Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Better Than Santa: The 12 Acts of Christmas

Take a dash of burlesque, a scoop of modern dance mixed with classic ballet, plenty of candy cane-colored costumes, some sultry cabaret lighting, a rocking score stuffed with updated versions of holiday standards, sprinkle generously with vaudeville, then toss it all up in midair and you’ve got “The 12 Acts of Christmas” presented by Suspended Cirque, the sexiest troupe of aerial performers on the other side of the Hudson. I trekked through a blizzard to get to the warm intimate setting of the Galapagos Art Space in DUMBO for the only evening performance of their winter spectacular this year. (The weather outside was frightful but that dominatrix Santa sure was delightful!)

The entire show was one euphoric toy train ride, from its opening winking catfight routine and Santa riding a unicycle on the ground, to “Michelle on Fabric Skating in the Air” and “Angela and her Rope on a Silent Night” high above. There’s a touching, old-fashioned sensibility to this troupe, a reverence for burlesque and vaudeville, for slapstick and flappers. (“Michelle Drunk at a Party” could be a Chaplin routine – if Chaplin were a yogi.) Suspended Cirque combined the bawdy fun of the holiday season with the true beauty in its meaning via ropes, trapezes, sturdy fabric and hoops – not to mention the Peter Pan aerialists whose own bodies manage to defy both gravity and the human form itself. And the childlike thrill these talented folks take in performance is both exhilarating and downright contagious. For them the sheer joy of flying is a calling, and we as the audience are merely being allowed to live vicariously through them, to feel a part of their fantasy made real for a couple of hours. This is nothing less than transcendental performance art. Laced with Viagra.

For there’s a deep rooted sexiness that lies in the mingling of physicality and spirituality, allowing a transcendence of the self. With the dexterity of jungle animals and the enthusiasm of kids climbing trees the company uses each other’s bodies, even their own limbs as ropes, utilizing flesh on flesh to create. As they seamlessly move from floor to ceiling, as if walking on air is the most natural thing in the world, the need to be air born becomes a palpable hunger, an orgasmic drive. There’s a lust for life that encompasses the room. Indeed, watching “The Ladies of Suspended Cirque on the Triangle Trapeze” camp it up in miniskirts and glitter, mock pushing then catching one another from on high to a club mix of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” it’s hard to believe that any dream wouldn’t come true.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

20 Fave Films of The Decade

A Most Subjective Eclectic List of Films That Made Me Shamelessly Evangelize (in no particular order)

Forever (Heddy Honigmann)
Flame & Citron (Ole Christian Madsen)
Melody for a Street Organ (Kira Muratova)
Hunger (Steve McQueen)
Man on Wire (James Marsh)
The Edge of Heaven (Fatih Akin)
2046 (Wong Kar-Wai)
L’Enfant (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)
Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog)
Water (Deepa Mehta)
Cold Souls (Sophie Barthes)
Casino Royale (Martin Campbell)
Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt)
This Is England (Shane Meadows)
Flight of the Red Balloon (Hou Hsiao Hsien)
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu)
The Piano Teacher (Michael Haneke)
Antichrist (Lars Von Trier)
Gomorrah (Matteo Garrone)
The Pianist (Roman Polanski)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

So Cold He's Hot

“Race,” the latest David Mamet play to open on Broadway, stars the effortlessly brazen James Spader. Spader, of course, has fashioned an entire career playing slick, sexy scoundrels whose looks allow them to get away with behavior a lesser nebbish like Woody Allen would get locked up for. For nearly three decades(!), and in a feat incomparable to any other actor of his generation, Spader has repeatedly and subversively performed his own form of jujitsu on Hollywood typecasting. Consistently he's cashed in on his leading man, pretty boy looks while simultaneously embodying character actor assholes—in the process exposing the very essence of sex appeal. In contrast, a star like Tom Cruise is a good guy at heart, forever excusing his high wattage looks in an "Aw shucks, don't hate me because I'm beautiful" appeal. Spader is Cruise's polar opposite, both refusing to apologize for the genes life dealt him and not caring one iota whether we like him or not. Frankly, my dear, he doesn't give a damn. Spader's sexiness—as opposed to mere physical attributes—lies in his flaunting of genuine self-confidence through his characters.

