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Sarah Palin, You’ve Been Broomfield’d! You Betcha Is Revelation-Free

Sarah Palin: You Betcha! is Nick Broomfield’s attempt to, as he puts it, “find out about the real Sarah from the people who know her best.” Broomfield, perhaps Britain’s most committed raker of American cultural muck, has long appeared on camera in his documentaries as both investigator and soundman, burnishing an identity as a faux-naive outsider. But his foreign credentials and deceptively lo-fi production methods mask the cunning (and sometimes contempt) behind his “benign” curiosity. In addition to cementing his doc-star bona fides, his hits—Kurt and Courtney (1998) and Biggie and Tupac (2002)—also successfully sold the illusion of transparency. By structuring his films as road-trip hunts for slippery subjects, Broomfield manages to cast his own, often highly entertaining manipulations as honesty while spinning any subject’s reluctance to submit to his interrogations as de facto admission of guilt. You Betcha!, Broomfield’s first documentary feature in five years, follows the same MO with diminishing returns. The hunt this time amounts to grievance-airing from a number of disgruntled former friends and colleagues, who mostly trot out grudges related to scandals so old (Troopergate, Palin’s lack of preparation on the McCain campaign) that even valid-seeming complaints play as unseemly for their staleness. It’s structured as a journey toward an interview with Sarah herself, which, of course, never happens, a failure that Broomfield, as usual, tries to sell as a kind of success. But for all the legitimate reasons to jeer Palin, should her rightful wariness of Broomfield’s camera be one of them?

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Battle for Haditha: Nick Broomfield’s Hopeful Iraq Drama

Nick Broomfield, known for his unseemly documentary portraits of Aileen Wuornos, Heidi Fleiss, and Courtney Love, brings a surprising dose of compassion to his third dramatic feature, an engaging Iraqudrama that straddles the line between blistering exposé and Spielbergian heart-tugger.

Battle for Haditha recounts the events leading up to and taking place on November 19, 2005: Following a roadside bombing that killed one U.S. Marine, American soldiers murdered 24 civilians—including six young children—in what should have been a standard house-clearing operation in Haditha. The town, as one resident laments, used to be a happy honeymoon destination, but now goes by the name “City of Death.”

Broomfield cross-cuts between the soldiers, the insurgents, and the victims, building suspense and sympathy for all involved, as the killing time approaches with overdetermined inevitability. While less sensational and more humanistic than Broomfield’s past work, the director’s intentions are no secret: In a brief scene that scolds Army policy, we learn that Corporal Ramirez (played with powerful conviction by former U.S. Marine Elliot Ruiz) suffers from nightmares but won’t be provided mental-health care until after he leaves Iraq. The Al Qaeda recruits are regular guys next-door—one sells DVDs to U.S. soldiers; the other is a former member of the disbanded Iraqi Army, whose lost job (thank you, Paul Bremer) leaves him few options. They fear the fundamentalism of their bosses, but are happy to take $500 in cash and a gallon of gasoline in exchange for a tutorial in IEDs. And the collateral damage is composed of an all-too-beautiful extended family, including two passionate lovers and a cute infant boy who adores chickens. They may be humanized, but they’re also idealized, which, as warm and evenhanded as it may sound, reeks of simplification.

Despite its handheld vérité-style, the film is not a docudrama (its script and character shorthand obviously point to old-fashioned narrative). But Broomfield uses his nonfiction background to help flesh out the moment-to-moment reality of the re-enactment. Unlike the clumsy, ham-handed acting in Brian De Palma’s Redacted, the improvised scenes on base yield credible moments of military camaraderie and frustration, notwithstanding a few overly pointed anti-war jabs (“The Marine Corps doesn’t care about you! The country doesn’t care about you!”). The credit goes to Ruiz—now a professional actor, who nearly lost his leg in combat at age 17—that the film’s most atrocious acts become almost comprehensible. The film’s lone bad-guy stereotype belongs to a salamander-like muckety-muck at U.S. Marine headquarters in Camp Ramadi, who orders indiscriminate kills off satellite-fed TV screens.

