Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM ARCHIVES From The Archives Uncategorized

On ‘Cruising’: The Hollywood Hassle

The Cruising company departs New York this week, leaving behind a load of unresolved issues. Most of these have been argued in The Voice. Some will be resolved only after the film’s release. But one issue has been overlooked that goes beyond civil rights: the obligation the city has to its people to make certain the production of a movie doesn’t mess up their lives.

•••

Two weeks ago, Steve Askinazy, age 30, co-owner of Chez Stadium Restaurant on Greenwich Avenue, former owner of the Ballroom, returned from a conference of gay and lesbian Jews in Tel Aviv. One of the first functions he attended was a meet­ing of Community Planning Board No. 2 (he is a member). Askinazy was among several who convinced the board that vio­lence would certainly erupt if Cruising were to be filmed on Christopher Street. The following day, the board sent a letter to Mayor Koch asking him to deny the film crew a permit for that locale “so as to ease the tension in our community.”

On Monday evening, August 20, Askinazy wore a University of Tel Aviv T-­shirt (the lettering was Hebrew) and a yarmulke to Sheridan Square, where he heard speakers proclaim that a symbolic victory had been won: store owners, bar owners, and residents of Christopher Street had made it impossible to film that evening because they had locked their doors, shrouded their own signs, and put up others which read: “STOP THE MOV­IE CRUISING.” Instead, the crew would shoot on West and Perry.

[related_posts post_id_1=”715930″ /]

So, with 700 protesters, Steve Askinazy marched to the new location. He kept an eye on the crowd, as did the 30 other gay marshals and the 200 cops assigned from various precincts (this figure includes the Tactical Police Force). At no time were the protesters allowed within two blocks of filming, but whistles, chants, and appeals to “Stop Cruising!” were heard as far north as 14th Street.

Earlier, there had been an incident involving the cutting of a cable wire, and one demonstrator was hit on the head by a missile. At 9:30 p.m., another confronta­tion occurred and a demonstrator was ar­rested and taken to the Sixth Precinct. An hour later, a commotion erupted on the river side of West Street. A group of ap­proximately 100 protesters tried to inch their way forward and six cops on horses charged at them, dispersing the crowd and causing pandemonium.

Askinazy, who was on the other side of the street, ran toward the commotion, hoping he could do something to cool down the crowd. Halfway there, he remembers, “Several demonstrators ran in my direc­tion, and I decided to run with them instead, away from whatever disturbance was taking place. A cop blocked my path. I spun around and another cop blocked me. The two closed in. I froze, ready for them to arrest me or tell me to leave. They threw me against a car and beat me with nightsticks. Within seconds, four other cops joined them. Six of them were beat­ing and kicking me on the back, head, and stomach. I fell to the ground. One tried to suffocate me by putting his hand over my nose and mouth. I thought I was dying. I don’t remember feeling the pain — just the terror.”

Askinazy was arrested and booked. He was charged with endangerment, resisting arrest, and harassment. He was taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital for treatment of severe bruises, stomach pains, and a con­cussion. He is still at St. Vincent’s.

[related_posts post_id_1=”721266″ /]

•••

William Friedkin, his crew, and his star, Al Pacino, invaded Jones Street Au­gust 10. Residents on the block hadn’t received prior notification. Nor had they been asked how they felt about Cruising being shot on their block. According to a Jones Street resident who didn’t want her name made public, “The cops had the street cordoned off by 8 p.m. They didn’t allow us into our buildings without first showing identification. They escorted us in. They were on practically every rooftop. At one point, they were lined up shoulder to shoulder, halfway down the street, like they were awaiting the arrival of Jimmy Carter.

“The cops are more interested in pro­tecting the rights of moviemakers than the people who live in this city. There have been instances of people being mugged in the Village and it’s taken them an hour to come. Here, they were out full force for a few minutes of movie shooting. Is this where our tax money’s going?”

•••

In Central Park, an Erie Transport truck carrying production equipment plowed through the Rambles to the spot where Paul Sorvino finds a mutilated body. The truck tore low-hanging branches off trees and left tire scars in the grass. At 26 Ninth Avenue, where the Metropolitan Community Church is housed, the crew took over a butcher sup­ply shop next door, converting it into an s&m-gear toyshop. Without notice, they shut off electricity in the building housing the church and shut down the elevators.

On August 13, they brought their equipment to 140 Claremont Avenue, near 122nd Street, and almost immediately trouble started. Once again, there had been no prior warning. Martha Williams, a cellist and faculty member at Man­hattan School of Music, noticed that “a prop man was pasting labels over our names on the mailbox and door buzzers. I told him to stop — it was illegal.” A couple of days later, he was doing it again. A neighbor started photographing him in the process and he quit. One day, the crew began shooting a scene in the lobby. Wil­liams was with several neighbors — they refused to move. “After all, this is my home,” Williams said. “This is where I’ve lived for 13 years.” The production man­ager called the cops. Four came from the 26th precinct and another four from the Tactical Police Force. They told Williams that the landlord’s lease with the film company superseded her rent lease and that she had to move from the hallway or they’d give her a summons. If she still did not move, they’d take her downtown to criminal court and put her in jail for the night. They also instructed her that she couldn’t get in or out of her building while the crew was shooting.

[related_posts post_id_1=”721260″ /]

Williams lives with her husband in Apartment 4A, next door to where the movie killer and mutilator of gay men resides (he’s played by Richard Cox). At 3 a.m. on the morning after the hallway confrontation, Williams and her husband returned to their apartment. She put the key in the lock and found she couldn’t open the door. Crazy glue had been poured on the keyhole. The couple went to the 26th precinct and called a locksmith. It cost $108 to repair the damage. When they finally got in, they found a message on the answering machine. It said, “You know, you’re a jerk. If you had cooperated with the film crew, they would have been all right and you would have been all right. You got what you deserved. Screw you.”

Brian Kirschner, who lives in Apart­ment 4C, found a sign on his door calling him “QUEEN OF THE YEAR” (Kirschner is straight). His apartment had been broken into, his lease and paycheck stolen, and his records vandalized.

The day before, Kirschner was playing his stereo when crew members began pounding on his door. They pounded so hard he thought the door would cave in. The next thing he knew, the electricity in his apartment had been cut off. They turned off the electricity in Martha Wil­liams’s apartment too, because she was using her vacuum cleaner. On Thursday, August 16, she was playing Bartok’s Sixth when the electricity was turned off, for the second time that day. It stayed off for two hours. Williams phoned the police. They said, “Call Con Ed.” She called Con Ed. They said, “Phone the police.” She phoned the Mayor’s Office for Motion Pic­tures and Television and asked for director Nancy Littlefield. She got assistant Meredith Anthony instead.

Meredith Anthony told Martha Wil­liams, “The Cruising crew is sensitive and professional.” She further said that the mayor’s office has no jurisdiction outside of actual filming on city streets.

“Do you mean that a tenant in this situation has no rights and no recourse against the city?” asked Williams. “I’m afraid that is the case,” answered An­thony. Later on, Williams spoke to Nancy Littlefield, who promised to call the prod­uction office. That was the last Williams heard from Littlefield’s office.

[related_posts post_id_1=”723357″ /]

•••

I phoned Nancy Littlefield. In fact, I called her five times during the week I wrote this story, leaving messages each time. Finally, I received a call from her assistant. “Miss Littlefield has no com­ment.” On anything? “That’s right. Miss Littlefield has no comment.”

Garbo has that option but certainly no public servant does — so I phoned the mayor’s office and complained. An hour later, Nancy Littlefield was on the phone. Had she relayed Martha William’s complaint to the Cruising production office? Yes, she replied. They assured her that Williams’s electricity would be turned on.

Littlefield reiterated that problems be­tween tenants and film crews were not within her jurisdiction. Indoor shooting is a “private, individual thing that a film company negotiates.”

Would the Cruising agonies hurt future film projects in New York?