To read the rest visit my “Sex Beat” column at Carnal Nation.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Moscow on the Hudson: Russian Film Week

Russian Film Week, like the Eastern-European films it shows, runs at an absurdly frustrating, devil-may-care pace (at least for this New Yorker). Screenings of sweeping 160-minute epics often begin an hour late, which admittedly comes in handy if you show up at the School of Visual Arts on the east side instead of the SVA Theater on the west side, as too many of us confused movie-goers did for a sold out “Anna Karenina.” But if you’re willing to brave the stampeding, Russian-barking crowds at the entrance, followed by a sponsor-thanking trailer, followed by a live sponsor-thanking Russian, followed, of course, by the English translation, then by a gratitude-spewing director (or five or six if you went on the sold-out opening night), then by that English translation, to finally see whichever film you’ve by now forgotten the title of, you might just catch some meaningful cinema.

To read the rest visit The House Next Door.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


Exposition is:

A. A setting forth of meaning or intent.
B. The presentation of information in clear, precise form.
C. A public exhibition of broad scope.

D. The title of a stealthily hilarious “theatrical collision” directed by Michael Gardner and written by Matthew Freeman along with their pitch-perfect seven member cast (eight if you include The Couch, which got its own bio in the program, though I doubt it did much writing).

And letter D is all of the above and then some, and tonight it concludes its quick three-day run at The Brick Theater in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The one hour show is rollercoaster comedy for the Dada crowd, a series of fun sketches in which the actors dressed in eveningwear as if for a Bunuel dinner party make small chat like aliens inhabiting human form, dialogue often overlapping and repeating as in a musical composition. “I squatted and peed on my own desk,” one actress declares in a “Saturday Night Live” Coneheads cadence. “To this day I believe it’s the most amount of blood that ever came out of my body,” a smiling tux-clad actor brightly chirps 50s TV sitcom style in fond recollection of his first car accident. (“And then I thought, ‘There’s another person in the car with me,’” he later adds, followed by, “No, that’s the person from the other car.”) There’s a tantalizing chemistry between the show’s director and its playwright who together make great use not only of the sparse black box stage, but also of the uncomfortable silences stretched to the breaking point of hilarity. “Why are we the only two people here?” an actor wonders even though there are six thespians onstage. Between the body language and emotions that don’t connect with the spoken word, and the words that don’t connect with any semblance of (staged) reality there’s enough in “Exposition” to make even the most cynical surrealist cheer.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Beyond Queer: "The Lily's Revenge"

Once upon a time, there was an entity called community. It evolved out of the retro notion that people needed one another both to survive and thrive. It began with blood ties, since in the old days most of the support network around an individual happened to have a biologically-related component. But as people ventured out of these clans and the world became more global, communities became more fluid. Those whose blood ties fell short of support suddenly began to band together to form new families. These new outsider families were given labels—Beat, hippie, punk, queer—and often overlapped in their membership. But then a strange thing happened. As those communities grew, they began to splinter into ever more niches until identity suddenly required the individual to choose sides against oneself and family. Were you a lesbian first and a black woman second? And why would a black lesbian set foot in a white gay male bar? Where once there was a GLBT community that felt unrepresented in the media and in society at large, there's now a queer silent majority reeling from the over-saturated mainstream images of a cookie-cutter gay life they don't conform to or recognize at all.

To read the rest visit my “Sex Beat” column at Carnal San Francisco.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

CineKink: San Francisco, November 19-21

Mark your calendars for the west coast edition! Our “Un Piede di Roman Polanski” will be screening Saturday, November 21st as part of the Best of CineKink/2009 Shorts Sampler program. Stop on by!

Monday, November 9, 2009

The End of Poverty?

