want From Me", has more of an arena-rock vibe. For those of you who may be worried that Lambert's praised voice will be drowned out by all the album's musical indulgences: Don't worry, girls... you'll get to hear enough of the singer's raw vox soon enough. The piano-dominated "Soaked" is Lambert's token big, wet power ballad. For this one and for "A Loaded Smile" later on, the Gay Idol gives us that angsty kind of twenty-something white boy-style soul you'd expect. To his credit, he can belt (Listen to "Fever" for proof.) and hit some impressive notes when the music gives him a chance. The guilty pleasure "Sure Fire Winners", I predict, will become one of Lambert's emblematic singles, although it sounds like it should have been on the radio in a different decade altogether. This mid-tempo pop tart (with rock 'n'roll icing) of a song compels you to throw your fists and singing along to Adam as he declares, "WE are! WE are! WE are ... Sure fire winners!" The 13-year olds should love this one. But Lambert's true shining moment comes with "If I Had You". It's the best song on the CD, largely because it rolls around in its own ecstacy, lyrically ("So I got my boots on, got the right 'mount of leather; and I'm doin' me up with a black color liner, and I'm workin' my strut; But I know it don't matter, All we need in this world is some love!") and beat-wise: a bona fide feel-good track which should be appreciated by gays and straights, boys and girls, tweens and thirty-somethings alike. Old school rock star aspirations aside, this one clearly has its heart on the dancefloor. "Fever" was co-written by Adam's fellow gay icon Lady Gaga. Astute listeners will no doubt hear many of the Lady's now-trademark "Gaga-isms" in this track, not the least of which is the song's "So what?!" style of casual sexiness-- which, in this reviewer's opinion, suits Mr. Lambert much better than his overripe raunchiness on the American Music Awards. Interestingly, the best example of Adam just being Adam comes with the next-to-last song, "Broken Open": with minimal musical adornment, it's the best display of the neophyte star's voice.

      Taking a line from the first track, does Lambert's CD "make me wanna listen to music again"? The answer is: Yes! He keeps his promise to entertain us. Like his idols KISS, Lambert seems to know that pageantry and theatricality are an important part of music. And, as if we needed to be reminded: Artists who break the rules are always a great thing.

Monday, December 7, 2009

WATCH IT! "Broken Embraces" ("Los Abrazos Rotos")

"Broken Embraces" ("Los Abrazos Rotos")

     It's been said before, but I'm still gonna say it again: Openly gay Spanish movie director Pedro Almodovar"Broken Embraces" ("Los Abrazos Rotos"), Almodovar's 17th film, is searing psychodrama-- with touches of comedy and neo-noir as well.  The first player we meet is Harry (Lluis Homar), a middle-aged filmmaker who was blinded in a car accident ten years prior.  Via flashback, we meet the woman who changed his life: Lena (Penelope Cruz, Almodovar's current muse), a stunning call girl/secretary-turned-actress.   Lena is "kept" by a creepy rich man, Ernesto Martel (Jose Luis Gomez).  While working as an actress in his film,  Lena starts a passionate affair with Harry-- which sends the paranoid, obsessed Ernesto into a crazed fit.  The two forbidden lovers run away together, but Lena's scorned old man tries to lure them back by releasing a substandard version of their unfinished movie to theaters.  The entire time, Ernesto's socially awkward gay son (who has his own script-worthy story to tell) is working as a spy for his father, videotaping all the goings-on in the guise of "making a documentary".  Think that's complicated?  You haven't even scratched the surface yet! You'll bust while waiting for some clues as to what's gonna happen next, with all the film's assorted twists and turns.