Mostly, though, Broomfield wants you to like everybody A jubilant circumcision ceremony offers a sensitive glimpse into Iraqi culture, and a discussion among neighborhood women conveys the grim catch-22 of their plight: If they inform the authorities about the IEDs, the terrorists kill them; if they don’t, they’re cooperating with the terrorists and rounded up like them.

Veterans of Iraq War cinema might recognize some familiar elements—the heavy-metal machismo of Gunner Palace, the confessional testimonials of The War Tapes, the cri de coeur of Stop-Loss. When the shit finally hits the fan, though, the results are more emotionally bruising than many of Haditha‘s predecessors. (In one nightmarish moment, the camera drops beneath a bed to reveal a child’s-eye view of monster-sized boots and rapidly falling machine-gun shells.) Then again, the film’s affective power occasionally bubbles over into the manipulative: Is the serene appearance of a flock of sheep during the film’s climactic catharsis over-the-top or genuinely moving? For a film supposedly based in real life, such grace can sometimes get in the way of truth.

The preached-to choir that will make up the film’s viewing audience can surely forgive Broomfield for showing his hand, as perhaps they should—one more film that enrages someone, anyone, to do something to stop the war is welcome. But Battle for Haditha leaves us with a final celestial call for peace that feels all too hopeful, as well as especially out of place coming from a filmmaker more experienced in confrontation than reconciliation.

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Books

We met one-half of the Courtney Love genetic equation in Nick Broomfield’s 1998 documentary Kurt & Courtney, wherein the blaring ogre Hank Harrison admits to procuring a pit bull to discipline his willful child. Now mom Linda Carroll rather belatedly cashes in, Nancy Aniston–style, on her unhinged offspring’s notoriety with a memoir, which begins with a momentous phone call from hostile Courtney and then rears back to cover the first 45 or so years of Carroll’s life; Courtney is born on page 145. Her Mother’s Daughter recounts Carroll’s miserable childhood (like Margot Tenenbaum, Linda was unfailingly introduced as her awful parents’ “adopted daughter”), Catholic miseducation, early sexual pileups, four marriages, five surviving children (another died in infancy; an adopted son drifted to another family), midlife career launch as a therapist, and reunion with her biological mother, the writer Paula Fox. At 18, she bestows a single mercy fuck on a suicidal Harrison that begets a swiftly aborted marriage and the Molotov pharmaceutical cocktail that is Courtney Love. Not only is Carroll telling tales on her own kid, but she seems to share Love’s enthusiasm for just making shit up—she refers to a nonexistent Vanity Fair cover shot of Love in a wedding dress and makes the startling claim that songs from Hole’s aggro-sludge screamfest Pretty on the Inside “were all over the radio” in the early ’90s. Going by this book, she never listened.

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Blown Away by Aileen

Nick Broomfield hasn’t yet seen the movie Monster when we meet for coffee in mid December, and looking a bit spent though Morrissey-dandy in his rainy-day black suit, he claims to look forward to his friend Charlize Theron’s portrayal of Aileen Wuornos, the subject of his 1992 documentary, Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer, and recent follow-up, Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer. Broomfield met Wuornos—a roadside prostitute executed after admitting she killed seven men—during her initial trial, when he became fascinated with what he calls “the commercial exploitation of the notion of a serial killer.”

With his trademark faux-naïf patrician bumble, the ever curious Brit nosed around Ocala, Florida, playing low-rent Mike Wallace to a cast of yapping peripherals, uncovering attempts by police, Wuornos’s lawyer, and her adoptive mother to parlay her story into a movie deal. Throughout Broomfield’s ascent to gadfly notoriety with celebrity docs like Kurt & Courtney and Biggie & Tupac, he and Wuornos kept in touch. In 2002, when called to testify in her appeal, Broomfield brought his camera. “I wanted more than anything,” he says, “to try and understand the way she perceived reality, to understand what had formed Aileen Wuornos.”

