CULTURE ARCHIVES ENTERTAINMENT 2021 From The Archives Uncategorized

How Makeup, Murder and Dark History Turned Bailey Sarian into a Social Media Superstar

There’s a YouTube show for every interest and fandom these days, but the best tend to be less about the concept and more about the creator. A charismatic star/host can make almost anything interesting and when they find the right niche and it all clicks, followings grow, sometimes into the millions. For Bailey Sarian it was not one, but two niches that helped her do just that – makeup and murder!

With 5 million subscribers on YouTube and 2.4 million Instagram followers, Sarian has melded two seemingly unlikely types of content — beauty tutorials and true crime tales — into a very successful series and brand. The California-based professional makeup artist has always loved reading and talking about crime investigations and one day she simply decided to do both at once on her YouTube channel.

After working with Santa Monica-based IPSY as a social media creator, Sarian started also experimenting with her own YouTube output. “Then 2018 came along and the Christopher Watts story came around; it was this man who killed his two kids and his wife and then put them in oil bins at his work,” she tells us by phone interview. “I was following the story, and I was staying up til like 4 a.m. reading articles about it, trying to solve the mystery. I was like, ‘I don’t have anybody to talk about this story with, so I’m just gonna sit in front of my camera and talk about it and do my makeup.’ I didn’t know how it’d be received, but decided to just try it. In January of 2019 I finally put it up and as soon as it was posted I was getting view counts like I had never gotten before, and within 24 hours I had gotten 60,000 views. To me that was fame. Then I was like, ‘maybe this isn’t a one-off, let me try it again with a different story.’ I’ve just kept going and I have not stopped growing since that first video.”

Copycats trying similar content melds notwithstanding, Sarian’s series “Murder Mystery & Makeup,” feels different from most makeup guide shows. She’s dishy but refreshingly down to earth, and watching her feels like spilling the tea with an old gal pal while you’re both getting ready for a night on the town. She makes the most macabre murder stories go down easy, presenting a compelling narrative rollout with subtly comic commentary and gorgeous cosmetics work.

Sarian’s eye for color and contour are highlighted each week via edgy applications, and she uses looks and transformations that tout her favorite products for lids, lips, and skin, illustrating techniques anyone can follow along with. Still, it’s the stories that keep you engaged. And though her videos feel freeform and effortless, she tells us she does do some pre-planning.

“I write a script for myself which has the whole story start to finish and then when I start filming, I just start explaining,” she shares. “I try not to overwhelm the audience with too many names or too many addresses and I strip the story down to what happened. I just keep it true to myself and make it like a conversation.”

Though she doesn’t necessarily connect makeup looks to the stories she tells, her videos always feel symbiotic between subject and visual. Sarian’s charm is enough of a connection. “Once I sit down, I kind of just decide what I want to do that day,” she says. “I don’t think about the makeup too much because I want to be comfortable. I’m so consumed with the story, the makeup is always an afterthought.”

With subjects covered including everyone from Jeffrey Dahmer (her most watched at 14 million views) and “The Nightstalker” Richard Ramirez to lesser-known criminals like “The Scream Killers” (the Cassie Jo Stoddart case) and the “chocolate killer” (Cordelia Botkins), her YouTube show is a bonafide hit. Now Sarian is ready to conquer new formats.

Joining forces with Wheelhouse DNA and Audioboom, the social media star just launched a new podcast called “Dark History,” on which she’ll go beyond true crime to explore other kinds of strange and menacing real-life stories from U.S. and world history. The show will also have a video component that will be released after each podcasted episode, filmed on a special set in Los Angeles.

No cosmetics lessons are featured on the Monday weekly podcast but a video companion debuts every Thursday, and Sarian, whose colorful tattoos and facial piercing complement her dramatic facial art, still gives face, and in some ways more personality minus the makeup-minded distraction. So far she has aired episodes on the DuPont Chemical scandal and the Zoot Suit Riots, and future subjects will include the Armenian Genocide and the Birth Control Trials of Puerto Rico.

Chatting on the phone with Sarian is no different from watching her on the computer screen — she’s warm, funny and expressive both ways. We discovered “Murder Mystery & Makeup,” organically while scrolling videos on Facebook and we’ve been addicted to Sarian’s stuff ever since. With two fan groups on FB for her work, we are clearly not alone. Podcasting is a natural progression that should further her success and value as a social media figure.

“I’m doing something I’m really passionate about. I get to research true crime and do makeup which are my two favorite things,” Sarian says, gratefully, noting the downside and upside of online notoriety. “There are some times where you’re looking for constructive criticism and people don’t know the difference between that and being an asshole. Of course there is an influx with trolls as you get bigger. But I’ve found an audience that’s super into everything I’m into and I love engaging with my fans. I’ve learned how to find a balance to it all.”     ❖

Bailey Sarian’s “Murder, Mystery & Makeup” is on YouTube and Audible.
Dark History” is available on Apple Podcasts, and other podcast platforms.
More info on Bailey at

News 2021 PRIDE 2021

GALLERY: Magnus Hastings Envisions Pride Out Of – And In – The Box

“The whole book project idea came because we’d had a year of Trump, basically. I wanted to do something that was very much standing up as a community and going, ‘fuck you,’ we’re here, we’re queer and we’re gorgeous,” U.K.-born, L.A.-based photographer Magnus Hastings tells us about the motivation for his latest book Rainbow Revolution. The lensman, best known for his previous book Why Drag?, has basically been celebrating LGBTQA+ creators and entertainers for the entirety of his career, capturing the charismatic essence of his subjects for art galleries, the biggest gay mags across the globe, and social media.

See the full story here.    ❖


Celebrate Pride 2021 with Magnus Hastings’ ‘Rainbow Revolution’

“The whole book project idea came because we’d had a year of Trump, basically. I wanted to do something that was very much standing up as a community and going, ‘fuck you,’ we’re here, we’re queer and we’re gorgeous,” U.K.-born, L.A.-based photographer Magnus Hastings tells us about the motivation for his latest book Rainbow Revolution. The lensman, best known for his previous book Why Drag?, has basically been celebrating LGBTQA+ creators and entertainers for the entirety of his career, capturing the charismatic essence of his subjects for art galleries, the biggest gay mags across the globe, and social media.