      This is the fourth Almodovar film that Penelope Cruz has appeared in, and the second which she has the lead role.  Playing the object of obsession of one man and the object of true love of another, Cruz goes further than ever before in her acting career-- in terms of both her acting ability and her boldness on the screen. (The scene in which she believes that Ernesto has died after sex is priceless.) The camera certainly loves Ms. Cruz, especially in her assorted eye-popping outfits and hairstyles.  Almodovar fans will really go for "Broken Embraces", especially when they discover that the film-within-a-film starring Cruz-as-Lena looks a lot like... "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown"!  That's the 1988 movie that first got worldwide attention for Almodovar.    When you can successfully pay homage to your own past work in your new movie,  you know you've come a long way.   Viva Pedro!
has really grown as a filmmaker through the years.  Not that I wasn't totally nuts about his early movies, which featured truly crazy characters (most of them unapologetically queer) in truly outrageous situations-- all with Almodovar's fluorescent-colored gay sensibility running through.  The director's unrestrained use of gay characters and themes in cinema preceded Hollywood's explosion of interest in queer culture by well over a decade.  Starting with "The Flower of My Secret" in 1995, Almodovar started to move outside the box of daffy comedy to create sexually charged dramas, trading an ensemble cast of cartoonish types for multi-dimensional, full-blooded (but still colorful) characters.  

     "Broken Embraces" is now playing.  

VINTAGE VICE: Law of Desire (La Lay del Deseo)

      What's my favorite movie of all time? "Mommie Dearest". What's my second? "Sextette", starring Mae West. "Law of Desire" ("La Lay Del Deseo"), a very different kind of movie, comes in third. The 1987 film-- directed by Spain's Pedro Almodovar-- stars Eusebio Poncela as a self-focused, pushing-middle-age director of "avant garde" films, Carmen Maura as his passionate but loopy transsexual sister, and a very young Antonio Banderas as a handsome but seriously psychotic kid who gets hot in the white briefs for Poncela-- with dangerous results. The zany movie is about a gay one-night-stand which literally turns fatal. Like many of Almodovar's movies, "Law of Desire" is populated with colorfully eccentric characters, and situations and plot twists which border dangerously on the illogical. While "Mommie Dearest" was a drama which was unintentionally funny, and "Sextette" was a comedy which was funny for all the WRONG reasons, "Law of Desire" was likely meant to be both funny and dramatic-- AND it succeeds as both (with a touch of thriller as well...). Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, most American directors cannot blend comedy and drama successfully. When you have to go all the way back to "All About Eve" as an example, you know you're in trouble. Then again, mainstream American directors still can't seem to get sex on screen right either, especially man-to-man sex. When I first rented this movie on creaky VHS from Tower Records' foreign video section at age 22, I had never up until that point seen a hotter gay sex scene, the one between Banderas and Poncela. It made me realize that it takes more than just two naked bodies to be sexy on screen. Banderas, a regular in many of Almodovar's movies, was "discovered" by America not long afterward. Carmen Maura was also a regular in Almodovar's films, and she recently made her return to his movies in "Volver" with Penelope Cruz in 2006. When this movie came to the big screen in 2006, re-mastered as part of a Almodovar film fest, I saw it twice: once with a boyfriend named Charlie and once with my brother Jay and sister-in-law Margarita. Charlie was oddly quiet for a long time after the movie, making me wonder if it was either from shock or maybe bewilderment at why I would take him to Lincoln Center Cinemas to see a 19-year old movie with subtitles. Margarita loved it, while Jay spent the rest of the night wondering out loud how Antonio Banderas must feel today about having played that very raw role back then. This movie made Almodovar my favorite foreign director. I have seen everything he's done since then, and have seen his work go from absurdly engaging comedy ("Labyrinth of Passion"), to really smart comedy ("Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown"), to the superior, boundary-breaking drams with comedic touches that he makes today ("All About My Mother", "Bad Education", "Talk to Her"). American directors would only ruin his films if they dared try to remake them, largely because most of them don't know how to be bold yet smart at the same time... and STILL can't get sex right. In the meantime, Pedro Almodovar remains a cult figure in the U.S. (God forbid anyone in Middle America have to read subtitles during their movie...) I vowed to never miss any of his upcoming movies. I have also vowed that whoever doesn't like "Law of Desire" can't be my friend.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


SARAH PALIN: "Going Rogue"
Spurn After Reading

            When it was first announced back in 2008 that we were going to have a woman as the Vice Presidential candidate on a major party ticket, no one was more excited than me.  I've always been an advocate for feminizing power and electing women as leaders.  But once Miss Wasilla 1984 opened her mouth (and never closed it), the excitement fizzled faster than Jessica Simpson's music and film career.  American women and men are entitled to a better role model and leader.  But I have to hand it to Sarah Palin: She singlehandedly got my brother (a straight Republican hanger-on, natch...) interested in politics.  He would be glued to the TV when she was on, waiting for a subway grate to hopefully blow her skirt up, a la Marilyn Monroe in "The Seven Year Itch".  How disappointed he was, not only that she lost as Veep, but that Palin would not be stopping in New York City (nor San Francisco, nor L.A., nor Philly, nor Seattle.  I can't imagine why...!) on her current book tour.  Oh well. She WILL, however, stop to sign books in Coeur d'Arlene, Idaho, where there are presumably no subway grates.

