Where else but at a Tab Hunter movie would I get picked up by a 94-year-old man?
Last year, I went to see the Tab Hunter documentary at Film Forum with two friends. I wanted to be far forward to film Tab's responses at the Q&A after, so I made a beeline solo for the front row. Two seats down, an elderly gentleman made eye contact with me. I said hello and asked if he was a fan of Hunter's, to which he replied that they were social acquaintances from long ago. Then, he instructed me, “Move next to me—I don't want a fatty sitting by me.”
In today's climate, with our awareness of body shaming, it might seem an unfortunate remark. But it made me laugh, because he clearly just didn't want to be squished, he was so fragile and so far beyond worrying about stepping on toes in pursuing basic comfort. Also, I liked that he didn't think I was fat, so I guess we were both in the wrong.
We had a lively conversation. He was a director. In fact, his career went back to radio, and he directed some remarkable shows on early TV, retiring decades later, around the time I was graduating high school. To put some perspective on the greatness of his age, he was older than Marilyn Monroe or Judy Garland would have been had they lived.
“I must take you out to dinner sometime,” he insisted within minutes. No one asks me out, and Grindr does not count. I accepted.
Taking me out to dinner turned into meeting him at his apartment for dinner in. He was such a flirt, such an operator, but only in the sweetest, more charming sense; nothing sleazy or desperate, just puppy-love pursuit. It's how he approached everything, from keeping up with the latest films (we watched Bridge of Spies on his bed) to reflecting on the shows and people he'd directed (James Dean, everyone else you can think of)—with kid-like enthusiasm.
I found out he was 94 years old, and was there when he celebrated turning 95; it was at an intimate, collegial gathering of gay men of a certain age (and a few younger than his retirement), filled with witty remarks, political ruminations and more harmless passes all around.
My new, old friend was truly an open book. Aside from handing me his brief memoir that was published some years ago (devoid of all the scandalous gay tidbits he would offer verbally, especially surrounding his notorious Hollywood pool parties held a stone's throw from Rock Hudson's pad), he let me interview him a few times and also would tell me things that made me feel surprisingly close to him, considering the newness of our friendship.
I won't give away everything he said—he was fairly private even while being relentlessly social, hosting a separate birthday party for the boys and one for the rest of his friends—but one thing he told me I'll never forget involved his childhood dog. He expressed to me the love he had for this dog, and how crushed he was when he needed to have it put down. He was sick doing it, but the vet assured him it would be painless. Nonetheless, when the vet administered the shot, the dog looked at him in alarm. He described it as a look of betrayal. It hit him so hard he passed out for the first and only time in his life, hit him so hard that he remembered the dog's face vividly 80 years later.
I'll miss my new, old friend. He taught me a lot in a very short time, maybe because he knew odds were it would end up being a short time for us, in spite of his doctors routinely telling him there was no reason he couldn't live to be 100.
I can't believe it took me over 30 years to sit down and watch The King of Comedy, Martin Scorsese's 1982 comedy about fan culture and the changing state of fame. My friends John and Sheldon (me with Sheldon, pictured; image by John Stanton) invited me to see it at MoMA, and it was—as you may know—perfection.
Also, I have met people like just about everyone in the movie. Or been them.
Jerry Lewis was impossibly good, perfect even, and I finally got to sample Sandra Bernhard's career-making supporting performance, which felt a lot like she improvised most of it.
Maybe the scene in the film that most succinctly captured fan culture was when a woman at a pay phone sees Lewis's famous character and asks for an autograph, which he grants, then wants him to speak to her husband on the phone. When he politely states he's late and can't, she yells after him, “You should only get cancer!” (Scorsese has said the scene was suggested by Lewis, who directed the actress in it based on an incident that really happened to him.)
Patrick Wilson (Image by Matthew Rettenmund)
There was an actual star in the audience for the show, Patrick Wilson. I love him, and we were chatting about how hot he is or isn't (I vote is). I thought it would be perfect to ask him for a selfie after, then tell him he should only get cancer if he refused. However, we didn't get the chance because the woman he was seated with was on her cellphone more than a few times, texting. Not that discreetly. A man behind her, and one row in front of us, tapped her and asked her to stop, and this woman turned and seethed that he shouldn't touch her.
Laila in action (All images by Matthew Rettenmund unless noted; all drag selfies with me by Jason Viers)
One of the only events I attend that reliably leads to YouTube views for me is the annual premiere party for the new season of RuPaul's Drag Race.
The show's rabid fans seem to live for news about the fresh crop of queens who have been drafted to do engage in gladiatorial battle—backwards and in high heels. (Visit VossEvents for info on tickets to other events in your area.)
Last night, the 12 ladies of Season 8 showed their mettle, their talent and various body parts (receipts available) at a Hell's-Kitchen-fabulous party for the March 7 premiere of the season, which will also be the 100th episode in the series.
There's always time for a “Guydar” pic.
