Saturday, May 31, 2008

Short Cuts: Read This

Krystal Freeman has written a remarkable essay called "Sakia Gunn: When Intolerance Breeds Murder," that you need to read right now. Or five minutes from now, if that works better for you. Just read it. You know I'm serious when I post something that's entirely free of goofy pictures and painfully unfunny one-liners.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Why "The Walker" is Worth a Rental

Woody Harrelson and Moritz Bleibtreu in The Walker

There's an unwritten rule moviegoers have been faithfully abiding by for almost 30 years now about not seeing Paul Schrader films. The last time they cared about one was in 1980, when American Gigolo made $22 million in the United States, and at least $15 million of that had less to do with Schrader than Richard Gere's genitals. It's enough to make you wonder if there isn't something about the filmmaker from Grand Rapids, Michigan that puts people off, but then who wouldn't fall in love with a Bresson and Ozu-obsessed former Calvinist who wears big, thick glasses and has a penchant for porn, prostitutes and Blondie music?

The enduring popularity of the movies Schrader wrote for Martin Scorsese, including Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, suggests that the box office failures of Mishima, Light Sleeper, and practically everything else Schrader's name has appeared on, has less to do with indifferent audiences than indifferent distributors. According to Box Office Mojo, his widest release was 1,041 theaters for Light of Day; that was all the way back in 1987, when its star, Michael J. Fox, was enjoying immense popularity due to the success of both Family Ties and Back to the Future. His most recent film, The Walker, played in only 14 theaters, grossing a paltry $79,698 domestically. In the same year, in the same country, Wild Hogs made almost $170 million. A movie about Alvin and the fucking Chipmunks made $217 million. How does that happen? How does something like The Walker, an actual movie with actual ideas (made by an actual filmmaker and starring real actors, no less), make less than Elton John's monthly flower allowance? How does it play on only 14 screens, the fewest of any Schrader movie since 1991's The Comfort of Strangers?

There has to be a logical, or semi-logical, explanation for it. It's not as if The Walker doesn't have serious credentials, between Schrader's involvement and a stellar cast that includes a quintet of Oscar-nominated actors. (Woody Harrelson, Lauren Bacall, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily Tomlin and Ned Beatty, if you're too lazy to IMDB it yourself.) And it's not like the story itself, which is part murder mystery and part political thriller, isn't absorbing enough to hold an audience's attention for an hour and 45 minutes. All of which makes me wonder, was The Walker partially doomed to D.O.A. status because of the gay thing?

Schrader's interest in gay themes extends back to the 1970s (anyone who read Peter Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls must remember what John Milius had to say about that), but The Walker marks the first film he has made that focuses entirely on an openly gay protagonist. That would be Woody Harrelson's titular walker, Carter Page III. The genteel son of a wealthy political family, Carter escorts his female friends, the wives of D.C. power brokers, to galas and has a boyfriend, Emek (played by the German actor Moritz Bleibtreu) on the side. Carter, like many a Schrader character before him, finds himself implicated in a murder he didn't commit all because of the company he keeps. And like his predecessors in Light Sleeper and American Gigolo, he quickly realizes he has few options for clearing his name.

Perhaps significantly, or maybe not, Carter is promptly jettisoned by his heterosexual society friends when a scandal starts to brew. It is Emek, a paparazzo who'd like a deeper commitment from Carter (not to mention some help landing a gallery show -- he's also an artist whose sexually explicit pieces Carter describes as agitprop), who is willing to risk his life to help uncover the truth and keep his lover out of jail. Incidentally, Emek is also the character who poses the question at the movie's crux: "If you don't want to feel used, why are you in a relationship?"

The Walker, which was dedicated to Schrader's brother and sometime co-writer Leonard, is highly polished and thoroughly mainstream, right down to its too-pat ending and heavy-handed overuse of Bryan Ferry's "Which Way to Turn" on the soundtrack. That's what makes Carter's matter-of-fact gayness so interesting -- when is the last time you saw a movie like this with a cast this great and a protagonist whose partner in crime, as well as life, is another man? The Walker is well worth seeing on the strength of Harrelson's gritty performance and excellent supporting turns by Bacall and Bleibtreu alone, but it's also a welcome reminder to weary gay audiences that every now and then, we make it into "regular" American movies as more than comic relief.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Cyndi Lauper on Coming Out as Straight

"Who are you calling a honky?"

When Cyndi Lauper appeared on the Howard Stern Show last Thursday to promote the upcoming True Colors Tour, she knew what to expect. The singer, after all, has a decades-long history with Stern, a self-professed Lauper fan who admits to getting choked up when he hears her sing "True Colors." So when Stern's line of questioning turned, inevitably, to Lauper's sexual history, she was able to deflect his more intrusive queries with relative ease. I think you'll agree that nothing in this exchange, one of many on the topic of Cyndi's experimental teenage years, rivals the magic of Tracy Morgan's March Stern appearance, but then again, what could possibly top that?
Howard Stern: Did you ever have lesbianism in your life at all? Did you ever make love to another woman?