The perfect buy for Pride month, Hastings’ new book is a vibrant, defiant, and joyful look at queer culture figures who’ve lived outside of the box, which interestingly, seeks to illuminate their personal perspectives and experiences by asking them to pose inside of one. Yes, there are rainbows, but the eye-popping portraits are also as unique as the individuals and groups featured, with a spectrum of sexual identities and backgrounds represented by subjects from all walks of life, each with something different to express in the outfits, backdrops, and poses they chose.

“The first image I did was of Alaska [Thunderfuck, Drag Race All-Star winner] so whenever I asked someone to be involved I sent that as an example,” explained Hastings. “I built a white box; it was 6×5 by 6×5 feet deep. And I invited people to come in and they could decorate it, they could be naked in it, they could write on it, bring props, express themselves however they wanted to be seen. I said to people, ‘show me how you’d like to be seen in five year’s time.’ Some people really went for it. Other people would just turn up in an outfit. When it was just the empty box with someone in it, it became about how they or I helped direct them into creating body positions and body shapes that were interesting with the negative space. Or people would come around and paint it completely. Then I’d have to paint it back and hope it’d dry in an hour. This box had so many layers of paint on it by the time I tore it down a year ago in L.A., it was losing its edges.”

Hastings says the main thrust of the project was “no re-touching.” He wanted his subjects to tell their stories and create everything in real life. Not surprising, considering his acting and theater background, which he gave up after taking on photography full time. The self-taught photographer was originally inspired by the British gay nightlife scene, where he started capturing colorful characters and creators, leading to high-profile exhibitions at hotspots like London’s The Box. He’s honed his gift for highlighting the most interesting traits of his subjects, which he says got attention early on due to the bounty of “gay famous people” he was able to shoot.

“I did portraits of them, and it was kind of quite clever because it became like a celebrity portrait thing,” he says. “And I did these huge PVC print blowups, and I didn’t know if anyone would like them. But I put them up and overnight, everyone flipped out over them and I was featured in TIME OUT magazine. Then all the gay press started using me for their covers. So it happened very organically, very quickly once I decided to throw myself properly into photography.”

Hastings’ first book exploring the art of drag was created after a 2005 move to Australia (where queendom was thriving) followed by a relocation to L.A. in 2011. His career was busy, with an emphasis on celebrity and drag work, which led to a popular drag photo show in New York and finally, a Chronicle Books release in 2015. After that book’s success, he appeared as a guest judge on both Rupaul’s Drag Race and Dragula – the horror drag competition from 2019 L.A. Weekly cover subjects The Boulet Brothers. Soon after, he sought to expand his scope and cover all of the queer community with #Gayface, a 2018 photo project that eventually evolved into Rainbow Revolution. 

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“After Why Drag came out, I was employed to do drag stuff for the next couple of years and I was always thinking, ‘well, what is my next book, what’s my next project?” Hastings shares. “I thought, ‘what I need to do [now] that everyone and everything is on social media… is something that I can launch on social media that can then become a book, something that’s social media-friendly, and what’s the best shape for social media? It’s a square. So I [made] a box and then had each person create their own story within the box or by either using props or fabric or whatever. And I also very much wanted to be inclusive and to move on from drag and do something for the entire community, especially trans people, because there was very little trans drag in my previous book.”

After releasing 150 white box backdropped photos on the internet on the same day in 2018, many of the images went viral. Hastings was even commissioned by the West Hollywood Arts Council to make an in-real-life version of it for Pride in 2019, which manifested with three digital billboards on Sunset Blvd. Turning a social media idea into the Rainbow Revolution book the past three years and shooting almost 1,000 subjects across multiple cities was “exhausting,” Hastings admits, “sometimes I’d be shooting 30 people in a day and that was insane.” But the results are exultant, especially with the added essays from some subjects who talk candidly about their struggles and triumphs as LGBTQ+ people. The book is very much representative of the current cultural shifts on sexual and gender identity and how we express them publicly and proudly today. Not surprisingly, the cover features an array of L.A.-based figures from entertainment and nightlife, where queer culture continues to thrive and inspire.

“It is part of the big wave of change as sexual identities and gender identities have been named and shifted and given importance and visibility,” Hastings adds. “It all happened as my book was coming together; this huge surge of that, and it came out right in the middle of it, so it feels like very much part of that movement and the understanding and acceptance of people’s right to express themselves however they see fit.”

Hastings hopes the book and his work in general will not only amplify queer voices and personalities but lead to more understanding and unity especially in parts of the country that still discriminate. “We live in an L.A. bubble, and we can forget the hell that people go through in less accepting places,” he reminds. “I feel like there’s a younger generation that generally are more accepting of sexual fluidity. I hope for a time when everyone can stop trying to get it right and it’s just a natural thing.”   ❖

More about Magnus Hastings, his books and his work at

CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM 2021 From The Archives

Bella Thorne’s Badass Approach to Acting and Life is Paying Off

For child stars, changing and maturing in the public eye is almost always difficult. When they choose to pursue both music and acting as they transition into adulthood, it’s almost a given that formidable challenges will accompany their more artistic expression. Add to this, discovering their sexuality and daring to show it on social platforms, and growing up in the spotlight is harder to do than ever. Bella Thorne has dealt with all of this and more, and at 23 years old, she’s emerged as an unapologetic (and successful) actress, singer, and businesswoman.

One of her most recent roles — as a member of The Relentless, the rock band at the center of the new-ish Amazon Prime series Paradise City — gave her the opportunity to explore both sides of herself at once. The storyline concerns her character, Lily Mayflower (the band’s bass player/backup singer), who gets fired following the group’s reunion on the series.

After a drugged-out tryst with lead singer Johnny Faust (Andy Biersack), Lily sent a video of the romp to his girlfriend in hopes of breaking them up. Faust is now sober and as the band works toward a comeback and he gets engaged to his forgiving girlfriend, Lily — who has moved on and now has a girlfriend — becomes collateral damage. The show, from record producer Ash Avildsen, is a sequel to his film American Satan. Lily was played by another actress in the movie, but Thorne fell into the series’ sexy female rocker role rather seamlessly, donning punk chick gear and makeup, and playing the bassist in a badass yet vulnerable way that feels pretty authentic.