At Stage 48 on W. 48th St. and 11th Ave., I shot the girls on the carpet and met and interviewed each and every one—finally, after all these years, Logo realized the press needs a full two hours to get time with all of these talkative broads!
Naomi & a popular drag blogger express their selfies
Your Season 8 queens are (click to connect with them):
The carpet portion of the evening went so smoothly and the ... let's go with “women” ... were so dazzling in comportment and wardrobe I'd have to call it a luster-fuck, even if a sweet kid from Logo was filming everything on his phone over my head, narrating each entry with, “Yasss!” ... and even if some of the queens weren't yet able to find their light.
First impressions are everything, and I have to admit Thorgy Thor—in a fat suit that was one step up from the one “Monica” wore in those Friends flashbacks—fooled me into believing she was an actual large lady. It was like Pat Ast had returned, give or take, from the grave.
Laila, Thorgy & Bob
Otherwise, Kim Chi was probably the most out-there yet still striking, flaunting a glitzy (gangnam) style, Naysha Lopez and professional Britney Spears impersonator Derrick Barry were the most in need of an aquarium and Bob the Drag Queen (space suit) and Laila McQueen (unitard emblazoned with slurs) were the edgiest.
Naysha & Derrick
As a bonus, Younger co-stars Molly Bernard (who I'd just interviewed via email) and the delicious Nico Tortorelli—whose name sounds like something that they should've been passing around on a tray—showed up and did some photos with their crew, allowing me to get selfies. I loved Nico's Cry-Baby styling and inexplicably punk/drag-black ears.
The Younger crew
My favorite Nico since the one who fell off the bike
Older & Younger
Finally, it was time to interview each queen. Here are my impressions, and be sure you watch all the videos:
Gorgeous in gray, Dax was the prettiest queen who was not consistently name-checked by her rivals as being among the prettiest queens of the season. Jealousy? Or is her persona just more understated than that of some of the vixens she did battle with this season?
I'm not sure, but she came off as sweet to me and pulled off an unforced coquettish performance when in character. Not a try-hard.
Cynthia Lee Fontaine
A Puerto Rican queen who's based in Austin, Texas, she for some reason gave herself a name she can't really pronounce. Sinteeali. It's gold.
Miss Fontaine is a true nut, in the best possible way. She was babbling gaily about how she calls her ass her “cucu” (for culo, one presumes) because it was a word she used when she had to go poop as a child. She's a real character, but not a character in the sense of some of the others; she seems to be the person she is, in or out of a dress. I also couldn't detect an unkind bone in her body, and she was serving a Susan Lucci/Jackie Zeman soap diva beauty.
Wait until you hear her in all my videos—bitch has the gift of gab.
James Ivory (L) & Pierre Lhomme (R) before a screening of Maurice (Image by Matthew Rettenmund)
Earlier this week, I was excited to attend one screening that was a part the FIAF (French Institute Alliance Française) series CinéSalon: Lhomme Behind the Camera, which is running through February 23 at Florence Gould Hall (55 E. 59th St., NYC).
The series honors French cinematographer Pierre Lhomme, 85, whose work on a variety of classics and interesting efforts is said to have “helped shape the careers of iconic directors, including Chris Marker, Jean-Pierre Melville and James Ivory.”
Sample of three posters for the film; I had the middle one on my wall in collage. (Images via Cinecom)
The event that I was lucky enough to take in was a screening of the 1987 Merchant-Ivory film Maurice (pronounced Morris), a lushly romantic adaptation of the 1913 gay-themed novel by E.M. Forster that was not published until 1971, due to concerns that its subject matter could be ruled obscene.
Not only was Lhomme present, but director James Ivory, 87, also appeared to briefly introduce the film and then take part in a Q&A after, which I wouldn't have missed.
James Wilby as Maurice, the cat at the center of Forster's great gay love story (Image via Cinecom)
When I was in college at the University of Chicago—a school I attended in large part because I randomly found a queer students' union flyer when I went to visit, not even focusing on the school's reputation for academics—I had a job with a literary agent in the Fine Arts Building downtown. Maurice played that quaint venue, and I knew I could not miss it, even though it would mark the first time I saw a gay movie in public. I remember being scared to death buying the ticket, and then sitting in the theater, wondering if a man would try to grab my knee or something, and wondering if I might be recognized. (I was out to some high school friends back home, but almost no one on campus quite yet.)
I couldn't have asked for a more beautiful film to see in that phase of my life. I appreciated the unrepentant emotionality of Maurice (James Wilby) and Clive (Hugh Grant), as well as the cautionary aspect of Clive's retreat into the closet. Most uplifting to me was the film's happy ending, in which the upper-class Maurice finds passion and—just maybe—eternal happiness with a working-class stiff (Rupert Graves). As I told Mr. Ivory after the screening, the movie represented to me a true gay love story, and also a cautionary tale, but one that dealt with very contemporary issues (coming out) and did not feature characters who had to be punished for their alleged sins.