Cyndi Lauper: Uh... (Laughs) Um...

Howard: So that's a yes.

Cyndi: Yeah.

Howard: You did.

Robin Quivers: I was gonna say, you can't think that long on a no ...

Cyndi: No, it isn't that. It's 'cause I got kids.

Howard: Cyndi -- kids, shmids. So what's wrong with being gay? Nothing wrong. You're bisexual --

Cyndi: No, no. My sister has been living with her partner for -- they raised two kids, two boys together. They're very -- my sister is amazing.

Howard: Is that why you tried lesbianism, Cyndi?

Cyndi: I wouldn't say that I'm --

Howard: Cyndi, is that why you tried lesbianism, because of your sister? You said, 'Well, if she's -- '

Cyndi: No, no. When I was a teenager, all my friends came out.

Howard: They did?

Cyndi: And then I figured, okay, me too. And then afterwards, it was like, uh, it's not really my thing. And then I had to tell them I was straight.

Howard: Was it awful? To tell people you were straight?

Cyndi: Well, because they were -- they were gonna ditch me. And they did ditch me. And then when my sister came out, I was like, "Well, you're not ditching me. I don't care."

Howard: You're right, in a sense. I grew up in a black neighborhood and I used to be so angry that I was white, because it wasn't any fun for me. Everybody else was dating and having a good time and I was the one lone honky. So I would imagine --

Artie Lange: Was it hard to come out that you were white, though?

Howard: Yes. I mean, I didn't want to accept it.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

As An Evil, Skanky, Kind of Gay Witch Once Said: "Bored Now"

The French Open starts in a little more than 90 minutes, fellow gays, and that early round action can't come soon enough. I've been bored out of my mind for weeks now, which is why I've been giving the Internet the silent treatment. There's nothing to write about. Fine, so the lesbian world is abuzz with talk of Jodie Foster reportedly ditching her partner for Melanie Mayron's partner, but is there anything interesting about any of that? (And I'd like to point out, since I've seen a spike in Melanie Mayron-related traffic in the wake of the Foster hullabaloo, that while Mayron has previously opted to have journalists describe her as a single mom rather than acknowledge her long-term relationship with Cynthia Mort, their union was hardly cloaked in a veil of secrecy, so I didn't exactly out anyone when I wrote what I wrote about her -- and I hardly wrote anything at all -- back in February.) It only gets interesting if the tabloid feeding frenzy moves Foster to issue a denial or offer some kind of confirmation, and image-conscious as she is, it's hard to imagine the latter happening anytime soon, assuming there's any truth to the rumors.

And of course there are the continued adventures of Lindsay Lohan and Samantha Ronson to consider. Except, well, what is there to consider? Those two are another pair who've gone about their business in plain sight for a while now, with the occasional timeout for a Ross and Rachelesque break. What's interesting isn't that they've been photographed kissing, or that Lohan was recently spotted wearing what looks like an engagement ring; what's interesting is that Lohan, at least so far, hasn't felt the need to get defensive about any of it and issue the kind of vehement denials that will haunt the likes of Michelle Rodriguez for as long as cyberspace exists. Think about it: Lohan, an underrated actress with excellent comedic skills, could end up being a pioneer of sorts. If she doesn't buckle under pressure from her handlers to present a straighter public image, that is. And for now, with her career in shambles, that remains a gargantuan 'if.'

There was also a season-ending gayapalooza over at Grey's Anatomy, where over the last few weeks Seattle Grace has played host to some military man-love (for some, the greatest man-love of all, though when it comes to men in uniform I prefer hot gay cops like Keith from Six Feet Under) and Hahn-Torres action on no less than two occasions, but that's another thing it's too early to get enthusiastic about. Because, let's be honest, Grey's Anatomy is quite possibly the straightest TV show of all time. It's all about the penis and the vagina (or vajayjay, as I understand they call it in Grey's land) and the penis going into the vagina, and the McDreamy and the McSteamy and throngs of straight women salivating over them and what have you.