“I just really loved the character. I totally felt at home with her,” Thorne says via phone, during a break on set for her latest directorial gig — a video for rapper Juicy Jay.  “I usually don’t play characters that are as close to home for me. I usually play characters that are opposite of my personality so it was fun to play someone more similar, but show a different side.

“I relate to her in a lot of ways, especially on the sexuality front, on being misunderstood, and being the only female in the band, even though there’s drama there,” she continues. “Of course she’s the first one to be kicked out, which I think is very interesting. It’s kind of her living in a boys crew and I’ve always kind of felt like that, like a tomboy. Lily’s ‘I don’t give a fuck’ attitude too; you know people say I don’t give a fuck, and yeah it’s true, but I do and I’ll always tell you the truth. It’s also obnoxious to say ‘I don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks about me.’ I think that the honesty that I put in the character that wasn’t originally there, I think that part of me coincides nicely.”

Thorne’s own music is a rock-rap-pop hybrid, but she says she grew up listening to ’80s and ’90s rock music and drew inspiration from the likes of Joan Jett, Billy Squire, and Nirvana for her stage performance in City, adding that she admires “the realness and the rawness,” and imperfect mojo of older rock sounds. “It’s much different from the music now,” she adds. “So I’m always going back to listen to older rock.”

As we discuss our favorite artists, she emphasizes a passion for rap and rock together and shares that Linkin Park have always been tops for her. She knows “every word to every song of theirs” and she says, “these are two genres that pretty much make up everything in my life. Rap and rock are both methods of preaching.”

Her latest sermon of sorts is called “Phantom,” and lyrically it’s an empowerment anthem about ghosting on controlling dudes, but the video, which Thorne directed, comes off like a creepy yet come-hither monster movie. Thorne raps and writhes throughout, donning wigs and skimpy glam get-ups as guitarist Malina Moye shreds on the track.

Her previous self-directed video ditty, for a song called “Shake It” got a lot of attention last year. So much so that it was temporarily taken down by YouTube (it’s back now). Starring porn star Abella Danger –who was also in Thorne’s award-winning adult film directorial debut called film Her & Him — it features the actresses kissing, romping in bed together and shaking it in white lingerie. Whether or not the title is meant as a subtle/subliminal ref to Thorne’s best-known TV show, Shake It Up in which she co-starred with Zendaya on the Disney channel, is unknown, but as we start to discuss the public and media’s quick-to-judge tendencies of former Disney stars, it’s clear that she’s long been ready to move on from that part of her past.

Like fellow former Disney stars Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato, Thorne is proudly queer (she came out as pansexual in 2019, though she is newly engaged to Italian pop star Benjamin Mascolo as of March). Like both actors/singers she’s received her share of online haters and trolls simply for being who she is whether she’s dating men or women. In terms of her roles, we ask if she’s chosen more provocative ones in hopes of breaking out of the Disney kid mold (two recent memorable turns included a Fight Club-style boxer in Chick Fight and a snarky cheerleader in The Babysitter series) but she’s understandably a bit weary of the question.

“Everyone asks me that and it’s like no, but I guess so? Everyone perceives it that way but before I did Disney, I was on HBO. I was on Entourage. I was on Showtime. You name it, I was acting,” she says matter of factly. “Producers were like, ‘well she can scream and cry on cue,’ get her in here. If you have some fucked up child role, get her. I had never done comedy before in my life and I never thought I’d get comedic roles, ever. People are like ‘Disney, Disney, Disney’ and I’m like, nah… I started years before and I’ve been busting my ass.”

As Lily Mayflower in ‘Paradise City’

Though some assume she’s been trying to be a wild child in her actions (such as creating her popular Only Fans page) and film choices, Thorne insists her career has always been about challenging herself. “I just want to tackle roles that showcase my acting,” she adds.

In addition to film and TV, Thorne clearly likes to have lots of other endeavors and irreverent irons in the fire. A few years ago she turned her L.A. home into an art installation, with a hot pink exterior, thematic muraled rooms, and more. Known as “The Trippy Twins Funhouse,” she used it for photoshoots and as an events space. Though she put it on the market last year, she says her love of real estate has remained and she plans to do something similar, but “not as crazy” at another property soon.

Her production company Content X, has a multitude of projects coming up, including some she can’t really talk about yet. Paradise City season 2 is still tentative, and she’s currently focused on a still-unannounced project she wrote and created, which she has been working on since she was 18. “I finally signed contracts with the team and I’m excited to see my baby come to life,” she says, trying not to reveal too much until official announcements are scheduled.  “This show is everything to me. What I can say about it is it’s dark, it’s noir, and it’s very close to home.”    ❖

CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM 2021 From The Archives

Michelle Visage on how ‘Explant’ Surgery Led to Her Revealing New Doc

With Pride month in full swing, it’s time to commemorate the struggles of LGBTQA+ people and acknowledge allies too. No doubt, one of the most beloved and high-profile supporters of the gay and drag community, in particular, is Michelle Visage, RuPaul’s bestie and the gal who always tells it like it is on their hit TV reality competition. Visage might be Drag Race’s toughest judge, but unlike say, Simon Cowell, she doesn’t relish critique in a mean-spirited way. Rather, Visage’s keep-it-real style is meant to release what holds the show’s contestants back and help them to achieve their full reigning queen potential.

But for the last 20 years, Visage herself didn’t feel like she could fully reign over her own body. Last year, the pop singer turned TV personality revealed that she had Hashimoto’s Disease caused by her breast implants, and that after years of suffering she was having them removed.

In the new World of Wonder documentary, Explant, Visage takes us along on her personal journey — from her days as a young singer in the girl group Seduction, to her busty transformation and career as a radio and TV figure, to her recent decision to have “explant” surgery due to a host of debilitating symptoms.

Visage and Ru in EXPLANT

Beyond her own journey, Visage takes on the role of investigator in the film, exploring the link between severe health problems and implants via interviews with other women who’ve suffered similar ailments and a host of doctors, including the man who invented the silicone-filled bags initially used for the enhancement (which later evolved into saline, but curiously still utilized silicone materials to encase the liquid, despite it being linked to health issues).