Broomfield credits Wuornos’s former schoolmates in Troy, Michigan, with fleshing out the gruesome picture of past abuse. “Those childhood friends came to the witness stand and blew my mind away,” he says. “It was realizing that Aileen really was kind of like an animal or an outcast living in the woods—and was having to sort of sexually service the community in order to have a roof over her head. You think, this is really unbelievable—this untouchable who has to do blowjobs and hand out sexual favors just to stay alive.” In the film, the increasingly rattled director visits Troy, where a Wuornos friend elaborates on the incest and beatings. “I think people were aware,” says Broomfield, “but there was this kind of ‘It’s got nothing to do with me.’ It doesn’t seem there were any social agencies dealing with the case—schools reporting that she’s never in school, or following up on the fact that she’s coming to school with bruises.”

Though in the first film Broomfield milked Jerry Springer humor out of Wuornos’s pothead attorney, he now conveys shock at the lack of resources available to Wuornos. He laments, “The death penalty is so horrendous because it introduces violence into our whole vocabulary of being. When I was there for the execution, there was such an incredible sense of failure. There were these seven terrible murders, this tragic life of Aileen Wuornos’s, and the only thing it culminated in was this vengeful killing.”

As usual, his latest film finds Broomfield revealing his own process. When I contrast his boom-mic-in-the-frame protagonism to Errol Morris’s discreet gizmo that allows interviewees to respond to the camera itself, instead of having to look at the filmmaker, Broomfield insists that “whether Errol uses the gizmo or doesn’t use the gizmo, it’s to do with the trust that exists between him and the people he’s talking to.” But, he adds, “I’m working in the New Journalism way, which is to roll back parameters and acknowledge the mechanics, or the way in which one relates to people.” Does allowing things to fall apart humanize things? Broomfield says, “Often things just don’t work out. You need to find another way of telling the story, by omission almost. You define your subject by the refusals or the barriers they put in your way. This isn’t true of Aileen Wuornos—she went out of her way to arrange for us to get access.” In her case, of course, the barrier was the system itself. Broomfield slouches back ruminatively and says, “When you see the reality of Aileen, it’s almost like that film Sliding Doors, where at different points in people’s lives they could go in different directions. When Aileen says, ‘Maybe I would have become a fire department girl,’ you say, maybe if there had been the right teacher or if something else would have happened, it could have gone a different way.”

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Verdict on Aileen Sequel: The Execution Left a Lot To Be Desired

On the day the state of Florida executed high-way-prostitute-turned-murderer Aileen Wuornos in October 2002, a crescent of death-watch reporters and photographers formed around Nick Broomfield, eager for a soundbite from the lucky duck who’d snagged the final interview with America’s first known female serial killer. A sleaze hunter willingly captured by the game, Broomfield casts himself as the auxiliary subject of his procedurals, and his documentaries always double as transparent chronicles of their own making. His investigatory technique remains a frustrating pileup of unfocused Q&As and misplaced credulity. But when Broomfield travels to her Michigan hometown, he pieces together a life blighted at breech-birth: a grotesque of abandonment, incest, physical and sexual abuse, pregnancy at 13, and homelessness. The biography discloses a hopelessly stunted, feral creature; Wuornos’s mad desire for oblivion smacks of a horrible logic.

Broomfield underlines two mitigating factors in the condemned’s guilt: the remote possibility that the first killing was in self-defense, and her evident insanity; one day after state-appointed experts reaffirm Wuornos’s mental competence, she says that the authorities “have been using sonic pressure” on her head since 1997. (Her disordered mental state would also seem to nullify the “confession” that the tricky Broomfield extracts when he tells her the camera isn’t running.) Wuornos spills streams of damaged consciousness and contradictory half-inventions, while her puffy, ravaged face freezes into nervous cheer or contorts in molten rage. At the start of the execution-eve interview, Broomfield stammers and hesitates as if he hasn’t prepared a word of questioning, and Wuornos’s death mask softens into fondness for a moment, revealing a human being inside there somewhere, mummified in scar tissue.



Related Articles:


Laura Sinagra’s review of Monster


Blown Away by Aileen: Broomfield Takes a Second Shot at Figuring Out a Serial Killer” by Laura Sinagra

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The Untouchables

Fools rush in, and so does British stalkumentarian and pop culture muckraker Nick Broomfield—this time churning up the murky waters that have submerged the unsolved 1996-97 murders of rap artists Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur.