Really, I can't keep track of all the heterosexual pairings I've seen on that show and I'm not even a regular viewer. It seems like the whole lot of them should have herpes and half a dozen children by now. (I don't know about you, but when I go to the hospital I don't want to worry about contracting a surprise case of crabs from an exam table that was just violated by a heartthrob doctor and his latest staff conquest.) Which is a convoluted way of saying I'm not convinced that a program as heterosexually oriented as Grey's Anatomy can pull off a lesbian storyline that doesn't end with Hahn and Torres having a Wild Things moment in a supply closet with Dr. Sloan. Show runner Shonda Rhimes seems to think she can muster something decent, and actresses Brooke Smith and Sara Ramirez certainly have enough talent to knock this one out of the park if given the right material (and yes, if you must know, I've had a crush on Ramirez since seeing her on the Tonys three years ago -- I think everyone who saw that performance had a similar reaction), so I'd be happy for this to go somewhere. Still, I've witnessed so many writers botch similar storylines over the years that my long-term expectations for this remain as low as ER's ratings.

And there you have it. My inability to get worked up over any of these popular news items (or any news item at all) has left me with little reason to say anything lately. However, it has afforded me plenty of time to re-watch the seventh season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on DVD, and I had way more fun doing that than anyone has ever had reading the utter nonsense posted here. BTW, in a startling development, Kennedy isn't particularly annoying five years after the fact. She even seemed essential at times. But the Andrew-centric "Storyteller" episode? Still pretty annoying, despite the best efforts of the fantastic Tom Lenk.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Week in Gayness

- Australia, despite being home to the Minogue sisters and that queen from Savage Garden, can't get its act together when it comes to legally protecting their gay and lesbian citizens. (Who do they think they are, the United States?) So while Americans spent the week passing judgment on the teenage spawn of that guy with a mullet who sang "Achy Breaky Heart" and eagerly awaiting the release of Iron Man, Australians spent it having the same old argument about civil unions versus gay marriage. Meanwhile, proposed changes in the law will come too late for those who were already denied pension benefits after losing their partners.

Woody Allen is no stranger to threesomes

Tuesday - Woody Allen confirmed what every Woody Allen fan already knew by saying the hype over the "extremely erotic" Penélope Cruz/Scarlett Johansson action in the upcoming Vicky Cristina Barcelona is just that: hype. As he told Entertainment Weekly: "Because it was Penélope and Scarlett and Javier, it got out that there was torrid sex in the picture. People who come and expect those exaggerations are going to be disappointed." But we'll always have our imaginations. And Photoshop. Don't forget Photoshop.

Wednesday - Islanders (real ones, not the hockey players - professional hockey players fully endorse lesbianism, particularly when it involves women at their favorite strip clubs) have gone to court to reclaim the name Lesbian from the lesbians. Here's the thing, islanders: We outnumber you. By a lot. Watch the Beijing Olympics this August and you'll see what I mean. If you can't stand the wait, go to any outdoor concert where an ovary-having singer-songwriter lightly strums an acoustic guitar while wailing angry, faux-poetic lyrics and take a good look around. You're not going to win, and this lawsuit makes you look like fucking idiots. You're now the Tom Cruise of island natives, except Oprah won't pay a visit to your vacation home to help you rehabilitate your image because you didn't star in Cocktail. (Which wasn't released by a gay porn studio, despite Tom's come-hither stare on the DVD cover.)

"Well, you see, Oprah, when two women really like each other..."

Thursday - The women of Sex and the City made a cursory appearance on Oprah to promote their upcoming movie, to the delight of countless squealing audience members of both the female and flamboyantly gay male persuasions. (I only saw a fraction of the interview and noticed jazz hands in the audience at least once.) As usual, Oprah had to act downright puzzled by lesbianism, this time as she grilled Cynthia Nixon about her personal life. It was very awkward to watch, seeing as the stage they were all sitting on was playing host to more lesbian ass than the passenger seat of Shane McCutcheon's car, and it's high time for Gayle to pull Oprah aside and tell her to cut the crap.

Setting aside the numerous indignant public denials Oprah has issued about her own sexuality, we know she knows about lesbianism. She hired Donna Deitch to direct The Women of Brewster Place because she admired Deitch's work on Desert Hearts -- you know, the one with the hot lesbian sex? That means Oprah has known a thing or two about lesbianism since at least 1985. Then there was her appearance as the therapist Ellen Morgan comes out to on Ellen, way back in 1997. There was also a TV interview she conducted with Ellen DeGeneres and Anne Heche around the same time. I remember watching that with my mom after school one day, and they patiently broke it all down for her then.

The woman has interviewed innumerable lesbians, she's friends with an inordinate number of Scientologist closet cases, and she's a freaking 54-year-old veteran celebrity. We know you know about lesbianism, Oprah. Grow the fuck up! Does she think her viewers are so incredibly stupid that they don't realize she's had lesbianism explained to her by about five trillion different guests over the years? And does she think they don't remember all the times she groped Tyra Banks and gave impromptu breast exams to helpless lingerie models during "fashion shows" as an audience of housewives sitting twenty feet away giggled at the wily (read: lascivious) antics of their best pal, the fun-loving (read: breast-loving) and irrepressible (read: latently homosexual) Oprah?