The documentary, directed by Jeremy Simmons (The Last Beekeeper) and produced by Visage and her husband, is extremely well-researched, providing detailed information about the history of the breast implant. Visage is, as she is on her hit TV show, uncensored and candid as can be, sharing everything from the insecurities that led her to get the boob job in the first place to her frustration with the medical industry’s lack of transparency about the risks of getting enhancement. She was just as forthright when we spoke to her via Zoom about the doc and what inspired it.

“I felt all alone so I kind of went, ‘okay maybe this is just me.’ But if you have an auto-immune condition, that means your body is attacking a certain part of your body, whether like in my case — it’s your thyroid, or some other place,” says Visage about of her initial struggle and search for answers. “As a layperson who reads far too much medical literature, it just made sense that my body had an invader 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It just so happened it was attacking my thyroid, but I had these two huge blobs of silicone in my body that didn’t belong there. So the link made sense to me, but at the same time, I didn’t have anybody that was on my team 100%. They were like, possibly, perhaps… So I just kept googling and googling and reading papers like the Harvard Medical Journal and literature that I could barely understand. It led me to believe that I was right. I ended up in a Facebook group and there were thousands of women experiencing similar problems. Some women have Lupus, some have cancer, some women have rheumatoid arthritis, whatever it is. It’s all in the same wheelhouse. It made me go, oh my God, not only am I on to something, I’m pissed off. I’m pissed off that the FDA has been completely glossing over us and I’m pissed off that our medical field here in the United States doesn’t listen to women.”

Post-Op in EXPLANT

When Visage started talking to doctors, she says they made her feel like she was crazy or hysterical. She insisted she was not imagining the link and that it was real and her research eventually confirmed it. The documentary, which was her husband’s idea, highlights what Visage went through and more. She says she is not against plastic surgery of any kind, but she does feel that more information needs to be provided to patients before making the decision to go under the knife, which can impact their lives in ways they’d never imagine.

“I want to live to be a century and I want to be here for my great-grandchildren, you know what I mean,” the 52-year-old mother of two shares. “My husband was like, ‘why aren’t you documenting this’ and I was like, ‘oh my god, what a great idea.’  I told Randy [Barbato] and Fenton [Bailey] [World of Wonder Productions heads] my idea and they loved it, and mostly because it’s a great subject– not just breast implants, we’re talking about boobs in general.  They started out as documentarians, and that’s their passion. So I knew that they would get it, because I didn’t want it to be all gloom and doom. I wanted it to be factual and tell my story, but also interesting… we’re talking about boobs!”

Visage’s explant surgeon Dr. H. Jae Chun was one of the first to specialize in removal and he provides an educational and credible voice supporting the mounting evidence in the movie. The Newport Beach doctor switched from doing implants to explants exclusively, after woman after woman came to him with problems obviously linked to the procedures.

“The reason for this documentary is to say to women that you are not crazy. This is new, but it is very real, and people are starting to take notice, including the FDA, and it’s not about a rupture or what kind of implants you had.  It’s not about silicone or saline because I have had three sets; it’s the shell that is going in your body and is made up of 40+ chemicals including the same chemicals that are in inkjet printer ink. You wouldn’t believe what is going in your body and we lay there and ‘go yes, put it in us.’
Ultimately, Visage’s desire for “black-box warnings” on implants like cigarettes has come to fruition but she says that with patients under anesthesia when packaging is opened, nobody sees the box. “Doctors should be handing the box to their patients and saying ‘read this before I put them in your body,’” she insists. “It’s un-fucking-believable that we still have to fight just to be told what they’re putting in our body.”

Her platform via Drag Race will hopefully help the cause. “I’m so blessed that people love our show as much as they do because it means so much to be not only part of this incredible legacy but to change lives the way that we’re able to,” she enthuses, adding that this issue affects the the LGBTQIA+ community as well. “Tits don’t make a woman. These health complications don’t know gender.”

Though she reiterates not being against plastic surgery per se, she does plan to fight for informed decisions about getting work done. And she hopes to encourage alternatives to feeling good. “For me, it was about self-love and self-worth and sharing that and I think it’s very important within our community to show that vulnerability and to show that you know, we need to love ourselves first despite what society says we should look like.”

“The most important lesson of all of it is to find a way to start loving yourself just as you are,” she concludes. “Let me be the catalyst because if I was happy with who I was at 21, I wouldn’t be here today, and I probably wouldn’t feel the way that I do and have for the past 20 years.”    ❖

Explant premieres online this Sun., June 13 as part of the Tribeca Film Festival. More info here.

CULTURE ARCHIVES ENTERTAINMENT 2021 From The Archives MUSIC 2021 TV 2021 Uncategorized

New PBS Special Looks Back on Career of Brazilian Legend Sergio Mendes (Q&A)

An influential music figure gets his due this month on PBS, which airs the special Sergio Mendes & Friends: A Celebration, chronicling the life of the Brazilian music pioneer, throughout June. Featuring the documentary Sergio Mendes: In The Key Of Joy by director John Scheinfeld (The U.S. vs John Lennon), the presentation features commentary from Herb Alpert, Common, Quincy Jones, John Legend, (who produced his comeback into the pop world called Timeless) and more.

Mendes, who was born in Niterói, Brazil in 1941, found his rhythm on the keys and in the New York music scene, first as a signee with his music trio to Capitol Records, and later Brasil 66 signed with A&M, where he re-defined the ‘60s Bossa Nova sound and popularized smooth jazz with a pop sensibility. Releasing 35 albums and scoring multiple hits like “Mas Que Nada,” “The Look of Love,” “Scarborough Fair,” “Night and Day,” and later, the soulful ballad “Never Gonna Let You Go,” Mendes has earned three Grammies and received an Oscar nod for his music in the animated film Rio.

His work has been used in countless films, adverts, and TV programs;  so much so that even younger music fans who might not know the artist by name usually have recognition of his work, both with his groups and as a solo artist and composer. His take on Brazilian music has become a global and cultural game-changer that continues to inspire and resonate to this day. With the PBS special debuting this weekend, we spoke to the legend via Zoom from his home in Woodland Hills, California.

LINA LECARO: The movie is wonderful. How did it all come about?