Maurice tells the story of a young English homosexual who falls in love with two completely different men, and in their differences is the whole message of the movie, a message I do not agree with. Yet because the film is so well made and acted, because it captures its period so meticulously, I enjoyed it even in disagreement ... The problem in the movie is with the gulf between his romantic choices. His first great love, Clive, is a person with whom he has a great deal in common. They share minds as well as bodies. Scudder, the gamekeeper, is frankly portrayed as an unpolished working-class lad, handsome but simple. In the England of 1914, with its rigid class divisions, the two men would have had even less in common than the movie makes it seem, and the real reason their relationship is daring is not because of sexuality but because of class. Apart from their sexuality, they have nothing of substance to talk about with each other in this movie. No matter how deep their love, I suspect that within a few weeks or months the British class system would have driven them apart.
He offers her money to spend one week with him, she accepts, he buys her clothes, they have sex and of course (this being the movies) they fall in love. They fall into a particularly romantic kind of love, the sort you hardly see in the movies these days - a love based on staying awake after the lights are out and confiding autobiographical secrets ... There could indeed be, I suppose, an entirely different movie made from the same material —a more realistic film, in which the cold economic realities of the lives of both characters would make it unlikely they could stay together ... But by the end of the movie I was happy to have it close as it does.
Yeah, so gays can't get one happy ending, but straights could, back then, get them every single time without a raised eyebrow. Perfect. (Decades later, Maurice is the better-reviewed and better-respected of the two films—91% on Rotten Tomatoes with 87% audience approval—even if Pretty Woman—62%/68%—is an immortal piece of pop culture because one of the leads had a vagina.)
Hugh Grant has had a very good hair life. (Image via Cinecom)
Watching it again 29 years later was moving in that I remembered so many scenes as if I'd seen the film a thousand times (just once). Even the music was a strong sense-memory—I had bought the album and listened to it over and over. It's an exquisite, evocative score by the late Richard Robbins, who did many of the Merchant-Ivory films, and who passed away in 2012. It was a treat to relive this experience, and I must say my fetishization of Hugh Grant's hair in this film (he isn't really high on my list of crushes anymore) and of every inch of Rupert Graves (he is) remains intact.
Afterward, Ivory and Lhomme took questions from the audience, some intelligent and some head-scratchers, including a long one from a woman who wanted to know if the actors were gay (!) and if the director had cast beautiful men as a comment on gay narcissism (gay!!!).
Two things that irked me: The woman next to me made a comment that my camera was making too much noise (it makes a very faint electronic whir when it turns on) before the film even started, and yet she wound up being the culprit when a wind-chime alarm blared throughout the last five full minutes of the movie. She also kept asking me to confirm what the subjects had said during the interview, even though I was clearly videoing everything.
Scudder, off to London to get his (gentle)man. (Image via Cinecom)
The other bummer was that the very last question ended with a statement that Graves's character Scudder was “possibly the worst person alive.” I was blown away by this assertion, as was I think Ivory, who didn't address it.
I asked the questioner afterward what he meant. “Oh, are you a Scudder apologist?” he asked me. Gee, I don't really think Scudder needs apologies made for him. Anyway, the younger guy asserted that he and all of his reading group all hated Scudder. Apparently, the segment in which Scudder—who had hoped to make love with Maurice again but found himself ignored—bluffed that he might blackmail his lover made this guy think Scudder was evil and manipulative. To me, it seemed baldly obvious that the intent of the author and the director was to show that Scudder genuinely loved Maurice and was extremely insecure when rejected. He specifically, warm-heartedly folds when pushed by Maurice, and explains he'd never take a penny from him.
They were there, they were queer, they got used to it. (Images via Cinecom)
Scudder risked his security by coming to have sex with Maurice the first time, then he gave up his security in the Argentines (as well as contact with his family) to spend what we hope will be the rest of his life with the guy. Putting aside how sexy Scudder is (check out this scorching montage of love scenes), he is nuts for Maurice, and he represents the non-judgmental self-actualization that Maurice needs and embraces, in stark contrast to the life of lies and self-denial that Clive has slid into and advocates. If Scudder is the worst person ever, what is Clive? It just seems to me that it's an accepted observation that Maurice was written by Forster explicitly to be a gay love story with a happy ending. If Maurice ends up with Scudder and it's supposed to be a happy ending, I have to believe Scudder is not supposed to be an unpleasant drama queen.
Theirs was a love that dared speak its name. (Image via Cinecom)
It was an interesting exchange, but one of those times when you not only have an impression you feel strongly, but your impression fits with the only possibly explanation of an artist's work. I will say that the ending has some room for interpretation in that we can't be sure the men will be happy always. Ivory mentioned to me that one complicating factor would be World War I, but he also said it was, indeed, supposed to be a happy ending.
Oh, Mr. Graaant! (Image via Cinecom)
Check out the my video, containing most of the answers and comments from Ivory and Lhomme, after the jump ...