(First gallery image via Chippendales, all others by Matthew Rettenmund)
I went to see the Chippendales in Vegas a few years ago, and was surprised how gay-friendly it was. Returning this past week to catch the final night of Nyle DiMarco's residency as celebrity host, it had only gotten gayer—while still maintaining its unique status as the premier male burlesque stop for ladies.
The Chippendales Theatre at the Rio, plus Nyle's sexy-as-hell promo poster! (Images by Matthew Rettenmund)
The show is a nonstop parade of irresistible, hypermasculine clichés designed to elicit scream after scream—Marines, construction workers, motorcycle gangs, they're all there, as are the mostly hairless, uniformly muscled, TALL, sometimes tattooed men who thrust their way through the numbers.
So many men, including my Chippendales hubby, John, center (Images by Matthew Rettenmund)
As bulky as they are, most of the guys are terrific dancers, the music is up-to-the-minute, the costumes are on-point (and half-off!) and the newly installed LED displays let you check out every flex.
Though cool is probably not the first adjective she'd use to describe herself, Olivia Newton-John represented one side of my impression of coolness as a kid—my favorite male cousin was into Blondie, so Debbie Harry represented New Wave edginess to me, and my favorite female cousin received an ONJ album for Christmas that seemed to herald her arrival into womanhood. Both acts made me realize that keeping abreast of pop music was the only way to be true teenager.
Olivia is seemingly as busy in 2016 as she was back then, and her commitments are not only physical (she just returned to her wonderful show at the Flamingo's Donny & Marie Show Room in Las Vegas) but spiritual (she's always busy with her Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre, and makes environmental causes a cornerstone of her stage show).
(GIF via Universal)
As I told the incandescent songbird—now the same age Gene Kelly was when he danced alongside her in Xanadu (1980)—she looks beautiful, sounds beautiful and, most importantly, is beautiful; her centered approach to her enduring career is inspirational without being preachy, and is spreading a little more love with each passing day.
Perhaps most exciting for fans is her brand-new album, LIV ON, a collaboration with Amy Sky and Beth Nielsen Chapman, which dropped October 14. The album emphasizes the trio's vocal skill and sensitivity, nowhere more powerfully than on the single “LIVE ON,” a sonic rock on which survivors can cling while struggling to get through life's challenges. The album and single take ONJ full circle, back to her early country roots.
Speaking of her roots, I was lucky enough to catch Olivia's return to her Vegas residency following her August tour dates.
The Donny & Marie Show Room is a gorgeous space, designed like an old-fashioned nightclub/dinner-theater venue, just larger. There isn't a bad seat in the house, and Olivia didn't hit a bad note—all sung live, so you get more than just a piece of her.
Olivia looks phenomenal, isn't afraid to tease her audience and for the show's spirited numbers, especially a generous Grease segment and the stand-out from her pop/rock years, “Twist of Fate,” was frequently kick-dancing up and down the stage.
(GIF via 20th Century Fox)
If you want variety, she's got it—Olivia nimbly segues from country to pop to rock to yes, even a Latin number, to New Age. Along with singing most of her iconic hits, she threw in new work like the aforementioned “LIVE ON” and lesser-known singles like the heart-tugging nature anthem “Don't Cut Me Down.”
Somewhat surprisingly, “Physical” arrived in the dead center of the very lively show, which allowed for some of her less reserved fangirls to jump up and recreate the choreography from that unforgettably gay-friendly music video.
Just when I was thinking Olivia had exhausted her top-tier smashes, her finale—delivered in a dazzling, silver-sequined, form-fitting gown—arrived in the form of a gorgeous take on “I Honestly Love You.”
And, honestly, right back atcha.
After the show, I was escorted to the green room, where I was able to meet with Olivia, have her sign two of my cherished 45s and tell her how much I loved the show. When I randomly blurted out that I've always loved her 1992 hit “I Need Love,” she asked me to remind her of it, so I had to speak-sing to Olivia Newton-John! She gamely jumped in and sang what she could remember of the tune, which was a slinky pop number with one of the best Hi-NRG dance remixes of all time.
Friday the 26th was the long-awaited 25th-anniversary screening of a pristine, restored print of Truth or Dare at Metrograph in NYC, featuring commentary by director Alek Keshishian (who also co-wrote W.E. with Madonna 20 years after they first met) and moderated by noted Madonna-basher Chelsea Handler.
Black-and-white ... and would Madonna get read all over?!
I hardly knew what to expect, considering the week's other Truth or Dare screening—at MoMA on Wednesday—had attracted Madonna herself.
[If you live in NYC and haven't been to Metrograph, do go. It's a lovely, chic theater that offers eclectic movies, including classics, midnight movies, cult hits, first-run arthouse fare and, well, Space Jam. (Look who's snarking—I'm paying $15 to watch Body of Evidence there next week!)]
Before Truth or Dare started, my friend Raj noticed in the lobby two of the female stars of Quantico (Yasmine Al Massri and Johanna Braddy) with their dates, so I was able to get some quick pics of them. Braddy was turning 4 years old when Truth or Dare was released, BTW.
The guy who came out to intro the movie had the hipster vibe down pat, shrugging his way through a few lines about how the movie was part of a series of Madonna's masterpieces, then telling us the place has a restaurant upstairs if we ... whatever. It was actually very funny, and not the typical anal-retentive speech given at fledgling moviehouses about upcoming events.
Watching the movie for the second time in 48 hours was odd because ... it totally didn't bore me. I found new things to focus on, and even spotted the late Jack Larson in/near the infamous Kevin Costner scene.
My T-shirt went over big.
As the movie wore on, though, I was nervous because I'd been hoping to get some shots of Chelsea and Alek before or after. Luckily, one of my companions, Anthony (who designed my book) was monitoring Facebook and noted that fellow fanboy Michael Da Rocha had posted a pic with Chelsea from outside. That was my cue to hit the lobby, where I found Chelsea and Alek holding court at the bar with a gaggle of familiar fan faces.
I didn't realize until recently that Becky Ann Baker is married to Dylan Baker; I have seen both around my neighborhood for years.
Becky Ann is currently giving an Emmy-worthy performance on Girls (a show on which it's damn hard to make a big impression, with so many other outstanding performances), and she also knows that redheads look fantastic in purple.
(Image by Matthew Rettenmund)
Seeing Jonathan Groff in Hell's Kitchen is about as rare as seeing guys in tank tops on cold days here, but it's exciting seeing him nonetheless. Granted, my snap this time is not the best, but it's still hard to take a bad pic of the looker.
More interesting than his looks, Groff is simply not given enough credit for all he has done. He has killed it on Broadway more than once, was a part of the phenomenon that was Glee and fought the good fight with Looking, an honest effort to present the LGBT experience (part of it!) to the mainstream without watering things down.
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 ...