SERGIO MENDES: Thank you. Yes, John Scheinfeld did a tremendous job. He’s a wonderful director and producer, and it was great working with him. The record company had this idea of doing a documentary about my life and they asked me what I thought. I thought that was great so they sent me a copy of the documentary that John did on Coltrane, and also Harry Nilsson, and I loved them. I said I want to meet him. So he came to the house, we met and I said let’s do it. Let’s go.

He’s a great storyteller, and clearly very musical. I think that you probably have to really have a strong appreciation for the music to tell this kind of story in the right way.

I met with him a couple of times here at the house and he lives here in LA, which makes life easier. I really enjoyed meeting him and we spoke a lot about my career, my music, my life… I didn’t see anything until the end. Not the interviews or anything, and so it was for me, a very emotional experience when I saw the final cut. He got some incredible archives from shows I’d done years and years ago. I think it’s very well put together.

The archival stuff was so fun. Really captured that time. Were there things that you forgot about, or that made an impression on you to see again?

Once I saw it I remembered most of the things, but I had forgotten a few, so it was great to see that great footage again. And also, you know, going back to where I grew up in Brazil. The apartment building where I used to live….all that was very, very moving for me.

So looking back at your career, the film shows both your influence and your resiliency in tough times. It really showed the ups and downs. That early live gig Brasil 66 had and how you got fired because the crowds didn’t quite get it. And yet, you went on to be so popular afterward. So can you talk a little bit about that?

Yeah, of course that was a downer. You know, I mean, somebody who hired you to play and then goes, here’s your money and thank you very much but we don’t want you. I said wow, this is the beginning of my career. The gig was in the Bahamas. But I told the members that we just have to rehearse and make this thing better and so we came back to the U.S. And right when we get back here, we start to rehearse, then A&M was interesred, so things started happening.

As they say, ‘when one door closes, another door opens.” Watching the story unfold, that gig in the Bahamas was surprising because you guys were already establishing your sound, and you sounded amazing. Why do you think it didn’t resonate at the time?

Well I think it was a combination of things. First of all, we hadn’t had the big hit yet. This is before “Mas Que Nada.” We didn’t have a record or something to promote and nobody knew about us. I mean after I recorded my first album, and had the big success with so many songs, then things were different.

Brasil 66

How did Albert and Jerry hear about you? Were you playing out live a lot?

I was here in the L.A. studio of a friend of mine on Melrose. And in those days record companies used to come to visit to see and to hear new bands. A few record companies came to see us there and among them was Herb and Jerry. It was a perfect fit. They were just starting and they had great energy and I liked them a lot. We became good friends for life. It was just like—as I use the word many times in the documentary— serendipity.

I think so. Another part of the documentary showing the band’s evolution and how things maybe happen for a reason, was when you lost your original singer Lani Hall . She fell in love with Herb and left the band. That must have been hard because you had such a great chemistry with her singing.

Absolutely, we’re still very dear friends dear by the way. I speak once or twice a week with Herb and Lani. But you know, again, like you said one door closes and the other one opens. That’s when I met my wife who became the singer of the band.

It became a love story for all of you. Sergio, what would you say looking back on your career and being a Latino in the US, about getting your music out there? Like what were some of the challenges that you faced? How did you overcome the cultural barriers and find success?

I think it comes down to the song at the end of the day. The power of the song, and the melody. We had a hit song in Portuguese, it was the first time ever that a song like that became a number one in the world, not only in the United States. I think a lot had to do with the arrangement and the uniqueness of the sound at the time.

It was very unique. Did you ever consider translating it or would that have been weird?

For that song, it would be such a corny thing. It wouldn’t work out. The song by the way is huge in Japan. The melody is really the catchy and people, they’ve taken it to the heart and they’ve embraced it. Some songs need English lyrics but not that one. Having English songs helped to make us even more international, though.

You are a role model for Latin people. How does that feel?

I never thought about it. I don’t know, am I?

You are! Your music brought a flavor of music to America that wasn’t there and it changed pop music. I think the documentary touches upon that and it’s huge. I think it will inspire musicians of all backgrounds because you always stayed true to who you are and you still made it within the industry.

Absolutely, yeah. I would say people should stay with your dream, embrace your dream and don’t stop. As I like to say, keep playing in the key of joy.    ❖

Sergio Mendes & Friends: A Celebration airs on PBS beginning Sat., June 5.

CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM 2021 From The Archives Uncategorized

‘Cruella’ Is A Devilish, Fashion-Filled Delight

It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly Disney’s villains became more interesting than their princesses, but somewhere along the way the company’s marketing geniuses figured out that ominous figures driven by revenge could be just as aspirational — at least in a figurative sense — as beautiful ones driven by love. With some contemporary exceptions, the goal for female characters in the Disney universe has always been about snaring Prince Charming (or Prince whoever) and living happily ever. Its animal-driven animated films are another story, but even those tend to idealize innocence and oversimplify evil, creating a black and white narrative that never went too deep into motivations and never had to, considering the target audiences were children.

Which makes Cruella, the latest live-action take on a classic character angled at the dark comedy/goth crowd, so refreshing. The backstory here is bodacious but it has actual depth and a twist you might not see coming, with complex characters that you’ll enjoy in spite of their flaws. There’s no romance here whatsoever, and yet, there are moments when Cruella (Emma Stone, in one of her most charismatic portrayals ever) pulls at your heartstrings. It’s to the actress’s credit that she does so as the sinister two-tone tressed Cruella De Vil, but equally so as her meek and awkward alter-ego Estella.

In 101 Dalmations (the cartoon and the live-action film from 1996 starring Glenn Close) we didn’t know a lot about Cruella other than the fact that she wanted to kill puppies to make a fabulous fur coat. I, Tonya director Craig Gillespie and writers by Dana Fox and Tony McNamara, clearly strove to humanize what’s essentially been one of the craziest Disney villains in history. But even if they hadn’t, there’s enough eye candy styling and raucous rivalry on-screen to delight regardless.

Set in ’70s London, Cruella unravels the childhood of Estella, a girl with strange hair and lots of moxie. When she sees her mother die after falling off a balcony at a fancy gala, she loses her spark, blames herself and takes to the streets, hooking up with two mischievous thieves and becoming roomies. Estella’s dream was always to be a fashion designer and when she gets a job at Liberty of London as a cleaning person, it ultimately leads her to a gig with Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson), a legendary designer who’s been in a slump and seeks the kind of edgy energy the young hopeful displays when she goes rogue on a Liberty window display.