       But about the book:  Never before have I been verbally assaulted by so many of my fellow commuters for daring to read "Going Rogue" in public on the subway.  I respond with "Well, you gotta know your enemy!"  That was partially true, but I was also motivated by pure curiosity.  I soon discovered that this 413-pager is actually two distinct books merged into one.  The first book (Let's call it "Little House on the Iceberg") is a memoir of Palin's life from Wasilla to Washington: growing up in a tiny Alaska town, getting involved in local politics, and eventually becoming a popular Governor before picked by McCain to be his running mate... and being somewhat exploited in the process.  I have to admit, even if this woman is exaggerating her achievements in The Last Frontier State, she did make some admirable gains there.  Later on, she is curiously critical of not only the 2008 McCain campaign, but also of the big, shady, expensive American political machine itself.  This part of "Going Rogue" legitimately seems sincere and is, admittedly, quite interesting.  The second book (Let's call it "Canned Chicken Soup for the Republican Soul".) is nothing but a GOP manifesto, a carefully-worded prospectus for another run for the White House which seems like it was written by a team of political analysts.  There's absolutely nothing "rogue" about Palin's current political orientation.  She's a right wing conformist all the way.  Her book is peppered with dozens of disses at President Obama and "liberals", and praise for "Joe the Plumber" types.

     Palin obliquely tells her side of the assorted embarrassments of her candidacy (Almost 10 pages are spent on the Katie Couric interview...), and her predictable views on assorted issues.  Readers are likely to be bewildered about her stance on environmental issues, and vegetarians in particular will be pissed off altogether when she declares "I love meat!" and reminds us that "there's plenty of room for all Alaska's animals-- right next to the mashed potatoes."  Oh, and in case you're wondering, Sarah Palin is still an unapologetic homophobe.  In one chapter, she reports how she vetoed a reactionary right wing-propelled bill banning benefits for same-sex partners of State employees in 2006 (in the interest of upholding the Alaskan Constitution), but that she bit her tongue in the process because she vehemently opposes gay marriage or benefits for gay couples.  In another passage, she takes the "sympathy for the deviates" road by telling us about her high school friend/college roommate "Tilly", who apparently had come out as a lesbian.  As much as Palin states she "loved Tilly dearly", here's where the "I have my eye on the right wingers' vote" semantics come into play: "Tilly...decided to openly live the lifestyle she CHOSE with her partner."  Choosing to be gay?  For how many decades now, even in Wasilla, has that theory been discredited?  And Levi Johnston?  He's only fleetingly mentioned once (negatively, natch...), not even by name.

     I don't believe for a minute that Sarah Palin doesn't have her eye on the White House in 2012.  Considering the fallout from her 2008 run, I predict that the Not-So-Divine Ms. P. WILL run for President... but as an Independent, not a Republican.  Two thousand twelve is only four years away.  Be afraid... but be prepared for a very amusing election year too, filled with priceless dumb quotes, memorable situations, and more silly rumors (Maybe Sarah's husband Todd will pose for "Playgirl" next...)! 