“I don’t think it’s going to help or hinder. Censorship will hurt.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”719984″ /]

•••

When all this mishagas started, Mayor Koch summoned me to City Hall. He asked me to come alone. He wanted to explain his position. For 25 minutes, I listened to him discuss feelings. His feel­ings are he doesn’t believe the city should censor books or movies, no matter what the content. He hadn’t read the Cruising script, nor the synopsis in the Post. Besides which, that wasn’t the point. “Whether I like the script or not, the city has an obligation.”

He then went on to say that he’s “the best mayor this town has ever had, protec­ting people and their rights.” I told him to stop the soapbox. It occurred to me how touchy this business must be for him. Had he done too much for the gay community by issuing an executive order right after election? Or not enough by failing to get the gay civil-rights bill passed? Were in­nuendos to haunt him all through his administration? Why wouldn’t he try to understand the political issue of Cruising?

We were playing twin soliloquies, and I was getting mad. As I started to leave, the mayor said, “You’re not going to shake my hand?” By reflex, I shook his hand. I used to like him when he wasn’t mayor.

Cruising isn’t the only film to disrupt New York, but no other movie has caused as many problems. Godfather producer Al Ruddy conferred with Italian Americans in 1970 before filming. They made it clear they wouldn’t allow Ruddy to shoot his big wedding sequence as planned, at an Italian-owned manor on Long Island. It was shot on a Staten Island estate instead. Whistles and noisemakers slowed down filming of Cotton Comes to Harlem on Harlem Streets. Protesters claimed that Cotton depicted blacks in a stereotypical and negative manner. Badge 373, with script by Pete Hamill (who has supported Friedkin in two Daily News column and whose book, Flesh and Blood, will be made into a TV movie by Jerry Weintraub, the producer of Cruising) faced opposition from Puerto Ricans in the summer of 1973. Meetings with director Howard Koch took place at the Paramount offices. Puerto Rican spokesmen threatened that theatres showing Badge 373 would be bombed. The theatres weren’t, but the movie bombed anyway at the box office despite heavy media coverage.

[related_posts post_id_1=”721023″ /]

(Advance publicity doesn’t make a bad movie a hit. Cleopatra was the most pre­-publicized film in history due to the loony romantic shenanigans of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton during production in Rome. Nevertheless, it was a critical and financial disaster. Not even the terrorist stakeout of an embassy helped Muhammed: Messenger of God. Muhammed was pulled from theatres at the height of the Washington rumble and reinstated after the real-life drama had run it course. It didn’t benefit from the headlines. Another Time, Another Place was released in the mid ’50s after Lana Turner’s daughter stabbed Lana’s lothario lover. Lana was a big star and revelations about her abundant love life sold papers, but they couldn’t sell her stinky film.)

Several films in progress have tied up city traffic and caused entire neighbor­hoods sleepless nights. The Warriors was problematic before it was released. Real-life gangs riffed with cast members, and the producers had to pay off the toughs in order to assure peace on the shooting site.

When Kojak shot in front of Fran Lebowitz’s building in the Village, the author of Metropolitan Life innocently left her apartment carrying 25 pounds of laun­dry.“’Go back in,” production men shouted. Fran did not obey. “I’m doing my laundry,” she said. “I’m not trying to break into show business.” They let her go to the laundromat, but when she returned a cop stopped her and said, “You can’t go in there.” “Why not?” Fran inquired. “I live here.” “They’re making a Kojak mov­ie,” the cop replied. Finally, the director intervened. “Listen kid,” he said to Fran. “Help us out. You can watch us work.” Fran retorted, “I’ve got a column to knock out. Why don’t you walk upstairs with me and watch me work?”

[related_posts post_id_1=”722370″ /]

Fran is opposed to moviemaking in New York. She maintains, “It’s like the Shriner’s parade. They should have it somewhere else.”

Most everyone else is all for it. When Woody Allen films his Manhattan love sonnets, neighborhoods go out of their way to respond with generosity. When The Goodbye Girl was shot in the West 70s, simulated rain flooded half a city block; local kids splashed in it and applauded Richard Dreyfuss, who applauded back en route to his dressing-room trailer. Martin Scorcese took over East 13th between Sec­ond and Third for a few days of Taxi Driver, and the shoot was like a street carnival. Director, producer, publicist, crew, treated the citizen’s with affection and respect. They responded in kind.

Cruising is a different story. Friedkin doesn’t speak to people. I’ve no doubt that had he at least conferred with the Com­munity Planning Board, problems in Greenwich Village would have lessened. Had he dealt with gay groups, he’d have had an understanding of the inciteful na­ture of his script. If he had a sense of social justice, perhaps he’d have altered his script, which, in effect, says that murder is the result of gay sex. (The murder sequences in Cruising are filmed like prod­uction numbers in an M-G-M musical — ­each more spectacular than the last.)

[related_posts post_id_1=”715387″ /]

Ethics, professional or personal, mean nothing: Disrupting citizens’ lives is some­thing producer Weintraub and director Friedkin couldn’t care less about. (Wein­traub told Martin Burden of the Post, “I wish they’d got the title right in the picket signs. It’s Cruising, not Cruisin’ ”). Budget is relative — they’ve gone over by at least a week. However, much of the money going into Cruising is coming from reluc­tant taxpayers, and more has been lost by individual merchants such as those on Christopher Street who willingly closed their shops rather than participate in the making of the film. Thousands of police hours have gone to keep angry gays in their place while Friedkin filmed his anti-gay movie. (A sound technician at the lab where Cruising is being processed told me the film is not only anti-gay, it’s anti­-human.)

Another bit of local fallout is the mor­als division’s August 15 raids on Crisco Disco, the Mine Shaft, and the Anvil. They were the first major police raids on gay hangouts in a decade. Fourteen men were arrested and charged with selling or serving liquor without a license. Sgt. Phil­lip Tambasco of the Public Morals Division maintained, “The raids had noth­ing to do with Greenwich Village protests by homosexuals against the filming of Cruising.” Lawrence Gedda, State Liquor Authority commissioner, claims, “When one of these places hits the newspapers and gets a certain amount of notoriety, it gets raided.” Both the Mine Shaft and the Anvil received media attention because they denied Friedkin and company access to their facilities.

•••

[related_posts post_id_1=”721324″ /]

In Hollywood, Larry Marks chats from his office on the Paramount lot. Marks is vice-president of production and market­ing at Paramount. He feels that “Future movies that are potentially dangerous on an explosive subject will no longer film in New York. People there are more in tune. Films like Cruising will have to shoot in Kansas City.”

Does that mean they’ll still make mov­ies with fag jokes and anti-gay themes, but away from Manhattan? Larry Marks thinks less so. “I can feel the effects already. Industry people will be more careful about gay lifestyles and the kind of gay ingredient that should be in a script.

“To use a cliché, what you’ve done in New York is raise consciousness.”

What Cruising‘s done in New York shouldn’t happen in Kansas City.

Page 10 of 12.

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM ARCHIVES From The Archives Uncategorized

Backstage at the Oscars: “Raging Bull” and Raging Bull

Backstage at the Oscars: ‘Raging Bull’ and Raging Bull 
April 8, 1981

Early spring, they descend upon Hollywood like snow in Tibet: producers with horror films to hustle to the studios, emaciated writers with screenplays to peddle to the pro­ducers, press agents, foreign press, unemployed actors, fans from all over the globe who want to wallow in the glamour of it all, and the Oscar nominees. The lucky ones stay at the Chateau Marmont, which is as close to civilization as you can get in a town where nothing’s close to civilization. From a Chateau window, you can see the Yoga Center on Sunset Boulevard, the Liquor Locker, Schwab’s Drug Store of Lana Turner fame, and a mammoth billboard advertising The Final Conflict.

John Hurt of The Elephant Man is registered at the Chateau, as is the Raging Bull contingent. Robert De Niro is a recluse in the penthouse, Joe Pesci occupies a fifth-floor suite, and Martin Scorsese has rented a bungalow near the pool as an office where he auditions actors for The King of Comedy (De Niro and Jerry Lewis will star).