The Baroness is narcissistic, abrupt, and ice-cold. Her dynamic with Estella is a shameless ref to Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada (and there are in fact, a few fierce Prada-like ensembles on display worn by both characters ) but it rings right because women have to act that way to get ahead. Well they don’t actually, but as we saw in Maleficent and its sequel, Disney always seems to need another villain to make its reconsidered protagonist less distasteful by comparison.

Thompson is effortless as The Baroness and though her cruelty is cartoonishly over the top, it matches what ensues — a riotous back and forth romp filled with heists, grand events, and outlandish runway take-overs that capture an anarchy-in-the-U.K.-style energy. The film is set around the time of what the press materials call “the punk revolution” which makes the lack of a Vivienne Westwood mention a glaring omission, especially as the iconic designer’s attitude and aesthetic are an obvious inspiration for everythng Stella/Cruella creates. The styling, makeup, and hair are stunning, regardless.

To this end, the Cruella soundtrack is pretty incredible too; we’re talking The Stooges, The Stones, The Doors, and two Ike & Tina Turner covers (“Whole Lotta Love” and “Come Together”), all of which informs both the narrative and the movie’s splashy montages in a way that’s on the nose and music video-like, but maintains a wicked edge and sensibility, especially for a Disney vehicle.  This duality is in fact, the essence of the film, which aims to give its anti-heroine a relatable rationale for her provocations while still keeping her de-Vil-ish. With fiendish performances and striking production, they more than succeed.    ❖

CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM 2021 From The Archives

Dark ‘Spiral: Saw’ Director Darren Lynn Bousman Has Made a Career Out of Immersive Terror

Trading in mindless slashers and supernatural menaces with something altogether more pathological and inventive, the SAW franchise provided a ravaging new direction for horror when it debuted in 2004. But after about the fourth installment, the ruthless, game-loving John Kramer a.k.a. Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) and others inspired by him in sequels, lost some edge in terms of the elaborate kills and motivations behind them. Or maybe it was just us, the audience, desensitized and craving the tension and carnage of the first films. Either way, if you were a fan of the millennial  “torture porn” onslaught SAW wrought, you probably enjoyed every bloody eye gouge and severed limb they threw at the screen, regardless. But it’s been 4 years since the last sequel (part VIII) was released and it’s safe to say that a 9th, especially a 9th coming out in 2021, needed something fresh and fearless to have an impact.

Spiral: From the Book of SAW, which came out last Friday, is definitely a new spin on the classic cinematic shocker. Chris Rock is at the helm both on-screen and off, Samuel L. Jackson plays his father, and both actors play cops. Meshed with SAW’s gluttonous gore, psychological amplitudes, and morality subtext, the 9th installment is definitely a novel nod. Still, as Rock was making the project happen, he understood the need for a director who knew the nuances — and lack thereof — of the early films, so that the twisted humor, shameless violence, and cat and mouse exchanges were most potent.

Darren Lynn Bousman, director of SAW II, III, and IV was the obvious choice. The L.A.-based creator and filmmaker left the franchise to pursue other endeavors (we’ll get to those in a minute) but Rock’s passion for the twisted games the films were known for — and his idea for an all-new story within its universe — reigned him back in.

“The whole thing was surreal,” Bousman tells L.A. Weekly by phone. “I was in New York, getting ready to actually sign a contract to direct a Broadway show, which was like a lifelong thing that I’ve always wanted to do, and the same day that the contract’s presented to me, I get a phone call from the producers, Mark Burg, Oren Koules, and Gregg Hoffman — Twisted Pictures main architects — and they say ‘hey, we need you back in Los Angeles, for a meeting with Chris Rock.’ I paused for a second because never in a million years would I expect them to call me about that Chris Rock. But they told me to look at my email and there was this script called The Organ Donor. So I started reading it on the plane and was like, holy shit this is a SAW movie.”

Chris Rock in SPIRAL

Bousman met with Rock the next day and immediately knew that the project had serious potential. “He gets it and he’s a fan of it,” he says of Rock. “From that first conversation it was clear, he was down.” The script was conceived by Rock and after he pitched it to producers, he hooked up with writers Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger. Several re-writes and hotel roundtables later, Bousman, Rock, and the scribes ran through every scene, making for a collaborative process that conjured the mystery and mayhem of the original films with a new socially conscious subtext about dirty police, vengeance, crime, and punishment. The idea was conceived pre-George Floyd, but of course, police brutality was a problem long before. It feels timely regardless, especially the climax (which we won’t spoil here).

“The first idea I had was, what if I was a cop who woke up in a trap, or had one hand chained to a pipe and a saw in the other,” Rock explains in the press junket for Spiral. “That spurred all of our conversations, and as we talked, everybody got excited about what this movie could be. We keep everything that defines a Saw movie, but we also delve deeper into the psychological and suspense thriller elements that have always been there, beneath the surface – we’ve got the traps, we’ve got the gore, but we’ve also got a story and characters that will keep people guessing.  That’s why I really don’t look at Spiral as the next Saw film. We’re actually starting over and heading in an entirely different direction with this movie.”

This new approach obviously excited Bousman, who sought to challenge himself and his audiences throughout his career. He had left SAW behind in 2007 after part 4 to do “more dangerous things,” the biggest of which was bringing a gothic rock opera to film.

His early fascination with dark entertainment began when he first moved to Los Angeles and became a fan of Repo! The Genetic Opera, a popular stage show in the L.A. theater scene in the early 2000s. It was eventually turned into a short film by Bousman, then a full length in 2008 starring Paul Sorvino, Alexa Vega, and Paris Hilton, with a soundtrack produced by Japanese rocker Yoshiki (from the band X Japan). Though it wasn’t a hit upon limited release, it was popular on the midnight movie circuit, often screening alongside The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Getting the film version of Repo greenlit was always a goal for Bousman and he says following the success of the SAW movies, he finally got to realize it. “I said if I ever make it in a director, I’m doing this as a movie,” he recalls. “I think at the time the writers were just like, ‘yeah, sure.’ Well, cut to SAW 2 and then three and I finally had the power to go back to them and say, ‘let’s turn this into a movie.’ Six years later we did it and it got a huge cult following, where people would dress up like the characters and sing the songs on the screen. And even now it’s been 13 years since we’ve made it and people still remember it. It’s something to seek out just for the pure ‘what-the-fuck’ factor and that’s why I love it.” The film can currently be viewed on Amazon Prime.