Due to its timely subject, Philippe Diaz's “The End of Poverty?” — a 35mm indictment of the colonialism that led to the free market system, that led to our current global economic catastrophe, that led to the onslaught of documentaries rushed into the marketplace to blame it all on the system that funds them — was invited to premiere at Critics' Week at Cannes before it was even finished. Which is an odd choice given that the financial meltdown in itself has already personally and viscerally brought home the shamefulness the film addresses, essentially neutering Diaz’s straightforward explanatory doc.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Sexual Violence and "The New Guignol"

My most delectable Halloween treat last week was attending “The New Guignol,” an evening of short, ripped from the perverse-but-true headlines plays presented by The Blood Brothers and Nosedive Productions at my new haunt, The Brick Theater in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Of course a Grand Guignol show, theater's answer to a haunted house, is pretty much critic-proof, akin to reviewing a night of campfire tales. Either you delight in the horror – which I unequivocally did – or you find yourself nodding off anxious to crawl into the nearest sleeping bag. (I was especially fond of the patter and chemistry between “blood brother” actors/directors Pete Boisvert and Patrick Shearer, who served as our Uncle Fester looking guides through the simultaneously gory and hilarious vignettes.) Acting, directing, sets, lighting and costume design are mere accompaniments to the spectacle of body parts and stage blood, and savoring that which is taboo in proper real life.

To read the rest visit my “Sex Beat” column at Carnal San Francisco.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Halloween Treat Pt. II

Monkey Town Presents Häxan, Witchcraft Through The Ages

Saturday, October 31st
Admission: $8, $10 minimum
Showtime: 8pm
Reservations are recommended

The 1922 classic documentary in six parts
Live score performed by:

Jeremy Slater
Murder of Angels (Bryin Dall & Derek Rush)
Phil Puleo
Christopher Russo
Maxx Klaxxon
Bradford Reed

Narration by William Burroughs

Written and directed by Benjamin Christensen (also appearing as Satan)

One of the most controversial films of the silent era, “Häxan” is a dramatized documentary of the practice and persecution of witchcraft in the Middle Ages. The elaborate production made it the most expensive Scandinavian silent film ever made. Although it was celebrated in its native country, it was widely banned and censored elsewhere for the elaborate images of Satanism and the Inquisition, closely following medieval engravings referenced in the film.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Halloween Treat

My film critic friend and colleague Jeremiah Kipp will be screening his short Contact on:
SATURDAY, OCT. 31, 2009
Millennium Film Workshop
66 E. 4th St. / Manhattan
8:15PM / $10

SUNDAY, NOV. 1, 2009
Millennium Film Workshop
66 E. 4th St. / Manhattan
5:15PM / $10

As part of the Sinister Six Fest.

A spooky good time for all!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

"Un Piede di Roman Polanski" To Screen in Germany!

Our award-winning, G-rated homage to Roman Polanski’s foot fetish will be playing in the Experimental Porn, Short Films section of the Pornfilmfestival Berlin, which takes place October 22-25.

And since these feet were made for walking “Un Piede di Roman Polanski” will then screen at the Fetisch Film Festival, taking place October 29-31.

Who knew our feet would be so big in Europe?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

It’s Only A Flesh Wound: In Defense of Lars von Trier’s "Antichrist"

If you’re a fan of cinema with a capital 'C,' you’re surely aware of the buzz surrounding “Antichrist,” the latest from Danish enfant terrible Lars von Trier (he of the Dogme 95 manifesto, that phobic and depressive auteur rumored to have driven Bjork to eat her own sweater during the making of “Dancer in the Dark”). The film garnered a Best Actress prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival for its leading lady, Charlotte Gainsbourg, who was upstaged only by her director proclaiming to be the Holy Father himself. Gainsbourg plays “She” to Willem Dafoe’s “He”—they're a couple whose toddler crawls right out an open window while they’re engaged in some hot, slo-mo, B&W-shot sex. Unable to come to terms with her child’s death, She spends an unproductive month drugged out in a hospital before He, a therapist by trade, decides the only cure is to whisk her away to a cabin in the woods called Eden for some intense fear facing. Of course, since this is a von Trier film, things can only get devilishly nasty.