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

NOW HEAR THIS! LADY GAGA "The Fame Monster" Music Review


     Lady Gaga, our reigning gay icon, knows the first secret to pop star success: Give your fans what they want!  On her second album, "The Fame Monster", Gaga does just that.  Although the Lady does dabble with some experimental beats (Listen to the third track, "Monster", and you'll hear what I mean...), it seems that she's not quite ready to fix what ain't broke.. or to get too "heavy" with her music.  She's not yet musically preaching about issues like global warming or forcing any message on her listeners-- thankfully!  Actually, I take that back.  The "message" is what's now we know to be "Classic Gaga": Just dance!  "The Fame Monster" gets right into it from the first beat.  "Bad Romance", the opener, features an industrial-strength, tribal rhythm infused with both old school and hot-off-the-groovebox new beats.  Gaga rants, warbles, gnarls, and even sneaks some French lyrics in there too.  Think of this track as the perfect anthem for crazy, 2009-style love.  "Alejandro" ("You know that I love you boy. Hot like Mexico... Rejoice!")  is thickly indulgent, dance-pop candy with influences of ABBA (Gaga even throws a "Fernando!" into the song.) and Ace of Bass' 1994 hit  "Don't Turn Around".  The next track, the playful "Monster", is a guaranteed ass-shaker, with campy lines like "He ate my heart, then he ate my brain." and "Uh oh! There's a monster in my bed!"  (Oh boy, can't we all relate to that one?!)

     "Speechless", a mid-tempo track adorned by rock guitar, pushes Gaga's vocals to the forefront.  The song shows that yes, Virginia, Lady Gaga CAN sing.  She belts out some impressively strong yet soulful notes.  Incidentally, this Lady plays the role of woman of rock 'n' roll quite well.  Think of this as a Lady Gaga power ballad.  "Speechless" may be the song that propels this diva's music beyond the dancefloor.   "Dance in the Dark" combines some familiar, classic dance beats with a heavy, pounding house vibe.  It throws in some smart lyrics and some rapping by Gaga that's no less than, at the risk of sounding cliched, fierce!  Next up is the instant club classic "Telephone", with special guest Beyonce.  This track is gonna become a DJ's wet dream; Get ready for the endless remixes.  The album's closer, "Teeth" ("Show me your teeth!" is the recurrent line.) is a real curio; with allusions to vampirism, this foot-tapper seems like the best song that never made it on to the "New Moon" soundtrack. It's not as grand a way to end this CD as I'd like it to be, but this song is strangely addicting...

      As I said before, the artist born who was Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta knows what her babes in clubland want.  (How much more indulgent can you get than when she sings, "I'm as vain as I allow. I do my hair, I gloss my eyes; I touch myself all through the night;  And when something falls out of place, I take my time, I put it back; I touch myself 'till I'm on track."?!).  But underneath the hot beats are subtle, smart homages to her peers and her influences in the music biz, as well as plenty of her now trademark "So what?!" style of sexual directness.  To sum it up, I'll have to echo Gaga herself in the first track when she warms up her audience with "Rah, rah, ah-ah-ah!" That's just how I feel: "Rah! Rah!"... for Ga-ga!


"JUST SAY LOVE": Anatomy of a Film Fest Hit

     Based on the two-character stage play of the same name by David J. Mauriella, "Just Say Love" the movie has been getting a lot of positive buzz at GLBT film festivals.  Produced and directed by Bill Humphreys, the movie adaption is, in essence, a filmed play.  It's no secret among cinemaphiles that many plays don't work when adapted directly to the screen.  The result is often... well, "stagey".  Or, the intimacy that works so well in the setting of a theater just doesn't translate well to the screen.  Perhaps for the first time in film history, "Just Say Love" introduces the RIGHT way to do it.  This film succeeds-- in a big way, I might add-- for several reasons.  The cinematography is no less than stunning, and the direction-- busting out with many quietly creative touches-- is artful. In addition, there are the assets of the two leading men.  Their acting is superb, their interactions and dialogue are realistic, and they are both-- shall we say, very easy on the eyes.  True, at times the theatrical antecedents of "Just Say Love" are more noticeable than others.  More often, however, the viewer is very likely to get too immersed in the intimacy of the two characters to notice.