In addition to his directorial work (see niche horror films like Mother’s Day and 11:11), the Kansas-bred L.A. transplant has been a big influencer in the immersive horror world, exploring what weird and wicked experiential entertainment can look like. He created a  traveling theatrical road show called The Devil’s Carnival that was sort of a follow-up to Repo and eventually became a film with some of the same stars. When the movie wasn’t getting booked and promoted to theater audiences the way it should’ve been, he added interactive elements and made it a live show and movie hybrid experience, which toured theaters around the country. The self-financed bet paid off.

“It was a weird, crazy, carnival-like environment,” Bousman explains of the 2012 show, which he also did in 2014. “It allowed us to charge a premium to go see the film because it was theatrical too. We were selling out every single night. What that proved to me was there is an audience for everything. You just have to think outside of the box and I think that is what shaped my career, realizing that things have to be marketed the right way.”

After the last Carnival in 2014, Bousman became obsessed with how he was able to connect with the audience in ways beyond the cinematic, which inspired him to create immersive experiences. With heavy influences via the David Fincher thriller The Game, he created in-person and online ARG (alternative reality games) with ominous titles like The Tension ExperienceThe Lust ExperienceTheatre MacabreiConfidant, and One Day Die.

The Tension Experience, which is the thing I’m most proud of, is probably the coolest thing I’ve ever done,” he shares, explaining that it involved social media and mysterious websites, online challenges, cell phone calls, and visits to a warehouse in downtown Los Angeles where teams of actors provided information for a spooky scavenger hunt that took place in the real world. The inventive game went viral thanks to Reddit, and turned into what Bousman calls a “year-long murder mystery.” Participants had to sign waivers before becoming “the star of their own horror film,” and though the director says “it was invasive, intense, and scary,” there was never a shortage of people wanting to do it.

“It was so exciting as we started to see the viral buzz of this thing, with these people in Los Angeles living in this real-world mystery,” he recalls excitedly. “And no one knew who was running it.”

Clearly, keeping busy with creepy real-life experiences informed his directorial work. Part of Spiral’s unnerving narrative features Rock’s character getting delivered boxes with clues, which subtly references The Game, but also makes sense as part of the serial killer movie milieu.

Jackson, Bousman and Rock on set

“When I first started talking about making Spiral, several people thought I wanted to make a broad comedy, like Scary Movie or something,” Rock says. “And so I had to tell them ‘No, I’m picturing a horrifying version of Beverly Hills Cop.’ I always look at comedy as a spice. In something like Dumb and Dumber, comedy is the main course, but in a movie like Spiral, it’s just a flavor you add to the movie. So I talked to the screenwriters, and we communicated back and forth, and I basically asked them to write a frightening cop movie that works without any jokes. Then my job on set would be to add a dash of comedy spice to some of my lines.”

While Spiral has received mixed reviews so far, there is no denying the film’s fresh feel and star power. Rock might not have been an obvious choice as lead, but his comic timing and charisma make it one of the most original of the series. Adding Jackson only takes things to a satiric and stylish new realm. And yes, his character calls out the “muthafucking” insanity of the Spiral murders more than once, which is essentially a copycat situation (the “spiral” design represents the eyes of Billy the puppet, a clown-like doll Kramer used to communicate with his victims) with a whodunit storyline and not so shocking but fun twist. There’s humor there for sure, but it’s more subtle than one might expect.

Bousman’s balance of absurdity and brutality comes through so strong, we wouldn’t be surprised to see him reunite with Rock for SAW 10, and once the pandemic subsides, maybe even spiral into an immersive new theater experience with the franchise. As Rock touts, the director’s attention to detail and ability to bring audiences in makes his work riveting to watch. “Darren is a great shooter. His movies always look incredible and he has a way of creating stylized images by using quick cuts and speeding up the footage that makes everything look extremely cool,” Rock praises. “He elevates whatever he directs and adds amazing visual elements to his work.”    ❖

Learn more about Darren Lynn Bousman’s work HERE.


Beyond The Lip Sync: Everything Must Be Alaska

As RuPaul’s Drag Race cements its size 12 pump-print on culture and entertainment with a host of international offshoots, former contestants continue to use the exposure they received on the show to gain and maintain successful careers. But last year that became difficult thanks to COVID-19, which not only forced the producers to cancel their wildly successful conventions in Los Angeles and New York, but pretty much obliterated the drag community’s opportunities to perform live and make money off the fandom they earned via the TV competition.

One of the show’s most popular queens — she was a contestant on season 5 and won the subsequent year’s “All Star” competition — decided she wasn’t going to let the coronavirus take her crown. L.A.-based Alaska Thunderfuck 5000 (real name Justin Andrew Honard) seemingly became even busier during the pandemic, co-hosting her scorching Race Chaser podcast with Willam (another outspoken former RDR alum), making music and releasing videos, creating her own online drag beauty pageant and most recently, releasing her first-ever stand-up comedy special.

“I always save jokes on my phone and I just emptied out my comedy file,” the queen tells L.A. Weekly by Zoom, about the taped program’s material. The Alaska Thunderf**k Extra Special Comedy Special features some of the performer’s provocative music numbers, special guests, and stand-up comedy, off-color jokes and all. Because of the multitude of elements, it took a while to put together. “Then the pandemic hit and that sort of threw a wrench in everything,” Alaska says. “And at that point I was like I don’t even know if it’s appropriate to do a comedy special during this really difficult time. The world changed and it still is changing.”

Though it was filmed pre-pandemic at Sweet Hollywood in the Hollywood & Highland complex, the producers decided to add new elements that address what we’ve all been going through including zoom calls with Alaska’s mentors about current topics, “to put it in perspective and make it make sense with the new world.” Now that in-person nightlife is rolling out slowly post-vaccinations, the show provides a perfectly tarty taste of what’s to come for the fashion figure/funny “lady.”