To read the rest of my review visit The House Next Door.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Coming Plague: Pandemic Paranoia or Reality?

Is the name of the panel I’ll be on at the Doomsday Film Festival this Sunday, October 25th from 7-9 PM at DCTV in downtown Manhattan. Schedule and co-conspirators as follows:

Shivers | David Cronenberg, Canada, 1975; 87 min

• Dr. Marc Siegel, author of Swine Flu, Bird Flu, and False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear
• Vadim Rizov, film critic for The Village Voice
• Lauren Wissot, film critic for Slant magazine & author of Under My Masters Wings
• Steven Boone, film critic for The Village Voice, Time Out NY and RES
• Leo Goldsmith, editor at Not Coming to a Theater Near You and film critic for IndieWire & The Village Voice
• Simon Abrams, film critic for The House Next Door
• Jeremiah Kipp, critic for Slant magazine and The House Next Door

Stop on by!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Yes Men Fix Michael Moore: The Yes Men Fix The World

After Michael Moore’s bland and predictable “Capitalism: A Love Story,” watching “The Yes Men Fix The World” is like inhaling a breath of fresh, unpolluted air. Starring the merry pranksters better known as Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, and co-directed by them alongside Kurt Engfehr (better known as Michael Moore’s editor on “The Awful Truth,” “Bowling for Columbine” and “Fahrenheit 9/11”), the doc is a thrilling travelogue through the global free enterprise system. That our guides Bichlbaum and Bonnano happen to be both hilariously subversive and downright ingenious in their tactics ("What we do is pass ourselves off as representatives of big corporations we don’t like. We make fake websites, then wait for people to accidentally invite us to conferences," declares one of the Yes Men at the start) exposes not just corporate malfeasance but their colleague Moore’s own small-mindedness. While Moore with his one-dimensional thinking is content to point the finger, sit back and assign blame in lieu of doing the tough job of searching for workable solutions, the Yes Men—with their shock-and-awe, 3D-animated fake presentations—are proactive Robin Hoods. And, bouncing about in their “Halliburton SurvivaBall” suits, they’re a hell of a lot more entertaining.

To read the rest of my review visit The House Next Door.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Community of Fear

With Ti West's “The House of the Devil” hitting theaters, Larry Fessenden's Glass Eye Pix has become one of the most active independent production companies around.

"I've always felt like a lone wolf creatively. I've been forging this odd path of making thoughtful scary movies, more sentimental than they are gory," horror auteur Larry Fessenden told me recently when I met up with him at an appropriately dark and cavernous East Village bar. In fact, the way Fessenden tells it, the horror genre he is most associated with found him, not the other way around. From the beginning of his career Fessenden has telegraphed political, social and philosophical issues in his stories. While they may initially appear to be B movie-styled monster movies, his films invariably evolve into meditations on the role of fantasy and mythology as survival mechanisms and humanity's relationship to the Earth. Appropriately then, Fessenden seems to have more in common with foreign arthouse horror auteurs like Guillermo del Toro, a longtime supporter who is now producing Fessenden's planned Hollywood writing and directing debut (a remake of The Orphanage for New Line Cinema), than he does with the current wave of torture-porn directors like Eli Roth.

Read the rest of the article at Filmmaker magazine.

Titus Andronicus: Shakespeare as Torture Porn

“Titus Andronicus” is the first show in the "Grudge Match: DMT Vs. Shakespeare" series ("in which nearly all of the Bard's great works will be ruthlessly mutilated, bent, battered, cut to ribbons and otherwise manhandled," so sayeth the program) from Danse Macabre Theatrics, the good folks whose critically-acclaimed S&M futuristic fantasia “Bitch Macbeth” likewise played to enthusiastic audiences at The Brick Theater in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. If you're not familiar with the Bard's goriest work, which pits the titular Roman general against the queen of the Goths Tamora in a setting in which vengeance reigns king, all the better. Director Frank Cwiklik's multimedia production dispenses with the modern parallel-drawing yawn inducements to do something even more important than simply making Shakespeare relevant to today's world. He's made the Bard's text actually come alive in a riveting and twisting thriller, honoring the playwright through the "mutilation" of his work.