[related_posts post_id_1=”717766″ /]

Tradition has it that at 5 p.m., on Oscar night, while the sun is still shining on the Freeway, the lucky ones descend the Marmont’s carpeted staircase in thousand­-dollar tuxes and evening gowns. They lean against rococo balustrades in the lobby making light conversation while chewing their fingernails to the cuticles. An uniden­tified idiot bangs out “Hooray for Holly­wood” on the Baldwin. Limousines arrive. And in a puff, the nominees are off to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion where their fates are revealed on national television.

“After they leave, we have the quietest night of the year,” says Marmont manager Sam Heigman. “But when they return at midnight, the switchboard lights up like a Christmas tree:”

•••

It is three days before the ceremony. Joe Pesci, a short, fluffy-haired New York actor who’s been nominated for supporting De Niro in Raging Bull, is quietly chewing his nails while seated on a piece of Moorish sectional in his Chateau suite. Although Pesci’s onscreen performance is full of sound and fury, offscreen he’s shy and reticent. He says he was signed for Bull after he had given up acting. He was working in a restaurant when old pal Rob­ert De Niro told him he thought he was the right guy to play his brother in the movie.

Pesci’s not sure about the mechanics behind his nomination. “No one said any­thing directly, but I think it started when Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times had some good things to say about my performance. After that, United Ar­tists took out ads every few days in the Hollywood Reporter.”

How did he find out he was nominated? “I just heard it on the radio while I was driving my car,” he says. “Then a couple of days later, I got a telegram from Marty Scorsese wishing me congratulations.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”649527″ /]

Supporting Oscar nominations can be death to actors. It’s known as the Mercedes McCambridge syndrome; instead of being a step up, it’s a step to nowhere. Pesci received a few offers after his nomination but most were for roles in television films. He wasn’t interested. Before Raging Bull, he would have taken commercials, but tel­evision, he feels, is 10 steps backwards. He’d rather wait until another good film part comes along.

Three weeks ago, Pesci came to Califor­nia to see a friend, get some sun, play golf, and just hang out. Then United Artists moved him into the Chateau Marmont. They’re paying his rent for a week, but he’s reluctant to talk up the picture. He especially doesn’t like the idea of hyping Rag­ing Bull on TV.

“I’m not an excitable person,” he says between short telephone conversations with Scorsese and De Niro. “I can’t be doing flips for six months because I’m nominated. I grew up with the Oscars and I’m proud to be honored, but I still can’t help feeling that they made a big mistake.”

Was Pesci preparing himself for the emotional trauma of Oscar night? Yes. By not thinking about it. Should he win, he says, “I’ll not make a speech. If I did, I’d have to think of a lot of nice things to say to a lot of nice people. What I’ll probably do is talk to the actors who never receive recognition and say something inspirational to them. I’d like to say it without being dramatic.”

Joe Pesci lost to Timothy Hutton, who won for Ordinary People. He didn’t have a chance not to be dramatic.

[related_posts post_id_1=”721023″ /]

•••

No one is busier, glitzier, sillier, stodgier, or more sincere than Miss Rona. She is the Ed Koch of tinseltown, the populist, the moralist, the kid to kid. She is phony. She is real. She is Hollywood.

“Now, Carol,” asked Miss Rena on TV the morning after Carol Burnett won her libel suit against the National Enquirer. “Was there ever any time when the suit affected your relationship with your hus­band?”

“No, Rona,” answered Miss Carol, even ­more sincerely. “Joe has always been very supportive.”

Burnett’s victory has divided Hollywood. Drugstore cowboys at Schwab’s feel the jurors were predisposed to hate the ­Enquirer, If you live in Hollywood, you’ve got to be. Perhaps the Enquirer was punished far too severely, but to quote director Arthur Hiller (he’s making Making Love at Fox), “They’ve unfairly maligned so many celebrities, I’m glad Burnett responded and got her million-six.”

Yet one can’t help wondering if there is a correlation between Burnett’s suit during this Reagan conservative period and the innumerable lawsuits instituted against Confidential magazine during the McCarthy era. Ten celebrity suits are pending against the Enquirer. The L.A. Times reports “there may be an even more determined effort by the tabloid to defend itself against them.”

Burnett’s victory knocked Oscar out of the news, the weekend before the telecast. It was the talk of Hollywood.

[related_posts post_id_1=”687728″ /]

•••

So much tension, so much excitement, so much activity during Oscar week. Visiting here is like spending a day at the Club Baths. United Artists invites the press to meet its “new star in town,” Mrs. Frisby, the animated rat heroine of a feature-length fantasy now in production. MGM opens its Culver City gates to journalists and and sneaks scenes from Pennies from Heaven (Christopher Walken doing a bump-and-grind strip, Bernadette Peters shaking her ninotchkas in Steve Martin’s  face, Steve Martin dancing incredibly well for a comedian), followed by a luncheon on a sound stage (lox, shrimp, strawberries, cheesecake, and columnist Aaron Gold), followed by a set visit (Herbert Ross directing Steve and Bernadette in a replica of Fred and Ginger’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance number)”.

Filmex is about to open with Atlantic City, the American Film Market at the Westwood Marquis Hotel has been run­ning for a week, and the Publicists Guild gives a luncheon at the Beverly Hilton (chicken fried in canned pineapple, broc­coli spears, publicist Renee Furst) at which Mary Crosby, Ron Howard, John House­man, Natalie Wood, and Linda Purl present “showmanship” awards. Goldie Hawn gets one as “the motion picture showman of the year,” a sexist title to numb Goldie’s feminist consciousness. Accumulating pre-Oscar awards has an effect on Academy voters, but no one expects Goldie to win for Private Benjamin. And she doesn’t.

Academy voters are desensitized and lobotomized by trade paper ads: Oscar winners are judged less by the the amount of money a studio will spend to plug what it’s pushing. Warner Bros. can take out approximately 20 Hollywood Reporter ads between Christmas and Oscar night lauding Goldie for Private Benjamin (the ads undoubtedly helped her get a nomination), but Universal will top them with 30 hailing Sissy Spacek in Coal Miner’s Daughter (an entirely new Oscar ad campaign was mounted). Major consideration is a studio’s investment in future projects for the nominee. Sissy is currently looping Raggedy Man for Uni­versal, which the studio feels could be as big as Coal Miner’s Daughter.

If an actor doesn’t play ball with the studio, he’s forgotten at Oscar time. Barry Miller got the best reviews for Fame and should have been pushed for a supporting nomination. He bad-mouthed the film. MGM didn’t hype Miller in any of Fame‘s innumerable trade paper ads; Two years ago, Paramount took out a paltry three Hollywood Reporter ads promoting Susan Sarandon in King of the Gypsies. Susan felt she was shafted: this was her finest moment. However Paramount was pushing co-star Eric Roberts as their Trav­olta of the future. Susan bought a couple of ads with her own money. Neither she nor Roberts was nominated, and Roberts’s movie career came to a standstill. (Ironically, his first film since King of the Gypsies is Raggedy Man, and the word is that he’s excellent.)

At the Publicists Guild luncheon, a Universal executive explains that “it’s all up to the gods. We can only push a little.” He thinks the Academy voters might choose Eva Le Gallienne for Resurrection because she’s old and she’s got lines like “If we could only love each other the way we say we do.” If, by some fluke, Ellen Burstyn wins for Resurrection (she doesn’t) her Oscar would bring the crowds in. Moviegoers adore Resurrection, he says, but the problem all along has been getting them to see it.

“Whatever it’s worth, whatever the cynicism, Oscar symbolizes the mystique and glamour of Hollywood,” proclaims Camille Lane, Universal’s advertising di­rector. “For those of us in the business, it is our one reaffirming moment of glory.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”613761″ /]

•••

Oscar means different things to dif­ferent people. To the owner of the Blue Parrot in West Hollywood, it’s renting a six-foot screen and listening to customers wonder if Angie had a face lift and why Sissy doesn’t get a good hairdresser. To the display designer at Ah Men on Santa Monica Boulevard, it’s a window with a Raging Bull poster and a mannequin in red boxer shorts. To Swifty Lazar, it’s hosting yet another star-studded bash up­stairs at the Bistro. To William Morris super agent Joan Hyler, “Oscar night is not just another business evening, but a rit­ual.”