While live drag shows are starting to trickle into towns across the country, the ease and scope the of web means online shows are here to stay as well.  Alaska will be doing a Britney Spears-themed club musical in New York called Blackout that will also be streamed at the end of May, and just last week, it was announced that queens from many past RDR seasons will be part of a new online festival. The “Digital Drag Fest 2021.” will see Alaska will join last season faves Tina Burner, Denali, and Utica along with fan faves Ginger Minj, Jinkx Monsoon, Jujubee, Latrice Royale, Manila Luzon, Miz Cracker, Monét X Change, Sharon Needles, Trixie Mattel, and non DR LA royalty Jackie Beat and Sherry Vine, to name just a few.

As with her comedy special, music is sure to be a part of Alaska’s segment. She’s garnered big numbers on YouTube for her side-splitting and simply infectious song stylings and accompanying videos. Chart-topping, shamelessly-named studio albums called “Anus,” “Poundcake” and “Vagina,” and catchy singles — some featuring fellow queens — have helped elevate her profile, and provided much-needed laughs and levity during lockdown, even for this writer. After a call was put out on Instagram for fans to film themselves in leopard looks (our favorite!) and tag #quarantinecouture for a chance to be in Alaska’s video for the song (Everything Must be) “Leopard Print,” we decided to participate and made into the final clip. Can you spot us?

L.A.-based queen Symone just won the current season of the hit VH1 show, and now that the virus appears to be subsiding, it’s exciting to see what she and the other queens from this past season will do with their fame. Alaska serves as a forceful example of how to get creative in terms of platform and self-promotion, even as a pandemic made doing so challenging.

“Alaska’s Drag Queen of the Year Pageant” is another example. The digital extravaganza just crowned its second-ever winner– Chicago’s own Tenderoni, who won $10,000 and will reign until 2022, when a new competition is planned.

“We started it as an experiment,” Alaska says of the competition. “There were a lot of pageants out there but they were for one type of drag only. My drag sister Lola LaCroix and I thought, ‘what would happen if there were drag kings competing against trans queens competing against cis female performers,’ and we wanted to see what all of that on the same stage would look like… so we did it and it was like one of the fiercest shows we’ve ever seen.”

The focus on this kind of spectacle featuring all gender identities and anatomies was clearly an idea whose time had come, and with Drag Race featuring it’s first trans contestant, GottMik, this past season, it seems like drag inclusivity is here to stay.

Though Alaska has clearly sashayed into new entertainment territory, she says will always be grateful to RuPaul and his show, noting that it inspired everything she is; Drag Race started airing the same year “Justin” became “Alaska Thunderfuck 5000,” which by the way was meant to be a sort of space alien glamazon persona. These days, she’s mostly just referred to as “Alaska,” due to the moniker’s expletive, but also the notoriety she’s achieved as she continues to balance bodacious comedy and queendom. Clearly the former is her focus right now, and no matter how risque or salty the material, it’s all about bringing joy.

“I really admire comedians for doing the work of being out there and taking the dark, horrible scary stuff of life and turning it around and making it a little less scary,” Alaska shares as our Zoom chat concludes.  “And I guess drag does that a little bit as well. I like talking about stuff that maybe is too much to talk about. Sometimes I get it right and sometimes I don’t. But I don’t want anyone to ever leave one of my shows feeling diminished. I want people to leave feeling empowered and happier and better.”   ❖

Links to everything Alaska here.

CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM 2021 From The Archives

Billy Crystal and Tiffany Haddish Balance Buddy Banter and Brain Disorders in ‘Here Today’

Sometimes even the schmalziest and most contrived stories turn out to be engrossing on film, saved by the charisma and chemistry of the stars involved. The dialog might elicit an eye-roll or two, and situational set-ups might be formulaic, but the actors are so committed and hence real, that we not only buy it all, we become beguiled by the back and forth between them to the very end. Here Today pulls this banter-filled balance off nicely.

Billy Crystal and Tiffany Haddish are obviously an odd pair and their first meeting at the start of the film feels terribly forced (sassy restaurant orders, snarky waiter, allergic reactions to seafood and all). But you can tell that they enjoy each other on-screen (and probably off) and soon, you’re sucked in. Will this become a budding May-December romance, a father-daughter thing or something else?

Turns out it’s something else. Crystal, who wrote, directed, and produced the relationship-driven comedy, is exploring mental illness/aging here, specifically what it’s like for a 70-something writer to suffer through the onslaught of dementia. Some scenes will be triggering for people with older parents battling such mental anguish, but that’s because they ring so true.

Crystal plays seasoned comedy writer Charlie Burnz, a legend whose current gig is as an advisor for a Saturday Night Live-style show on “the Funny Channel.” He meets Emma Payge (Haddish) after she takes the prize won by her ex-boyfriend at an auction — a free lunch with the writer.

Charlie keeps his diagnosis secret, even from his son (Penn Badgley) and daughter (Laura Benanti), the latter of whom still blames her dad for working too much and not being there when her mother died in a car accident decades ago. The family drama plays out predictably, and Emma’s presence brightens the tension, especially when she attends Charlie’s grandaughter’s bat mitzvah, which leads to everyone assuming the pair are an item.

Even the viewer isn’t sure if this will evolve into a love story, but soon it’s clear; our protagonist is still obsessed with his departed wife (Louisa Krause) to the extent that part of his dementia symptoms include reliving special moments in their relationship and ultimately the horror of her death. Charlie and Emma’s unique (platonic) relationship was destined to help Charlie share his struggles, accept his fate and prepare for it by writing a family memoir.

Co-written by former SNL contributor Alan Zweibel (who penned a short story called  “The Prize,” which served as the starting point here), there’s also some interesting behind the scenes and on-set stuff in the writers’ room of the sketch show, where the younger comic scribes question Charlie’s chops (and the viewer is likely to question theirs).  Some cringey show moments ensue — some intentional, some not– but everyone is likable and believable either way.

Here Today‘s subject matter is too dark for a typical rom-com, but Crystal hasn’t been this lovable since When Harry Met Sally. Haddish has almost as many shining moments as Meg Ryan did in the Rob Reiner classic, a film that suggested men and women really couldn’t be just friends. Decades later, this take on the buddy flick proves otherwise and suggests that unconventional relationships, especially later in life, can be just powerful as traditional courtships.   ❖

Here Today
Directed by Billy Crystal