To read the rest visit my Sex Beat column at Carnal San Francisco.

Ferrara on the Rocks: Chelsea on the Rocks

“Some of these people just float in here. They don’t check in, they float in,” an interview subject says in Abel Ferrara’s first foray into documentary filmmaking in over three decades, a home movie (literally—Ferrara moved into his old haunt during production) masquerading as vital exploration of the infamous Chelsea Hotel. This is the place where notable lives were lost (Nancy Spungen in Room 100—no longer being rented; Dylan Thomas of alcohol poisoning) and songs spun (Leonard Cohen wrote about his sexual encounter with Janis Joplin on an unmade bed).

To read the rest of my review visit The House Next Door.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Art, Madness, and Sex Work: An Interview With Director Karen Gehres

In “Begging Naked” Karen Gehres documents her friend Elise, a painter and sculptor and former Times Square stripper, as she succumbs to mental illness and homelessness. What struck me most about this little gem of a film was that it isn't just another journalistic investigation of a crazy artist, but a beautiful, selfless call to save a friend's life and art, rather than a calling card for the filmmaker. (Even the photo montage of Elise through the years at the end, which also sums up in title cards that most of her creations were salvaged and reside in a Brooklyn warehouse, that she's been living in Central Park since her eviction five years ago—and that she continues to work on her art—is astounding in its compassion and humility.) I spoke with director Gehres a few weeks before the award-winning doc's latest screening at the Women Make Waves Film Festival in Taipei.

To read the interview visit my Sex Beat column at Carnal San Francisco.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Playboy of The Western World

So Roman Polanski finally got busted in Switzerland for fucking an underage female in California decades ago. Which reminds me what a hypocritical sham our politically correct “age of consent” rule really is. Should Polanski have done what he did? Absolutely not. But why is this transgression any more heinous than screwing all the equally mentally immature, just barely legal bombshells he did during his swinging Tinseltown days? In other words, why is his having sex with a barely illegal non-virgin a crime while banging a barely legal virgin (something that many men of Polanski’s stature do every night) met with a wink and a nod? And why do we view adolescent sexuality through a simplistic, cookie cutter lens when in fact consent is not dependent on age at all, but on each individual’s emotional maturity? I say if Polanski is forced to serve prison time then Hugh Hefner – and every other Lolita-loving mogul of his generation – should plead guilty as well.

Justice served.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Capitalism: A Love Story

The most interesting aspect of “Capitalism: A Love Story,” the latest doc from the once-radical Michael Moore, has nothing to do with the film's subject matter, a sprawling indictment of the economic culture that's led the country to become America, Inc. No, what's fascinating about this unfocused diatribe is that Mr. Moore, the liberal face of Middle America, has finally given up on the American audience.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant.

Banned from The Land Down Under: An Interview with "Matinée" director Jennifer Lyon Bell

I met Amsterdam-based director Jennifer Lyon Bell in person this past February at a Sunday brunch at Monkey Town, a performance space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn where we were both screening our CineKink Film Festival award winners. Her “Matinée” had just garnered a Best Narrative Short prize while “Un Piede di Roman Polanski,” the homage to Roman Polanski's foot fetish I co-directed with Roxanne Kapista, had taken Best Experimental Short. So when I received word last month that “Matinée” had just been banned from the Melbourne Underground Film Festival (yes, the irony of the acronym did not escape me either) by the Australian Film Commission the week before it was set to screen, I knew I had to get in touch with Jennifer and find out the 411 on getting the bum's rush in the land down under.