This is Hyler’s second Oscar night. In 1975, she sat next to a nominee “who was drunker than anybody I’ve ever seen. I spent the entire evening worrying whether he’d throw up on my new Halston.”

Hyler’s date this year is client Peter O’Toole, nominated for The Stunt Man. She believes that a nomination separates  an actor from his peers. It’s prestigious, of course, but you can also up a performer’s price: With some actors, like De Niro and Robert DuVall, a nomination will Solidify what they’re already earning. Mary Steen­burgen’s worth should be affected because she’s new and young and on the brink of becoming a major movie star.

“For Peter O’Toole, the nomination makes Hollywood happy to have him back again. Peter’s been gone too long: he has an enormous talent. Unfortunately, you’ve got to keep reminding them. Hollywood’s a town with a very short memory,” says Hyler, whose clients include Patti Davis. The president’s daughter has done a very effective reading for a part in Scorsese’s The King of Comedy, and is supposed to be in the audience at the Oscar show.

[related_posts post_id_1=”719986″ /]

•••

Monday morning, March 30, the day the Oscars are scheduled. The Tuxedo Center on Sunset Boulevard resembles Mamie Stover’s whorehouse in Guam during World War IL Male customers line up outside. They all look anxious. Inside, they’re measured. They fork out $50 for a day’s tuxedo rental. The price includes studs.

At the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the bleachers are filled. The broadcast is still eight hours away. Fans are young. Many have brought sleeping bags, blankets, food, and portable television sets. Greg Aiken., 21, from Del Mar, arrived 36 hours ago and has been sleeping on a bench and using bathroom facilities at a nearby service sta­tion. Seven women from San Diego arrived the afternoon before and waited outside the stage door to see the stars come in to rehearse. Sissy Spacek was real nice. Donald Sutherland wore red shoes. Peter O’Toole looked tired and worn. Lily Tomlin signed autographs. Diana Ross was rude, Angie Dickinson asked, “Are you from the Enquirer?”, Robert Redford rushed in with his head down. “You can bet we won’t ski at his lodge,” says the den mother of the San Diego group, “and we’ll remember his behavior when we see his movies.”

It’s an innocent, good-spirited, picnic­ — more Woodstock than Day of the Locust. Several fans carry posters: “We love you Jane Fonda.” “Hooray for Sissy.” “Why isn’t Madeline Kahn nominated?” whines a bobby-soxer. “Because she doesn’t de­serve to be,” snaps a teeny-bopper.

Everyone has an opinion.

Back at Schwab’s the visiting reporter asks Barbara the cashier if the drugstore’s gone Oscar crazy today.

“No, it’s gone Ronald Reagan crazy.” Has he decided to appear in person instead of on film? “No. He was shot in Washington an hour ago.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”718092″ /]

•••

Televisions blare from every room in the Chateau Marmont. Reagan’s in surgery. Jim Brady’s near death. Maureen Reagan is furious. Michael Reagan is sad­dened. Dan Rather’s in tears. The coun­try’s gone crazy. The world’s about to col­lapse. Again.

The telephone rings: Joan Hyler’s sec­retary to say they’ve just gotten word from the Academy that the Oscars have been postponed until tomorrow. Marilyn Beck goes on ABC News to explain that the Oscar ball scheduled for the Beverly Hilton will now conflict with the closing night banquet of the American Film Mar­ket on Tuesday — caterers and florists are facing a major dilemma, and beauticians in Beverly Hills are going crazy. Later, a press agent, who’s scheduled a private par­ty for 50, phones complaining that he can’t fit all that quiche into his freezer so he’s giving a Reagan-watch party instead. A publicist from United Artists calls explain­ing that he’s having a terrible time rescheduling limousines: At the Chateau’s front desk, the manager cries, “I’m in trou­ble. I won’t have rooms for tomorrow.” An actor in the lobby (not nominated) won­ders if the assassination attempt is con­sidered an Act of God and if Tuxedo Cen­ter will charge him another day’s rental.

Oscar nominee Mary Steenburgen calls, too. She’s feeling “real disturbed.” Mary and her husband, Malcolm McDowell, have decided to watch television and eat in. “I’m glad they cancelled the show,” she says. ”It’s inappropriate that performers receive awards tonight. Right now, I feel a great deal of rage about the lack of gun control in this country. Like everybody else, I’m feeling real sad.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”716024″ /]

•••

Tuesday. The themes of politics, assassination, celebrity, and movies have never been more dramatically visible than backstage on Oscar night. A block away from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, a bomb squad truck blares its way toward the arena. Security has been stepped up. Usually 200 guards are on duty. This year, 350 policemen, sheriff’s deputies, and private plainclothesmen patrol inside and outside the hall. Many actors bring along their own bodyguards. Richard Pryor is always within thumb’s reach of his Man Mountain Dean.

An hour before the show, word filters to the press about John Hinckley’s letters to Jodie Foster, including the final one, not mailed, confessing his unrequited love and stating, “There is a definite possibility that I will be killed in my attempt to get Reagan.” The immediate reaction is life imitates art: Taxi Driver with Hinckley playing De Niro, minus Marty Scorsese’s direction. Especially in Hollywood, this sort of news upstages the Oscars.

Each year, before the Oscar show, Daily Variety columnist Army Archerd greets celebrity arrivals and pulls them up to a makeshift stage below the bleachers. He exchanges small talk with heavy-duty nominees as well as stars of yesterday like Cesar Romero and Gale Sondergaard. They wave at the fans (Angie Dickinson: “Thank you for being so patient”) and the fans, in turn, wave back and scream their approval. Hawn, Burstyn, Spacek, Moore, Duvall, Redford, but no De Niro or Scorsese. Would they attend? As it turned out, they either arrived hours early, or sneaked in a side door.

From the sidelines, one gathers that Oscar is an affair for those giving and getting awards, their families, Los Angeles society matrons, and studio executives. It is not an all-out industry celebration. Stars in disfavor this year, such as Barbra Streisand, Raquel Welch, and Al Pacino, stay away. Actors in TV series appear by the limousine-load. Bleacher babies know their faces and their TV names, but don’t know their real names

At 7 p.m., the press is allowed to enter the backstage area. We hear Reagan’s vid­eotape welcoming speech, while 200 of us wait patiently for a lone elevator that holds 10. The press room is Kafka interpreted by Bobby Short: men in tails and women in silken gowns beat out copy on 50-year-old Remingtons in uninterrupted rows of For­mica tables. Four 19-inch TV sets telecast the show, and a public relations woman keeps track of winners on a huge scoreboard, the way Nathan Detroit did in Guys and Dolls. In the TV media room, Miss Rona occupies a front row space (to Jack Lemmon: “Do you have any advice to give Timothy Hutton?” “Make Rona hap­py,” says Mary Tyler Moore to Lemmon. “Give Tim some advice”). In the photogra­pher’s room, Ron Gallela leads a brigade of accredited paparazzi (free-lancers are treated like dirt and kept the same dis­tance as the fans) all bringing their own unique vision to the very same photo­graphs.

[related_posts post_id_1=”717703″ /]

Had God given each journalist four eyes and ears, we’d watch the Oscars on the monitor screens at the same time we photograph or interview an entirely dif­ferent set of celebrities. Instead, we have to be selective. Nastassia Kinski and Sigourney Weaver in person gorgeously win out over the best short subject presen­tation on the tube.

Only award winners and presenters make the backstage rounds. Losers are spared the embarrassment. Sissy Spacek is the only star to make two backstage ap­pearances, having doled out an award for art direction, then winning one herself for best actress. Sissy says she’s relieved the awards are over: she isn’t in a celebratory mood.

Because there is so much glamour and power to select from, lesser award winners are ignored completely while their pres­enters are lauded and interviewed to death. Lily Tomlin appears in the press room with the winner of Special Optical Effects, but he might as well have been the incredible shrinking woman in the kitchen sink. Lily wonders why the Academy hadn’t junked the Reagan tape. “They should have made a new one from his hospital bed. That would have been an unqualified up for the people.”