Following leads furnished by ex-LAPD detective Russell Poole and encouraged in his mission by Biggie’s doting mother, former New York City schoolteacher Voletta Wallace, Broomfield starts asking questions. Were Biggie and Tupac set up by rogue cops? Could their deaths have been arranged by rap entrepreneur Suge Knight? Did Knight’s Death Row label owe Tupac $10 million, and was Tupac about to jump ship? Why were Tupac and Biggie both under FBI surveillance at the time of their assassinations? And how come none of the police suspects were ever questioned?

According to Broomfield, the theory—most recently advanced in a two-part Los Angeles Times story—that the rappers died as a result of Compton gang warfare is a cover. This is Oliver Stone country, but Broomfield’s self-effacing affect is more Woody Allen, his legwork punctuated by droll asides: “I had no idea at this stage how many more meals at Denny’s I’d have to eat before I got Russell’s statement.” Broomfield brandishes his trademark microphone boom as he barges down Baltimore’s mean streets or into a Harlem housing project, but his strategic bumbling belies an aggressive questioning indicative of his legal background. He modestly characterizes Biggie & Tupac as the tale of two friends who fell out, but this boldly reckless doc is something else again—a first-person whodunit in which the filmmaker casts himself as a seedy gumshoe poking around a hallucinatory world in which poverty, crime, and drugs mix with fantastic wealth and grandiose scenarios lifted from The Godfather and Scarface.

As Biggie & Tupac is ultimately an existential quest, so Broomfield’s most exciting scoop is largely self-revelation. Somehow, he manages to penetrate the maximum-security joint then holding Suge Knight. Broomfield’s longtime camera operator, Joan Churchill, has bailed and her panicky replacement is flailing at the sky as the intrepid filmmaker explores the prison yard. A warden who might enjoy nothing more than mopping up Broomfield’s remains escorts him into Suge’s cell block, and there’s the thug-master, making a phone call. Biggie & Tupac doesn’t close the case, but it does make its point: Be careful what you look for; you just might find it.


Some years ago, Broomfield documented his pursuit of Margaret Thatcher. How satisfying it would have been to see him zero in on the juicy target of Henry Kissinger. For that, we have The Trials of Henry Kissinger, a more circumspect documentary.

Inspired by Christopher Hitchens’s brief against Kissinger as a war criminal, filmmakers Eugene Jarecki and Alex Gibney propose that the bon vivant Nobel laureate was personally responsible for prolonging the Vietnam War, bombing Cambodia, supervising the 1973 coup in Chile, and providing the means for the bloodbath in East Timor. For much of this time, Kissinger worked for the greatest presidential outlaw in American history, but given Kissinger’s genius for self-promotion, it seems fair to credit him with Richard Nixon’s sins.

Kissinger’s childhood experience of Nazi persecution only demonstrates that suffering is not necessarily ennobling. In his evolution from hard-nosed advocate of limited nuclear war to cynical architect of détente, Kissinger exchanged political patrons as circumstances warranted and, in his supreme career-making maneuver, helped scuttle the 1968 U.S.-North Vietnamese negotiations to advance his prospects with candidate Nixon. Such opportunism proved prophetic—and not just for Henry the K. We still live under the Kissinger doctrine that, as one British observer puts it, “international law applies to everyone except Americans.”



Related Story:

An Interview With Biggie & Tupac Director Nick Broomfield” by Geoffrey Gray

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Gimme Shelter

Not least because reality checks are in such scant supply elsewhere, the documentary lineup at Sundance has long been a safe haven. Here the activist impulse that eludes most of the fiction features continues to thrive, and the sense of urgency at a given screening has nothing to do with whether an acquisitions executive reaches for his cell phone by the end of the first reel. While their theatrical prospects remain uncertain, many of this year’s docs arrived with eventual TV exposure already guaranteed. Of the 16 competition titles, five were funded at least in part by HBO and another five by the Independent Television Service for PBS. (There’ll be another prominent outlet later this year: Robert Redford announced the launch of a new Sundance cable channel devoted to documentary programming.)