     Those two characters are Guy (Matthew Jaeger) and Doug (Robert Mammana). Guy is out, and Doug is straight. Or, at least that what Doug keeps telling Guy over and over again. These two are not just "gay" and "straight" movie stereotypes or caricatures, however.  Guy is an environmentally conscious, vegetarian artist with an affinity for the writings of Plato... but he's not so quick to submit right away to Doug's butch charms.  Doug, in turn, may be a gruff, unshaven carpenter with a pregnant girlfriend... but he's smarter than the audience might interpret from his chorus of belches in the first scene.  Both men, in fact, each seem to be aware of the preconceived notions that the other may have of him.  It's also worth noting that, from the beginning right on through the film, there's a mutual attraction-- albeit an unorthodox one-- between the two.  This is NOT another story about the poor gay guy's unrequited yearning for a straight guy (A scenario that has been all too common over and over again, don't cha agree?).  Initially, Doug hits on Guy, motivated initially by horniness and maybe some curiosity... but he develops more complex feelings which the audience learns more about later.  The two's initial sexual encounter turns into a fragile friendship where the sexual tension is just below the surface. Guy, in the meantime, dreams about a full-blown love relationship: which allows the audience to enjoy his fantasies, presented as sensuously filmed, slow-motion nude scenes. All the while, the viewer senses that there's something truly metaphysical between these two men going on.  It's a complex road to the conclusion, but let's just say that the denouement will renew your faith in the modern boy-meets-boy love story... as well as all of our faith in creative filmmaking.

 "Just Say Love"
director Bill Humphreys gave an exclusive interview to Jed Ryan:

JR: Congratulations on all the positive feedback for "Just Say Love"!
BH: Thank you very much - we've been working hard at paying off a lot of people to say a lot of good things about the film.  Seriously though - we appreciate all the good words that people have brought to the film.  The response has been excellent and for a film with a slightly different bent in its style, we fell very fortunate and extremely happy that it's being so well received.

JR: "Just Say Love" has something of a fantastical element to it, even though the characters and their situations are very real.  Is that intentional?    ,
BH: The fact that you would refer to the film as having a "fantastical element" is, I think, a tribute to the power of live theatre.  We undertook the challenge of transferring material written for the stage to the big screen.  We were crossing into water that has failed miserably in the past by trying to capture the 'magic' of live theatre through the lens.  It's been attempted with classics like "Our Town" and "On Golden Pond", "Peter Pan", the Metropolitan Opera and many, many others.  But what happens when you mount a play and point cameras at it is that the effect comes across flat, creating an emotional disconnect with the audience.  Technology gets in the way.  In "Just Say Love", we took the play first, mounted it in a huge black box theatre and then imposed the camera into that, using a mix of theatrical and motion picture lighting and shooting it cinematically.  In doing so, we made a promise to ourselves that we would be true to three key elements of live theatre: Honor the words of the author, honor the art and craft of acting, and honor the intelligence of the audience.  In staying true to those key points, we were able to photograph these characters without distraction to their work, their eyes, and the words of the author.  The other main element we took in consideration was the idea of not cluttering up the background in any given scene.  Our perception was that "if it's used and physically manipulated", then it's practical and real; If it's only mentioned or referred to and not handled, then it takes on a theatrical modality.  What we discovered is that in keeping the background open, clear, and void, the focus came even more sharply onto the actors: their eyes and the words.  We let the audience fill in the voids in their own mind-- not unlike the suspension of disbelief one experiences when attending live theatre.  The result is the "fantastical" element you mention, the creation of a world where these lives are led without the hinderance of everyday surroundings.  Their situations and conflicts are clearer and easier to attach to.  I think that's a long way to say "Yes": intentional in goal yet serendipitous in practice.

JR: How were the two actors-- Matthew Jeager and Robert Mammana-- with the intimate and/or the nude scenes?  BH: Matt and Robert are both dynamic professionals.  When we first talked to them about the nude scenes they had no problem and they continued to have no problem throughout the shoot.  In respect to their privacy, we closed the set the day we shot those scenes - but these guys took the challenge and ran with it.  The funny thing about love scenes is that they rarely contain any element of love or passion when they're shot.  Matt and Robert spent a lot of time positioning themselves and checking the monitor on set to make sure that what I was asking for was looking right on screen.  We worked through a lot of the physical positioning together based on the camera angle.  A good deal of time prior to any shot was spent checking which way a leg should go, how a hand should be held to caress a bicep, two fingers or one when running your hand down the other mans chest.  When those technical elements were set, then it was all business: the looks, the embraces, the kisses were all true from each to the other in that moment.  There was a lot of laughing and giggling and pseudo-embarrassment going on, but the goal of tending to business was always utmost.  The cool thing about them is that they're both straight but they both brought themselves to the plate, so to speak with all the utensils they had make love real on screen.  We also had to take into consideration the question of "frontal" nudity: We knew that in many European markets it could help sales... but the question was "Does it fit in with what we're trying to convey?"  We decided against it simply because in the overall picture of the film, it seems gratuitous.  So we opted not to include it.