Some reporters hog the stars. Radie Harris of the Hollywood Reporter hugs Tomlin. Peter O’Toole kisses Radie. Shirley Eder of the Detroit Free Press asks Lesley-Anne Down if she can check out the label on the inside of her dress — and does. Will Tusher of Variety yells, “It isn’t fair for others if the stars only talk to their friends in the media,” which prompts an­other journalist to yell, “They should only talk to their friends.” (Tusher is the most persistent interviewer, and asks the most inane questions. Radie and Shirley want to kill him.)

How each celebrity is treated depends on how he is perceived by the press. Mary Steenburgen, overjoyed with her support­ing award for Melvin and Howard, is met with affection. Diana Ross with goggle­-eyed awe. Lillian Gish with respect.

[related_posts post_id_1=”153659″ /]

Best screenplay winner Bo (Melvin and Howard) Goldman is chatting with the press when suddenly someone says, “Hold it.” Twenty newsmen turn their backs on Goldman to watch Robert Redford deliver his acceptance speech for best director (Ordinary People). They never get back to Goldman.

Redford generates a feeling of being either above it or below it all and is not a favorite in the press room. He exudes in­telligence, but his answers to questions are vague. He insists he’d never act in and direct the same film. He derides Holly­wood for “the current trend toward pyrotechnics,” and says he wants to make more intimate films which deal with emo­tions and social conditions.

There’s something about Redford — the blondness, the coolness, the good looks, everything that’s been written about before — that must be as awkward for him as it is for the person dealing with him. He makes you feel a little grubby. No one asks him to speak out about the assassination attempt or comment on Johnny Carson’s crack about Fort Apache, Charlie Chan, and Cruising (“It was a bad year if you were a gay Chinese from the Bronx”), or about Carson’s comments on Reagan’s cuts in arts funding or about the Burnett National Enquirer decision. So you talk direction and Ordinary People.

On the other hand, Robert De Niro is painfully shy. He rarely gives interviews. The press — at least, in New York — respects him and leaves him alone. Redford directed Ordinary People but De Niro is ordinary people, and what should have been one of the most gratifying evenings of his life turns into a nightmare.

When he accepts his Oscar for Raging Bull, De Niro concludes his speech by ac­knowledging “the terrible things that hap­pened in the world.” Then he takes a deep breath, clutches his trophy, and makes the backstage rounds. In the photo room, Ron Gallela asks him to hold a photograph of himself as Jake La Motta close to his face. This is not De Niro’s style, but he com­plies, with embarrassment. He enters the print media room as Sissy Spacek is being interviewed, and, as inconspicuously as possible listens to ebullient Sissy dispense quotes like “I’ve had the longest adolescence known to man or beast.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”718216″ /]

Then he faces the firing squad. Because of his distance with newsmen, there is no “hi, Bob, kiss, kiss, congratulations, kid­do.” Formalities are dispensed with in­stantly. The topic is assassination.

Somebody asks him to comment on the reports that Hinckley had used De Niro’s part in Taxi Driver as a model for his one­way relationship with Jodie Foster.

“That’s a whole different thing that happened,” he mutters. “It’s a loaded question.” De Niro’s eyes dart around the room, avoiding the eyes of journalists. The faint smile he had offered on arrival has disappeared. So has any semblance of joy. He looks terrified.

“It’s a question I don’t want to be asked. It’s hard to answer something like that. It’s an assumption. It’s not what it is.”

But isn’t it’true that … but didn’t CBS report that … but didn’t Hinckley say that …

Piranha time.

De Niro mumbles “I said what I had to say when I accepted the award. You’re really all very nice, but I have to go.”

And De Niro goes. He bypasses the TV room. He is spared the obligatory emo­tional content questions by Miss Rona. He skips the Beverly Hilton ball and heads straight back to his penthouse at the Chateau Marmont.

At midnight, the Chateau’s switchboard lights up like a Christmas tree. De Niro isn’t taking calls.

Oscar night is over. ■
Categories
Equality From The Archives PRIDE ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Stonewall 1979: Gays in Hollywood

The Closet Syndrome: Gays in Hollywood
June 25, 1979

In January 1969, Variety screeched: HOMO N’ LESBO FILMS AT PEAK — DEVIATE THEME NOW BOX OFFICE. It was the year of The Boys in the Band, the culmination of a decade in which Hollywood seized upon homosexuality as a seamier side of the American dream. In one year, 1968, there were more films dealing with homosexuality than in the three decades since the coming of sound. Lesbians and gay men in the movies were pathological, predatory, and dangerous; we were villains and fools, but never heroes. It was side­show time.

In The Legend of Lylah Clare, Rosella Falk played a cobra-eyed, dope-addicted dyke with the hots for Kim Novak. In Petulia, Richard Chamberlain was the wife-beater with a lech for young boys. Rod Steiger blew his brains out after kissing John Philip Law in The Sergeant. Sandy Dennis died when a tree fell be­tween her legs in The Fox. Homosexuals were prime suspects in The Boston Strangler, rapists in Riot, and hairdressers or queens in No Way to Treat a Lady and Valley of the Dolls. Fear, hiding, and self-destruction — the closet syndrome — were implicit in all these films. Homosexuality was the dirty secret in the last real.

The mechanism of the closet is exposed in Robert Aldrich’s The Killing of Sister George in which the alternative to in­visibility is assimilation. Beryl Reid’s George is “killed” by the safely closeted BBC exec Coral Browne, who uses sex as power to take away her lover and her career. The crime of fat, drunken, tweedy old George is not that she’s a lesbian, but that she’s so repugnantly butch. She is ruined for not “passing.” The ethic of the closet is also advanced in The Boys in the Band, which coincided neatly with the birth of the activist gay movement in America. “If we could just not hate ourselves so much.” Mart Crowley’s pas­sion play was a catharsis. The ’60s had pried open the closet door.

Ten years later, the gay audience has been courted by almost every medium, even when it has not been openly acknowl­edged. Plays, books, magazines, and even television shows have presented a steady stream of real and fictional gay situations. But at the movies, very little has changed. During the ’70s, gays died violent deaths in Diamonds Are Forever, The Day of the Jackal, Freebie and the Bean, The Eiger Sanction, Swashbuckler and even Truf­faut’s Day for Night. We were psychotic killers and tearoom cruisers in The Laugh­ing Policeman and Busting. Fags and dykes were evil white slavers in Drum and Mandingo, gang leaders and dope pushers in Cleopatra Jones. We were “cured” in M*A*S*H and Tell Me That You Love Me Junie Moon, and committed suicide in Ode to Billy Joe, Play It As It Lays and The Betsy. Another decade of villains and fools. But still no heroes.

[related_posts post_id_1=”715273″ /]

American screen heroes have changed very little since 1945 when Billy Wilder directed Charles Jackson’s The Lost Weekend for Paramount. In Jackson’s novel the hero’s alcoholism is the result of a father fixation aggravated by false accusation of homosexuality. Onscreen, he is driven to drink by writer’s cramp. The film’s producer best articulated the reason for this change. “If the drunk isn’t an extremely attractive fellow, who apart from being a drunk could be a hell of a nice guy, the audiences won’t go for it.” The hero can’t be queer.

In 1961 Dwight Macdonald reported in Esquire that screenwriter George Axelrod had “straightened out” the Truman Capote character in Breakfast at Tiffany’s for George Peppard. In 1965, references to the unorthodox sexuality of Clyde Barrow were trimmed from the original script for Bonnie and Clyde. Warren Beatty could play an impotent killer, but not a queer. In 1975, Billy Joe McAllister took his secret to a watery grave in Ode to Billy Joe. “He’s on his way to becoming a legend around here,” says his girlfriend. “Can’t have people thinking he killed himself because of a man.” When Alan Parker directed Billy Hayes’s Midnight Express in 1979, it happened again. The consummation of a homosexual affair which Hayes describes in his book is halted in the film by a gentle but manly rejection. “I made that decision,” says Parker, “because I couldn’t afford to have my audience think my hero was a homosexual.”