To read the interview visit my Sex Beat column at Carnal San Francisco.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Bacchae: Sexless in New York

Summer in NYC is always the sexiest time of year, so to me it made hot and sweaty sense that following on the high heels of Shakespeare in the Park's Anne Hathaway Bard vehicle “Twelfth Night,” arrived “The Bacchae,” the Euripides tragedy directed by The Public Theater's former artistic director Joanne Akalaitis with an original score by her former husband Philip Glass. It starred miscast cutie pie Jonathan Groff (“Spring Awakening,” “Hair”) as the god Dionysus who whips his Theban female worshippers — a.k.a. The Bacchae, which has a better ring to it than Dionysus-heads — into a lustful frenzy. This in turn stokes the ire of the uptight king of Thebes, Pentheus, played by the usually nuanced Anthony Mackie, who instead chose to channel the god of bellowing Al Pacino. With a setup like this it's nearly a given that things take a turn for the worst both onstage and within the Greek drama.

To read the rest visit my Sex Beat column at Carnal San Francisco.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Cog in the Slot Machine: American Casino

Newbie filmmakers Leslie and Andrew Cockburn, the director/producer/writer and producer/writer, respectively, behind the doc “American Casino” — which attempts to uncover the heart of darkness lurking inside the subprime mortgage meltdown that’s made "foreclosure" a household word — have been in-the-trenches journalists for nearly three decades. The husband and wife team have resumes boasting investigative reporting for the likes of “Frontline” and “60 Minutes,” and it shows. I don’t mean that as a compliment. For while interviewing dictators and covert ops officers may make for great TV programming it does nothing to prepare one for the story sustainability required in long-form filmmaking.

To read the rest of my review visit The House Next Door.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Speaking in Silence: Still Walking

Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Still Walking” is gorgeous cinematic fabric, with a Eugene O’Neill worthy storyline consisting of intricately woven layers. Within the context of a family reunion to mourn the loss fifteen years earlier of an eldest son every character inhabits his own separate world within the same scene; while Kore-eda’s camera delights in remaining on images unrelated to the clan’s emotionally distanced words. Indeed, one actor will often address another who lingers out of frame. And the characters themselves are never as stock as they first seem. Depth is slowly revealed through the director’s nuanced dialogue, like the mesmerizing Toshiko Yokoyama’s sweet little old lady with vengeance in her heart or sister Chinami – played by 80s singer You who resembles a Japanese Cyndi Lauper – her pop tart attitude masking the sorrow of a daughter forever seeking the “I love you” just out of reach. “Even when they die people never really go away,” a newly remarried widow tells her son. The unseen characters, the dead, are just as “visible” as those living and breathing onscreen. Absence is palpable presence for Kore-eda. If any summer flick passes the art film “test” of speaking volumes with silence “Still Walking” is it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Interview with Erotica Diva Emily Dubberley

For those who think, "Dog collars — they're not just for Fido anymore!" and prize Hitachi's Magic Wand over their microwaves, Emily Dubberley has been a household name in the U.K. for years. Since the prolific sex writer (eighteen books and counting) has been bouncing between print and the Internet with a shameless hussy ease for so long I could think of no better pervert to deliver the down and dirty on the part of the English sex industry that transforms words into wet dreams.

To read the interview visit Carnal San Francisco.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Willy Nilly: A Musical Exploitation of the Most Far-Out Cult Murders of the Psychedelic Era

By its title "Willy Nilly: A Musical Exploitation of the Most Far-Out Cult Murders of the Psychedelic Era" ("being tastefully presented to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the infamous Manson murders" as the program reads) would seem to be the perfect FringeNYC finger to give to the summer of the mainstream establishment's "Hair" on Broadway and "Taking Woodstock" onscreen. And to its credit this Piper McKenzie Production is some merry prankster-ish fun. With its enthusiastic cast sporting over-the-top hippie wear, colorful set that makes the most of minimalism with cardboard flowers and wooden stools, and rockin' musical numbers that allow the actors to fill in the design's visual gaps with exuberantly executed choreography, "Willy Nilly" moves as fast as its psycho guru lead does in assembling his Manson-like tribe. That is, "like a hotbed Brigham Young," according to the D.A. character played by the musical's playwright/lyricist/composer Trav S.D. who also notes that the Family's "names have been changed for the author's amusement."