JR: As an independent filmmaker, what was the hardest part of getting your movie made?
BH: Truly the hardest part was getting my mind on the screen.  Conveying the idea, the concept of style to the craftsmen that made it happen.  Every filmmaker will answer that question with "funding" - getting the funding.  But in our case, both the writer and I believed so strongly in the style and the script and the overall goal of StageWright Films that we committed personal time and funds to the project, and in doing so the issue vanished for us.  We were very, VERY fortunate that way.  The stickler for us was knowing that we had a winning format: a winning script... But no one on our crew had ever tackled this style before.  So the creation or birth of a format was challenging.  Getting past the "... you wanna do what?" to the "... absolutely, we can do that!".  It was a creative issue - and I'd rather have that problem to solve that any other.  Without a doubt, I'd hire the same crew again now that we've been through it together once.  The next time around will be amazing.

JR: What's the greatest feedback that you've gotten from "Just Say Love" so far?
BH: That people "get it".  When we hear comments like - "passionate", "intense", and "Finally someone has figured out how to move from stage to screen..." we're delighted.  Sitting in an audience with a few hundred people you don't know, watching your work displayed for everyone to critique is humbling.  But when the silence in the theatre is deafening as the film starts and the laughs come in the right places; the sweat  beads vanish and a little voice in side says "yes!".  That's the best.  The overall reaction to the film has been incredibly positive and people leave with a new look to their faces.  The human reaction to the film is the greatest feedback.

JR: "Just Say Love" definitely breaks new boundaries in gay cinema.  In your opinion as an artist, what's the state of GLBT-themed cinema today?
BH: I wish I could say that it's engaging and mind-changing and heading in new and inventive directions.  However, I'm afraid I can't really go that far.  There seems to be too many variations on the "coming-out" theme.  I would like to see the gay film community more readily accept it's own sexuality.  Delve into the issues that are poignant.  "Patrick 1.5" is a film that does this well I think.  It deals with a couple facing the rigors of adoption and homophobia.  "Drool" is another film that I really liked - it's quirky, fun, doesn't try to preach anything and accepts the characters for who they are.  I'll step higher on my soap box and say that I would love to see GLBT films try to deal with more intelligent story lines ... Even in comedy, the intelligence factor seems to be targeted at an 8th grade level.  Leave the 8th grade material to television.  TV has dealt with low intelligence levels for years and they really know how to program "dumbed down" content.  Film is the opportunity to advance that, to get away from blatant skin-baring for the sake of blatant skin baring, and to tell me stories that will make me think.  If I want skin, there are too many available avenues to get it.  Give me intelligent stories that support my thinking!.

JR: While we're on that subject, what would you personally consider to be an enduring classic gay movie?  Or, what's your own personal favorite?
BH: Seeing as how 'mainstream' gay films didn't really come into their own till the 80's, I'd have to go with "Boys In The Band" in regards to a "classic".  I have other favorites such as "The Killing of Sister George", "Midnight Cowboy", and "Sunday Bloody Sunday".  The point of all of them, and what makes them classics, is that they don't take the genre as a soapbox.  The homosexual elements of the story or characters portrayed are simply accepted-- and then a good story is told.  It's a throwback to my early rant on the "state of things", but these are classic examples of where LGBT films might consider returning.  I'm not trying to say that the "issues" aren't important... but leave those to documentary where the real story can be told a la "Standin N' Truth".  OK, so enough soap box!  I really consider "Boys In The Band" to be a true classic of an earlier period.  "Brokeback Mountain" re-affirmed the truth in gay relationships and is the best recent example of honesty.

JR: What are the plans for the movie?  Where can people see it?
BH: "Just Say Love" is due to come out theatrically in the spring but I'm not certain of the date or vehicle for the exhibition.  We're waiting on the distributor, here! Films, to let us know their plans.  We're playing the festival circuit right now to great reward and are looking forward to festivals overseas.  Personally, I think there is a great market for exposure in Europe for "JSL" ... Here's hoping!

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