Of course, Sundance docs aren’t entirely immune to the starstruck haze that descends on Park City every January: Recent nonfiction hits have focused on Tammy Faye Bakker, the Sex Pistols, and John Waters. But since this year’s true celebrity story, Biggie and Tupac, was directed by Nick Broomfield, it proved less E! channel handjob than meta-tabloid muckrake. His methodology poised somewhere between performance art and stalking, Broomfield investigates the rappers’ murders and the lineage of intercoastal hip-hop rivalries by gate-crashing the underworlds of organized crime and police corruption. Various news reports have likewise joined the dots between the killings, Death Row records impresario Suge Knight, and the Ramparts scandal, but Broomfield’s deadpan-scurrilous approach pays unique dividends. Biggie and Tupac‘s nominal scoop is a prison-yard interview with Knight; as the obviously unsettled cinematographer keeps pointing the camera skyward, all Suge wants to talk about is his “message to the kids.” Broomfield’s documentaries have often chronicled his pursuit of unattainable women (Margaret Thatcher, Heidi Fleiss, Courtney Love); this film’s unexpectedly heartfelt tone is embodied by Biggie’s mom, the formidable Voletta Wallace, who, in between appeals for justice, counsels the filmmaker on his interview technique and fixes him soup.

The most sobering entries also lingered on the aftermaths of (and preludes to) senseless deaths. Lourdes Portillo’s Señorita Extraviada reports on a still unsolved killing spree that left more than 200 women dead on the Mexican-American border. Liz Garbus’s The Execution of Wanda Jean records (with the grim inevitability implied by its title) the emotional clemency appeals of a death row inmate, a mildly retarded black lesbian convicted for murdering her lover. In Two Towns of Jasper, directors Whitney Dow and Marco Williams spend a few months with the Texas community shaken by the horrific dragging murder of James Byrd Jr. in 1998.

Jasper was filmed with segregated crews (Williams is black, Dow white), and the resulting portrait goes beyond the clichés of backwater bigotry to the heart of the deep suspicions and fears that keep this racially mixed population suspended in a queasy, grudging truce. (In interviews, the filmmakers, friends since high school, revealed that they had trouble reconciling their own differences: Each worked on his own cut of the film, and the final product was assembled by a third-party editor.) In a notable outreach effort, Two Towns of Jasper was screened for Utah legislators in Salt Lake City as they prepared to debate a hate-crimes bill.

Chirpier but no less haunting, Judith Helfand and Daniel B. Gold’s toxic-plastic travelogue, Blue Vinyl, journeys from Long Island, where Helfand’s parents have opted to encase their suburban home in vinyl siding; to Lake Charles, Louisiana, the so-called PVC capital of America; to Venice, Italy, for the manslaughter trial of industry honchos who knowingly exposed their factory workers to lethal quantities of vinyl dioxide. The directors accentuate the horror of the statistics with morbid humor and abrasive shtick: Helfand carts a slab of vinyl siding around and wields it much the same way Broomfield does a boom mic.

Celebratory time capsules imbued with sadness, Lee Hirsch’s infectious Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony charts the history of South African freedom songs, and Bill Weber and David Weissman’s The Cockettes fondly recaps the free-loving, acid-fried San Francisco troupe’s brief, glittering heyday. The latter includes priceless footage from the Cockettes’ notorious movie about Tricia Nixon’s wedding, with a plastered “Mamie Eisenhower,” discombobulated “Rose Kennedy,” and Sylvester spiking the punch with LSD.

Speaking of bad behavior, Lucy Walker’s Devil’s Playground explores the custom of rumspringa, which sets Amish 16-year-olds loose in the “outside world” before they decide if they want to be baptized—a trial period that can extend into a years-long bacchanal. (Walker’s doc pointlessly withholds the question that immediately comes to mind—what is the retention rate?—until the very end.) The eponymous subject of Rebecca Cammisa and Rob Fruchtman’s Sister Helen, a tearjerker that earns its sniffles, didn’t join the faith until her mid fifties, after she’d lost her husband and two sons, and won a battle with alcoholism. A few years after becoming a Benedictine nun, she founded a recovery center in the South Bronx, presiding over a houseful of male addicts with her potty-mouthed brand of tough love.