Gay fiction is big business, but not one homosexual hero has reached the screen. Film projects based on the life story of tennis star Bill Tilden and James Kirkwood’s Good Times/Bad Times were repeatedly announced in the trade press, but never materialized. According to An­drew Sarris, the Tilden project was dropped because of “nervousness about its unsavory nature.” Producers Ira Yerkes and Amie Reisman told the Los Angeles Times in April 1978 that “Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle will be made into a film even if we have to go kicking and screaming into the next decade with it.” Their option recently expired and there are no new offers. Ray Agayhari tried for three years to get a film version of Laura Z. Robson’s Consenting Adult off the ground. The story of a mother who must come to terms with her son’s homosexuality “was turned down by all the major studios with enormous promptness,” according to the author. Hobson could sell Jews to Hollywood in 1947 when she wrote Gentleman’s Agreement, but she couldn’t sell them gays in 1979. “They’re scared to death of this one,” she says. Now the story has been optioned for the New York stage.

[related_posts post_id_1=”715288″ /]

The most celebrated failure to produce a film from gay fiction involves Patricia Nell Warren’s bestseller, The Front Runner. Originally optioned by Paul Newman, it was finally dropped when problems arose in obtaining an acceptable screenplay. “I’m not ready for a cop-out,” said Newman in a Blueboy interview. “I won’t tolerate this project being turned into a watered-down love story or substituting a female for Billy, as has been suggested by people who should know better.”

All proposed versions of The Front Runner have included sex between the Olympic runner and his coach, which is the reason it’s been so difficult to cast. “I was willing to do it,” said Richard Thomas, approached to play opposite Newman, “but a lot of key people are afraid.” Most actors are as reluctant as ever to play homosexuals for fear that the audience will confuse them with their roles. When Perry King was about to accept the role of a gay man in A Different Story, he was warned by his friend Sylvester Stallone, “Don’t play no faggots.” Michael Winner’s The Mechanic was originally a story about the love between two professional killers, but Charles Bronson and Jan Michael Vincent agreed to do it only after explicit sex scenes had been deleted from the script.

To do otherwise might have doomed the film. John Schlesinger had the effrontery to show Peter Finch and Murray Head kissing on the lips in Sunday Bloody Sunday and people stayed away in droves. Al Pacino carried Dog Day Afternoon, but Sidney Lumet was careful to wait until halfway through the film before letting his audience know the bank robber’s sexuality. And in most local theaters the reaction was a chorus of catcalls and boos. As Pacino says in the film when John Cazale complains that the TV is calling him a homosexual, “It doesn’t matter, Sal. It’s only a freak show to them.”

What has changed is the heterosexual hero. “Men never used to be able to have emotional lives on film; now they do,” says Ron Gold, media adviser for the National Gay Task Force. “Look at Coming HomeThe Deerhunter, and even Saturday Night Fever. As we move into a redefinition of roles in the movies, gayness will become more acceptable.”

Yet, the fact that heterosexuals are more vulnerable on the screen has produced a hesitancy about homosexuality. There is a defensiveness in the way audiences cheer all the violence in Midnight Express and yell “Gross!” and “Disgusting!” when the gay scene comes on. A musical number like “White Boys” can serve as delightful burlesque in a film like Hair, but when Woof is asked if he’s homosexual, the answer is a resounding no. He wouldn’t throw Mick Jagger out of bed, but he’s not queer. John Travolta can dance up a storm in Saturday Night Fever, and even be the kind of hero who refuses to taunt a local faggot on the street. But in Moment by Moment, he goes too far. His “passive” role drew critical wrath clearly aimed at the abdication of his masculinity. David Denby termed him “Jane Russell with a hairy chest — a bimbo.” Stewart Klein chided director Jane Wagner for “knowing nothing about heterosexual relations.” More recently, Klein attacked the French film, La Cage Aux Folles, by implying that only a gay critic could find its role reversal jokes funny.

The waters are being continuously tested. When Casablanca Filmworks re­cently pre-tested its disco film, Thank God It’s Friday, in the Midwest, producer Kenny Freidman studied the reaction of audiences to a scene of two gay men dancing together amid a sea of heter­osexual couples. He found that the gays in the audience “got it” and the straights “never saw a thing.” Which is exactly what he wanted. If there had been any negative reaction, the scene would have been dropped.

[related_posts post_id_1=”715286″ /]

Deletions have been common in other films. The lover relationship between Wil­liam Devane and Roy Scheider in Mara­thon Man was simply not retained. An Unmarried Woman lost a sequence which made concrete the lesbianism of Jill Clay­burgh’s therapist. According to screenwriter Arthur Laurents, a subplot in The Turning Point involving a long-term gay relationship was excised by nervous Herb Ross, a director whose work, The Owl and the Pussycat, Funny Lady, and The Goodbye Girl, has been consistently homophobic. “It wasn’t even a question of saying anything in The Turning Point, ” says Laurents. “It was just my feeling that it was dishonest and lacking in texture to do a movie about the ballet world and not have homosexuals.”

One reason gays haven’t fared well in films, says John Watson of the Los An­geles Times, is that “closeted homosexuals working within the industry obstruct projects that have positive gay themes.” After several attempts to interview gay people at various film companies, I asked a woman in charge of advertising and promotion for the Robert Stigwood Or­ganization (Tommy, Saturday Night Fever, Moment by Moment) if there were any openly gay people in the film industry. She was incredulous. “But nobody is openly anything!” she said.

Recent announcements in the Holly­wood trade press that Grease impresario Alan Carr was planning a “gay-themed” film about the rise of The Village People drew swift demands for a retraction. Dis­coland: Where the Music Never Stops, which begins shooting on Fire Island on August 1, will chronicle the rise of The Village People against the backdrop of a love affair between Bruce Jenner and Valerie Perrine. Bruce Vilanch, co-author of the screenplay, has written for Bette Midler and Peter Allen, and is responsible for an album of gay humor called Out of the Closets. He confirms what I was told on the telephone: “Discoland was never conceived as a gay project. The few gay characters in the film will not appear in any sexual situation unless it’s a heter­osexual one. We had to absolutely steer away from that. Trying to have a gay hero is the easiest way to write yourself a flop.”

But what about gays who are victims of their own villainy? William Friedkin, who directed The Boys in the Band 10 years ago, is scheduled to begin shooting Gerald Walker’s 1970 novel, Cruising, in New York this summer. Friedkin has been scouring New York’s gay ghetto, scouting locations like The Mine Shaft, The Anvil, and the waterfront as background for the story of a psychotic killer who murders gay men. Since Friedkin has written the screenplay himself and reportedly thrown out the entire book with the exception of the three main characters, nobody is sure how Cruising will turn out. Author Gerald Walker hasn’t seen the screenplay and knows only what he reads in the papers. “It’s a novel about homophobia,” he says, “about how we hate and fear and try to destroy in others what we hate and fear in ourselves.” But one studio executive speculated that Cruising would be a “cross between The French Connection and The Boys in the Band.”

Meanwhile, the New York gay community seems to be going out of its way to be cooperative. It’s reported that Friedkin even got permission to shoot in The Mine Shaft, usually very touchy about privacy. A few weeks ago, a casting call went out for over 200 extras. Word was that they were looking for costume types — clones, leathermen, and handkerchiefed street cruisers — and that extras were being given 15-minute interviews, unheard of in casting circles. One actor who showed for an audition reported that two employees of The Mine Shaft were present in full dress leather. The casting woman remarked at one point that they would probably have to make a deal with the Screen Actor’s Guild because “SAG extras don’t want to do what’s required.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”594245″ /]

So far, no actor has been signed to play the murderer who spends his time looking at old movies with submerged gay themes — like Strangers on a Train — before going out to kill. Al Pacino has accepted the role of the detective (described in the book as “a hater” of Jews, blacks, and homosexuals). After being rejected at Fox,Warners, and Paramount, the film will now be released by U.A.’s Lorimar Productions. Friedkin is said to have changed the basic plot so that events in his film will recall actual incidents of violence in waterfront sex hangouts. “They’re going for the out front sex-for-sex-sake aspect of the gay community,” says playwright Doric Wilson, “and that’s certainly there — it’s not a lie. Are we supposed to expect that as we become more visible, people won’t film this? If the film shows that gays can be the principal enemies of gays, then that’s a valuable thing to say.”