To read the rest of my review visit Theater Online.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


The beauty of watching live performance lies in bearing witness to art unfolding right before your eyes. And "Urbanopolis," Suspended Cirque's latest site-specific, aerial creation at Galapagos Art Space in DUMBO delivers just that. The show is a low-budget indie Cirque du Soleil from its burlesque chick acrobats to its hula hoop skirts, to the shreds of newspaper dangling from a hoop descended from the ceiling, proving that heart and creativity trump dollars and glitz every time.

To read the rest of my review visit Theater Online.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sex and The Subject: Confessions of a Critic

As a freelancer who writes almost exclusively for online film publications I often find myself wearing more than one mismatched hat. Sometimes I'm a critic picking apart larger than life images, and sometimes I'm a reporter picking the brain of a real live filmmaker or random porn star. Interviewing the delightful Sasha Grey for SpoutBlog one week while trouncing the atrocious film that marks her mainstream debut, Steven Soderbergh's "The Girlfriend Experience," at The House Next Door the next, is just par for the modern day journo's course. As the walls have tumbled down in cyberspace, so have the boundaries that used to separate critic from subject. Or at least what were once sturdy facades.

To read the rest visit my Sex Beat column at Carnal San Francisco.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Not Being Paul Giamatti: Cold Souls

Sophie Barthes’ stunningly smart debut, “Cold Souls,” stars the always-impressive Paul Giamatti as the actor Paul Giamatti whose soul has become a burden during a production of “Uncle Vanya,” resulting in his inability to separate himself from the character. Anxious to alleviate the pain Paul seeks out a facility called Soul Storage—“conveniently located on Roosevelt Island” a soothing automated phone message explains—run by David Straithairn’s hilariously laidback Dr. Flintstein. While comparisons to Charlie Kaufman’s work, especially to “Being John Malkovich,” will inevitably be drawn (the meta lead roles, the soul storage warehouse in “New Jersey,” the gender-bending aspect of male souls taking up in female bodies and vice-versa), Barthes has distinguished herself from the Kaufman machine mainly through the help of her partner and cinematographer/producer Andrij Parekh. Parekh’s elegant lighting and fluid camerawork stand in stark contrast to the off-kilter hyperactive style of “Being John Malkovich”; “Cold Souls” is clearly not “A Spike Jonze Film.”

To read the rest visit The House Next Door.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Queer Theory: Sex and the Other Gender

“New York” magazine recently ran an article by Mark Harris called "The Gay Generation Gap," in which he describes that chasm perhaps best summarized as the binary thinking of the old versus the non-thinking of the new. As Harris rightly notes, "There's nothing duller than a young gay man whose curiosity about the world doesn't appear to extend past his iPod." While the lack of critical thinking skills in both old and young is disheartening, as a genderqueer person balanced between both gender and the gap (as a 39-year-old gay man in a bio female body I'm on the young side of Harris's 45 divide, though not by much) I found myself rooting for the bubble brains if only in self-interest.

To read the rest visit my Sex Beat column at Carnal San Francisco.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

No Budget? No Problem

Absolute Independent Pictures , a Baltimore-based production house run by indie filmmaker Michelle Farrell – who I profiled in my Sex Beat column - has the equipment, crew, reasonable rates, and willingness to travel. Email for more information.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Flame & Citron

The midsummer release of “Flame & Citron,” Danish director Ole Christian Madsen's edge-of-your-seat, based-on-actual-events thriller, which follows the titular code-named heroes as they wage battle with the hidden forces of Nazi evil during the German occupation of Denmark in 1944, makes perfect sense. While a film about the Resistance would seem more suited to the end-of-year, SS-centric season, Madsen's ingenious piece of Academy catnip has more in common with Michael Mann's “Public Enemies” than it does with last winter's atrocious Daniel Craig-fights-Nazis vehicle “Defiance” (never mind that our hero Citron is played by Bond villain Le Chiffre himself Mads Mikkelsen). Madsen's tour de force is a gangster flick through and through.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Now Playing at a Newsstand Near You

The good news – the Summer issue of Filmmaker magazine is out! The bad news – you’ll have to get hold of a print copy to read my interview with Maria Beatty in the Reports section.