Two of the most skillful docs double as philosophical experiments in portraiture. Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering Kofman’s Derrida avoids a deconstruction primer, instead positioning itself as a demonstration of the French thinker’s theories: In a series of interviews, Derrida, ever aware of the camera, is encouraged to systematically dismantle the documentary apparatus. John Walter’s How to Draw a Bunny begins by recounting the death of pop/performance/mail-art provocateur Ray Johnson, who apparently drowned himself in 1995 (shortly after telling acquaintances he was about to create his “greatest work”). The film operates like a sort of red-herring murder mystery, sifting through the contradictory evidence of the dead man’s oeuvre and piecing together overlapping testimonials. Reveling in Johnson’s sheer elusiveness, How to Draw a Bunny matches the artist’s idiosyncratic collages in structure and sensibility—it’s not damning the film with faint praise to say that it does full justice to its subject’s ultimate unknowability.



More Sundance coverage:


Search and Rescue Operations: Losing the Plot at Sundance” by Dennis Lim


Low-Budget Movies: Park City Real-Life Consumer Guide” by Josh Goldfein

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NY Mirror – 6/16/98

Big-budget fantasies about asteroids and other kinds of ‘roids be damned. This is going to be the summer of the documentary—specifically, unsophisticated but affecting ones about natural disasters so out there that Hollywood can’t reach them by cell phone. Tim Kirkman’s upcoming Dear Jesse—about a gay guy’s return to Helms territory—is so funny-but-touching it will have you coming out, even if you’re not gay. Then there’s a love letter to Hollywood swingers called Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen’s, at whose Tribeca Grill premiere party I mercilessly stuffed my face as restaurateur Drew Nieporent told me he likes the movie because it’s not really about food. And Nick Broomfield’sKurt and Courtney is the most talked-about pot pie of all, a crude but enjoyable romp that reveals Courtney Love to be not a murderer at all–just not very nice.

At the Mayflower last week, Broomfield looked worn out from cheapo Tower flights and a life of constant self-defense, but he was all too willing to crank it up once more for the press. “Distributors love you to make movies about blue-collar crimes or perverts–providing they’re not rich entertainment perverts,” he complained to me. But delve into rock-star mayhem and the silence is only broken by something called Roxie Releasing. As everyone knows by now, free-speech advocate Courtney managed to get Kurt yanked from Sundance for its lack of music rights and/or overabundance of murder talk. But the film’s made it through, albeit with different songs and what Broomfield calls “a straggling release, lurching very slowly from city to city.”

Thankfully, our jaded town is among those allowed to ogle the flick’s menagerie of poignant weirdos–from El Duce, the nutty, doomed hit man, to Courtney’s peeved ex-boyfriend, who calls her “a kinder, gentler Charles Manson.” The wildest scene has poignant weirdo Broomfield crashing the stage of an ACLU event to explain why their guest of honor–the media-threatening Courtney–might not be the queen of civil liberties. “I was more terrified than I’ve ever been,” he admitted to me. “I remember looking at my hands and thinking, ‘Whose are these?’ I was so pleased when they came up and got me. I was dying to be taken away!”

Of course, it was all worth it for Broomfield to confront the charismatic rock diva’s apparent Hole in the head, though in interviews he strains to be diplomatic. Asked if he considers Love’s Versace makeover a sellout, Broomfield said, “Maybe she needed to expunge her father. She physically resembles Hank, and I can understand her wanting to eradicate the last vestige of him.” Yeah, but he’s probably wearing Versace right now too.

The Brit filmmaker–who’ll next tackle the David Begelman Hollywood check-forging scandal–is much fonder of his ’96 subject, Heidi Fleiss, though he says they never became that intimate. “Heidi’s a flirt who’s not interested in sex,” he insisted. “She used to say, ‘I think sex is overrated. I can’t understand what the fuck they’re going on about.’ ” Heidi Fleiss doesn’t like sex? What next–Bette Midler litters?