Cruising won’t be alone in its explora­tion of violence by and against gays. Paramount will release the film version of Lucien Truscott, IV’s Dress Gray, which has at its center the West Point cover­up of a homosexual murder. French director Jacques Scandalari’s New York After Midnight, scripted by Louisa Rose (Sisters) tells the story of a woman who discovers that her husband is gay. Her psychotic tendencies are triggered, causing her to murder five — or seven — gay men. The editing isn’t complete yet. Jacques Morali will do the score and his group, The Village People, will sing a song in the film.

This may be the inevitable breakthrough of the “gay film market” everyone predicts. Frank Perry (David and LisaDiary of a Mad Housewife) has announced that he has an acceptable script (but no stars) and plans to begin shooting The Front Runner this summer. The dread Herb Ross is busy filming the life story Nijinsky before Ken Russell gets hold of it. Arthur Laurents is set to direct his own screenplay of a film called After Love, which examines the breakup of a heterosexual marriage. “The wife in the film has a brother who is gay and who has been with his lover for longer than she’s been married. It makes a statement about gay relationships.”

Dozens of film people were eager to talk off the record about gay actors who have won Oscars, gay pop stars who cruise Santa Monica Boulevard, performers who use their academy awards as dildoes, and other fascinating ephemera. But when I ask about openly gay people in tinseltown who might risk getting involved in the production of films which explore gay life, there is silence.

One young Hollywood producer wouldn’t even give me the names of people to interview at his production company. “It’s not time yet,” he said. “But it’s bound to happen soon. Someone will make the one blockbuster that proves you can make a million dollars on this market and then everyone will get into the act. It’s just a matter of time.”

[related_posts post_id_1=”580293″ /]

Some of My Best Friends Make Movies

Throughout the ’70s, lesbians and gay men with little money and no power in the film business have persistently attempted to capture their own truth about the gay experience on film. In 1971, Melvin Nelson’s Some of My Best Friends Are… was the Grand Hotel of ghetto drama. Boasting cameo performances by Peg Murray, Rue McLanahan, Carleton Carpenter, Gary Sandy, and Fannie Flagg, and a tour de force by the late Candy Darling, the film gained a cult following, but has been buried by American Interna­tional Pictures.

Slices of gay life outside the U.S. have fared better in recent years. Richard Ben­ner’s Outrageous! was made in Canada for $160,000, financed largely by the Canadi­an film Development Corporation, a gov­ernment agency. Money doesn’t come as easily to gay directors in America. Peter Adair and five other filmmakers spent four years trying to raise the money to complete Word Is Out. Finally, WNET put up $50,000 for the chance to air it on Channel 13 soon after its release. Ron Peck and Paul Hallam spent five years in London trying to finance what Variety called “a gay version of Looking for Mr. Goodbar.” Their film, Nighthawk, is about a gay teacher who is caught up in the bar syndrome; it follows his nightly cruising ritual with uncanny perception. The climax is a classroom sequence during which his young students suddenly ask if it’s true that he’s queer. Nighthawk was well-received in Europe and was screened this year at Cannes, but it hasn’t found a a U.S. distributor.

In 1969, Paramount shelved a film called As Pretty Does, the story of a hustler who moves in with a drag queen. The two fall in love, but the hustler, under pressure from his straight friends, finally beats his lover and leaves. The drag queen sings a torch song. Paramount may have missed the boat on that one. Ten years later, Harvey Fierstein’s autobiographical International Stud covered similar ground and became an enormous hit.

Andre Brassard’s Once Upon a Time in the East, a compelling film about gay life in the East End of Montreal, had never had a commercial run in America. Christopher Larkin’s A Very Natural Thing met with such advertising and distribution problems that its director was cowed into silence and disillusionment. “It just isn’t worth it,” he told the L.A. Times last year. “The only way to do it is if you’re risking someone else’s money and then you have to find some pretty naive people or some awfully good friends.”

Yet, with a little help from their friends, gay filmmakers in the last few years have produced scores of movies on all aspects of gay life: Jan Oxenburg’s A Comedy in Six Unnatural Acts, Michael McNeill’s I Love His Legs, and Harvey Mark’s I’m Not From Here. TRUXX documents a recent police raid on a Montreal gay bar and Paul/David: High School is a film about two teenage lovers. Tomas Gaspar has even parodied a series of Oil of Olay commercials, using gay men as ethnic models from all over the world.

There may never be a Hollywood market for this kind of exploration on film. Gays who are seeking a radical celluloid vision of their lifestyle must look to independents. The Grease audience may not be interested, but if we continue to look to Hollywood for a validation of ourselves we’ll all be swallowed up like poor old Sister George, whose only crime was her refusal to be a fake.

Vito Russo is completing a book about lesbians and gay men in American film, entitled The Celluloid Closet, to be published soon by Harper & Row.

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM ARCHIVES

“Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood” Spoiler: More Old Stars Were Queer Than You Thought

Matt Tyrnauer’s documentary Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood follows Scotty Bowers, a World War II veteran (now 95) who, after he was discharged, became a sex worker and pimp. Cary Grant, Walter Pidgeon, Randolph Scott, and Tom Ewell were among the famous clients Scotty calls “tricks” in the same charmingly anachronistic way he calls everyone “baby.” Describing how he made money both from pimping out young, underemployed men and from the voyeurs who watched them, he exclaims, “That’s what you call business, baby!”

After his clients died, Scotty wrote a tell-all book, but unlike some dishy works about long-gone Hollywood sex lives, this film boasts photos and accounts from well-known queer men, like Gore Vidal, to back up its stories. The items Scotty inherited from former clients, including a house and an Oscar (!), provide further corroboration.

But Scotty offers more than just salaciousness. We see evidence of Scotty’s hoarding (he has one small house that is stuffed to the brim with old papers and memorabilia). We also come to understand that the childhood sexual abuse he survived — like many queer men of his generation, including Allen Ginsberg, he doesn’t acknowledge sexual contact he had with adult men when he was a child as abuse — and PTSD from his time in the Marines have helped shape his life and thinking. The film could use more interviews with women, like Lois, Scotty’s wife of several decades who had no idea about his past when they married. She says, “I didn’t know him as that person. Not sure I’d want to.”

Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood
Directed by Matt Tyrnauer
Greenwich Films
Opens August 3, IFC Center

 

Click here to sign up for our weekly film and TV newsletter.

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM ARCHIVES Living NYC ARCHIVES TV ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

LAST COMIC STANDING

Covet a signed photo of Lucy Lawless, of Xena: Warrior Princess fame, or an autograph from former heavyweight champ “Iron” Mike Tyson? The New York Comic Con is the place to meet both, along with numerous other badasses of fiction and fact. Among scores of panels, you can investigate whether pop culture’s many blind spots are becoming less opaque in “Women of Color in Comics: Race, Gender and the Comic Book Medium,” and get up to speed on franchising your brutal (and/or tender) fem hero of color at the “Selling Your Comic to Hollywood” confab. Add in vintage-comic dealers, preview screenings, and flamboyant cosplay, and you’ll have every opportunity to max out your credit card and update your fan-fiction blog.

Thursdays-Sundays, noon. Starts: Oct. 9. Continues through Oct. 12, 2014

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM ARCHIVES Living NYC ARCHIVES TV ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

MEAN GIRLS

Don’t be fooled by the subway ads or the fact that it now joins Legally Blonde in the ranks of movies-turned-to-Broadway musicals. Heathers is a cult hit for a reason: When it first came out in 1988, Daniel Waters’ pitch–black comedy took high school nastiness to unprecedented new levels, making brilliant satire of Hollywood’s tendency to portray teenagers as fickle monsters. An endearingly cynical 16-year-old Winona Ryder ushers in a tsunamic wave of ’90s nihilism as Veronica Sawyer, a fledgling “Heather” hellbent on taking down the eponymous clique, and, with the aid of psychopathic boyfriend Christian Slater, she’ll stop at nothing short of mass murder. Pay tribute to the original movie, showing tonight on the SummerScreen. Arrive early for a musical performance by Sean Lennon’s band The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, as well as food and beer trucks galore. So what’s your damage?