I'm changing subjects now, before I give myself an aneurysm, but if this keeps up I want that obnoxious, patronizing sonofabitch Dr. Phil to stage an intervention. He needs to stand there in one of his stupid suits, with that stupid smirk on his face, and in the most condescending drawl he can muster, he needs to say, "Oprah, you're a grown-ass woman with countless gay acquaintances. What is the emotional pay-off you're getting from having every lesbian and bisexual woman who comes on your show explain the mechanics of lesbianism to you? What, other than the occasional cheap thrill, are you getting out of this?" However she replies, I bet she does not refer to his homespun wisdom as a Light Bulb Moment™.

Friday - Methodist lesbians, ones who didn't study under Lee Strasberg, got married in Texas, and the world didn't end. Also: Nicole Kidman is reportedly set to play Dusty Springfield in a biopic that will probably pretend Springfield was bisexual with straight leanings, though in reality she was about as gay as Nancy Kulp. (Remember, Elton John was bisexual in the '70s as well.) The screenplay will be written by Michael Cunningham, who also wrote the novel The Hours, which means there's a 60% chance that Kidman's Springfield will spend the duration of her lesbian relationships pining for a brilliant, tortured gay man, or interrupt her housework to kiss Toni Collette before disappearing into a decades-long self-imposed exile. Hopefully he'll tone down the pretension and stick with the facts, but I'm not optimistic.

Saturday - Damned if I know what happened on Saturday. I was sitting quietly on the couch watching The Crying Game, wishing that Jaye Davidson would take up acting again and that someone please give Miranda Richardson a decent part in something.

Gay cruises have been around since at least the 1950s

Sunday - A musician named Missy has announced a gig on an all-lesbian cruise in October. Alas, it isn't Missy Elliott, though it's possible the eccentric "Get Ur Freak On" performer will be there as a mere civilian homosexual. This Missy is an Australian with the last name Higgins, one who has chosen to describe herself as "not so straight." Which could mean any number of things, including not much at all, but hey, how often do comments like that actually help you get work?

Emmanuelle Seigner: Hot, Talented, And Did I Mention Hot?

The hotness of Emmanuelle Seigner, whose cheekbones are almost heavenly enough to make me reconsider my agnosticism, is something I've been meaning to address here for ages, but I keep getting sidetracked by various and sundry hotnesses (there was Kerry Washington, there was Emmanuelle Béart, there was Eva Mendes, there was Charlotte Rampling, there was matzo -- and those are just the women/delicious flatbreads I've had time to mention over the last several months. Once I really get going, we could be here for ages) and bullshit things like work and sleep and family obligations. This week marked the DVD release of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, one of the best films of 2007, so it seemed the perfect time to pay tribute to Seigner, the model-turned-actress and wife of Roman Polanski.

Polanski directed Seigner in one of her earliest films, Frantic (that's the one where we're expected to believe that Betty Buckley gets kidnapped and her husband, played by Harrison Ford, a) actually notices that she's gone and b) wants to get her back), and it wasn't the kind of performance that hinted she had untapped depths as an actress. But Seigner continued to hone her craft, turning Kristin Scott Thomas's head in Bitter Moon (again directed by Polanski) and playing a hyper-critical wife in Yvan Attal's Happily Ever After. A turning point came in 2005, when she was cast as an enigmatic, manipulative pop star in Emmanuelle Bercot's Backstage. Seigner's Madonna-esque character takes in an obsessed young fan, played by the ferociously talented Isild Le Besco. The two meet when Seigner is dispatched to the teen's house for a surprise TV appearance, and the lesbian overtones are both immediate and hypnotic.

Seigner, whose sexuality had been dark and occasionally cartoonish early in her career, was now, in her middle age, blonde and earthy. Her acting, too, had acquired a new richness, and in 2007 she gave two of the most emotionally astute supporting performances of the year, as a prostitute who cares for a young Édith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, and as the estranged partner of Mathieu Amalric's Jean-Dominique Bauby in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. (The Butterfly scene in which Seigner must facilitate a phone conversation between the paralyzed Bauby, who is unable to speak, and the woman he left her for, is as beautifully played as anything you'll ever see in a movie.) IMDb shows that her next two credits are expected to be a Danièle Thompson comedy costarring Marina Hands* and Dario Argento's Giallo, but I look forward to seeing her in more -- and more sizable -- dramatic roles in the future.

* Hands, in a bit of useless movie trivia, played the "woman he left her for" in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and also turned Kristin Scott Thomas's head in a movie: they played a boring married couple in the recent French thriller Tell No One.

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