The nondocumentary world, meanwhile, is producing features that are almost as overrated as intercourse. The Truman Show turns out to be an intricate and at times clever conceit, but watching Jim Carrey perform in an invisible straitjacket is not that much fun (though the media’s turning cartwheels of joy over having tamed him). I’ve worshiped Carrey from the beginning for his inspired silliness and the way he lets it play havoc with his pretty-boy looks. I’ve loved that the public discovered his gifts with a vengeance and the critics had to follow suit, grudgingly giving in to the loony cult of Carrey. Alas, these same highbrows suddenly turned on Carrey with ’96’s The Cable Guy,slamming him for being too disturbing, reckless, and I guess brilliant, and this time the public followed suit. They demanded more order and lovableness, which is just what they’ve gotten with the new Carrey, who’s dabbling in “human” and dramatic situations in the name of career respectability. Yuck!

His scary torrents of hilarious excess behind him, Carrey’s Truman is a naive mensch whose darkness is in his situation more than his psyche–and he’s not very convincing. You long for him to break out, cut loose, staple his nose. You ache for him to just plain freak–and when he does, it rings false because he’s trying to do so as a “real character.” In the sinister Seahaven in his mind, Carrey had created his own reality and pathos–but of course our sick world forces the master comic to tone down and give birth to some nonexistent inner Tom Hanks. This is like telling Pavarotti to dance Swan Lake. Give me back my old Jim Carrey!

And my old, unguarded Eric Stoltz! See, journalists set to interview Stoltz about Mr. Jealousy were given a last-minute call by a publicist saying that if they so much as brought up his relationship with Bridget Fonda,the interview would be instantly terminated. I certainly hope this was because Eric suddenly finds the relationship too sacred to talk about, not too scarce to talk about. In any case, interviewers were still able to ask about the film–in which he plays a guy with a string of broken relationships!

Over in L.A., Gus Van Sant and a young man named Ben Alexander seem unbreakable to the point where Mr. Jealousy, Ben, protects Gus against anyone hunting for too much goodwill. In the Mitzi Gaynor Lounge of Vaginal Cream Davis’s Club Sucker recently, Gus and Ben looked simply darling together. But, Davis says, “out here, we have a lot of Eve Harringtons who can smell a Margo a mile away.” One such guy started chatting up Gus in a too cozy manner that worked Ben’s final nerve. This led to what Davis calls “queeny repartee,” followed by a tussle, after which the bouncers removed the errant Ms. Harrington. Gus didn’t lift a finger, said Davis, “because A-list directors don’t fight. They have trophy wives for that.”

While she had me on the phone, Davis said that my trophy wife, Brad Pitt, suggested that Van Sant do a movie in which Pitt plays a Kurt Cobain type and Courtney Lovecan stretch and be the Courtney character. Van Sant broached it to Missy and, while she didn’t have him killed, there was a tense silence on her end. Finally, she said: “I’m not offended, but. . . . ” I’d give my left two testicles to hear what came after that but. (Oh, Gus is apparently doing the movie anyway–it’s called Psycho.)

Info-friendly Davis also swore that Madonna’s brother Christopher Ciccone is dating Wilson Cruz of My So-Called Life and Rent fame. No buts about it–Wilson is Chris’s Rent boy.

In my own so-called life, queeny repartee abounded at the LIFEbeat bash at the downtown David Barton’s, where drunks were falling off the Stairmasters. Perfectly coherent, I caught the workshop of Blair Fell and Maggie Moore’sHunchback Without a Bell at Here, and found it the zaniest musical about the differently abled since that Siamese-twin toe tapper. But harsh truths returned to the club arena. A Latino named Peter Garcia was last seen leaving the Limelight–which had a gay re-opening preview on May 24–with a blond, white guy. It’s believed that they checked into the Allerton Hotel, where, after an argument, the guy viciously stabbed Garcia to death. This is too much documentary realness–but anyone with info should call the NYC Gay & Lesbian Anti-Violence Project’s hotline at 807-0197.