Wed., July 30, 6 p.m., 2014

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES Datebook FILM ARCHIVES Listings Living MUSIC ARCHIVES Neighborhoods NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES TV ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

‘Stones Throw’

You could say that Stones Throw is having a moment. Founded in 1996 by DJ and producer Peanut Butter Wolf, the “indie label out of Hollywood” behind such seminal releases as Dilla’s Donuts and Madvillain’s Madvillainy is taking some its eclectic roster on the road in support of its almost-20th-birthday and soon-to-be-released feature-length documentary, Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton. The film officially arrives in theaters after SXSW but will be previewed at Brooklyn’s Indie Screen the same day Wolf and his hip-hop associates Jonwayne and J. Rocc take the stage at the Music Hall of Williamsburg.

Sun., March 2, 9 p.m., 2014

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM ARCHIVES Living NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES TV ARCHIVES

Hollywood Likes Its Assault Weapons, Thank You Very Much

After the tragedy at Newtown, New York had one of the quickest legislative responses in the country. A month later, the state Senate and Assembly had voted to expand the state’s definition of assault weapons, banning military-style upgrades on semi-automatic rifles and certain features on handguns, while limiting the number of bullets that are legal to load in a magazine. The NRA wasn’t happy (duh), and neither was the organization Guns Across America, which rallied at the New York state capitol this past weekend. But there’s another group of people that are none too pleased about New York’s strengthened gun laws, and because of them, it’s willing to leave the state.

Yep. Hollywood is being a real diva.

The New York Times has the story:

Twenty-seven film and television projects, including programs like “Blue Bloods” and “Person of Interest,” are now in production in New York State using assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. Industry workers say that they need to use real weapons for verisimilitude, that it would be impractical to try to manufacture fake weapons that could fire blanks, and that the entertainment industry should not be penalized accidentally by a law intended as a response to mass shootings.

“Weapons are part of our history as a culture as humans,” said Ryder Washburn, vice president of the Specialists Ltd., a leading supplier of firearms for productions that is based in Manhattan. “To tell stories, you need them.”

According to the Times, the legislation would adversely affect not just the stars, but all the industry workers and prop experts behind the scenes. Suppliers of theatrical weapons are currently in talks in Albany lawmakers to try and obtain an exemption to the rule for their industry.

There are corners of Hollywood, however, that do actively, and somewhat counter-intuitively, support banning assault weapons. Take Pierce Brosnan, for example, who killed 135 people on screen in his role as James Bond, according to The Sun.

“Assault weapons should be banned without question and guns should be monitored,” he told the UK paper.

And don’t forget Rambo gunman Sylvester Stallone. Earlier this year the star told the AP: “I know people get (upset) and go, ‘They’re going to take away the assault weapon.’ Who … needs an assault weapon? Like really, unless you’re carrying out an assault. … You can’t hunt with it. … Who’s going to attack your house, a (expletive) army?”

Fair point, Stallone. But how are we supposed to make a movie about that army attacking your house?

Categories
NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Five Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Give A Shit About What Hollywood Thinks About Paul Ryan…Or Anything

As you know, presidential hopeful Mitt Romney selected Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan to be his running mate in his quest for the White House. Per usual, Hollywood has chimed in about his selection — and for some reason people care.

Regardless of how you feel about Ryan, Romney, abortion, gay marriage, healthcare, Barack Obama, war, kittens, winter, or literally anything else, you should not give even half a shit about what celebrities have to say about it. Ever. Here’s why…

5) They’re actors:

Actors act for a living. So acting like they give a shit about a particular issue — or vice-presidential pick — comes naturally to them and often times without much research. We’d venture
to guess that Jared Leto had never heard of Paul Ryan until Romney tapped him as his running mate. But Leto’s got a Twitter account, so now he’s an expert. He also uses phrases like “peep it” when he wants to show you something.

4) Russell Simmons has, like, a ba-zillion dollars:

Russell Simmons posted on his website an essay he’d written basically explaining why Ryan is the anti-Christ. He notes that Romney and Ryan “will destroy our people and laugh all the way to the bank.” Simmons is worth an estimated $325 million. Shut up, Russell.

3) Who the fuck is Olivia Wilde?

USA Today reports that Olivia Wilde “tweeted” Saturday that “Two R’s won’t make it right. Romney/Ryan are Wrong for America,” which prompted us to ask the question: who the fuck is Olivia Wilde and why does USA Today care what she thinks about Paul Ryan? According to the Internet, she’s an actress, she had small roles in “Alpha Dog” and “Weird: The Weird Al Yankovic Story,” and she’s super hot. But that doesn’t mean you should give a shit about what she has to say
about Paul Ryan.

2) Don’t feed their egos!

You know why actors think they need to tell you how they feel about political issues? Because everyone treats them like they shit rainbows and that their opinions matter. But their opinions don’t matter — they’re actors. They don’t draft economic policies and make difficult decisions, they read scripts for a living and practice crying on command.

1) Celebrities are idiots:

Three names: Kim Kardashian, Ashton Kutcher, Lindsay Lohan. Enough said.

These are just a few of the many reasons why you shouldn’t give a shit about what celebrities think about anything. Don’t take your political cues from the likes of Michael Moore and Ted Nugent, do yourself a favor and do a little research — visit each presidential candidate’s website here and here.

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES FILM ARCHIVES Living NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES TV ARCHIVES

WikiLeaks… The Movie?

Yes, you read that correctly and, yes, it looks like it could happen. “The man who leaked the world” has Hollywood up in arms and it’s not because there is a Cablegate in the works for Tinsel Town. Let’s not get our hopes up.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, big studio executives are dueling it out for the rights to a biopic about the life of WikiLeaks architect, Julian Assange. You name ’em, they have a bid: Universal Pictures, Time Warner, DreamWorks Studios, etc.; everyone is vying for a slice of what could be a hack-fest blockbuster.
And for good reason: from the biggest leak of confidential files in history to his pending case in Sweden, Assange’s life has played out like a Jason Bourne novel. It’s no wonder why Hollywood wants to pour millions into an actual real-life spy story. No need for “Based on a true story…” when you have the history books for reference.
Except one thing is holding them back: the story of Julian Assange’s life is far from over. And what good is a movie without an ending?

]

Think about it. The loose ends in the WikiLeaks phenomenon are everywhere: Cablegate provocateur Bradley Manning’s case is still floating around the Justice Department, Assange still has the sex case floating around in Sweden and the organization just recently began publishing the Syria Files – a trove of two millions e-mails from within the Syrian government. Also, the movie’s protagonist is still in the Ecuador embassy in London, seeking political asylum in the Central American country with the backing of filmmakers Michael Moore and Oliver Stone.  
With these points in mind, it looks like Assange’s story is only just beginning. And, for that reason, the studios are finding alternative ways to get the ball rolling
As of now, HBO Films, a subsidiary of Time Warner, has a documentary in the works based on a profile of Assange in the New Yorker. It will be directed by Charles Ferguson, the mind behind the financial crisis expose, Inside Job. But, as of now, it is in the development phase due to the loose ends mentioned above.
DreamWorks, as well, is basing the biopic on a memoir by a former WikiLeaks hacker entitled “Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange and the World’s Most Dangerous Website.” However, it is coming to a brick wall for the same reason as the HBO case – the chapters are still being written every day.
Regardless, when this story does end – wherever, whenever and whatever that means – it is evident that a movie will be made about WikiLeaks. Who knows where Julian will be at that time or even if he will be involved in the movie – he could pull a Marc Zuckerberg and curse a film about himself all together or pull a Hunter S. Thompson and become a major part of the production team. 
Either way, Hollywood is hungry for the biopic and, with the money they have to ivnest, they usually get what they want.
[jsurico15@gmail.com/@JSuricz]