Friday, July 17, 2009

“Rambo Solo” Creator Meets Rambo Book-O Author!

If you missed Zack’s last screening here’s your second chance…

From The Brick Theater blog:

Zachary Oberzan's indie theatre hit “Rambo Solo” took the theater world by sneak attack last year. This Thursday, see the movie "Flooding with Love for The Kid,” which it detailed, at The Brick for free! (8pm! RSVP now!)

And right now read about how “First Blood” author David Morrell bought Zachary breakfast last week!

For more on the madness visit The Brick.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Interviewing Michelle: Unraveling Michelle

What thrilled me most about the documentary Unraveling Michelle, which follows the ups, downs and in-betweens of MTF transsexual Michelle Ann Farrell as she transitions into her new life as a physically female being, has nothing to do with gender issues. No, the most subversive part of Michelle isn’t her tits, but her profession – indie filmmaker, her choice to turn the lens on herself merely an extension of her art form. Just as capable directing low-budget horror as she is reminding her cameraman to be sure to shoot wide during her surgery, Michelle’s most powerful declaration is simply, “I want to be a female filmmaker.” From an early age the former Joe loved to play at being a girl, then became an elite hockey player in high school – not because Joe was in denial of his feminine side, but because he loved to play hockey and was great at it! This is the next step in the gender revolution (as it was in the sexual) – defining ourselves by who we are not by any cookie cutter expectations of the mainstream. For electrolysis and facial reconstruction, red lipstick and high heels, are only as deep as icing on a cake.

To read the interview visit my Sex Beat column at Carnal Nation .

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Thank You, But Our Princess is in Another Castle

As delightfully elusive as its title Eddie Kim's four machinima theater pieces that make up an engaging show at The Brick Theater substitute gamers and virtual worlds for actors and theatrical performance. According to the program the first half is comprised of "Neo In Liberty City," which involves an Xbox 360 running Grand Theft Auto 4 and samples of Alvin Lucier's "I am Sitting in a Room" and "The Matrix," and "The Four Factions," which is based on Samuel Beckett's "Quad" and uses five laptops running Warcraft 3. From there it's on to "Komachi," which is four laptops running Warcraft set to Kim's adaptation of Kwanami's "Sotoba Komachi," and finally "Niobe," Kim's adaptation of Ted Hughes' "Tales from Ovid" performed on three Xbox consoles running Halo 3 (and the most literal narrative of the pieces with bows and arrows replaced by robots with submachine guns though the text remains the same).

Of course if angels come to mind at the mention of the word "Halo" the above paragraph may as well have been written in Klingon.

To read the rest of my review visit Theater Online.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Filmmaker Maria Beatty Removes The Leather Restraints

Recently I interviewed director Maria Beatty for the upcoming issue of “Filmmaker” magazine. Best known for the lesbian BDSM movies she's been creating for the past decade and a half, Beatty and I discussed the challenge that awaits every growing and changing niche artist sooner or later—how to move beyond the "ghetto" that once defined the art without losing the support of the very community that allowed the artist to blossom in the first place.

To read the rest visit my Sex Beat column at Carnal Nation.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Nollywood Babylon

“We don't even want to go to Hollywood anymore," admits a Nigerian actress in the Canadian documentary “Nollywood Babylon,” which examines the world's third largest film industry (after the U.S. and India). "Because, really, Hollywood is white, you know," she adds with an apologetic cringe. She and her colleagues' collective goal is to make the grassroots filmmaking centered in Lagos nothing less than the "best African movie industry in the world." And in many ways, Ben Addelman and Samir Mallal's nonfiction flick, which itself moves with the go-go speed dubbed "Nollywood style," is a big fat, kiss-my-ass to imperialist Hollywood.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Twelfth Night

The current production of "Twelfth Night" playing at The Flea Theater marks Queens Shakespeare’s Manhattan debut. It also marks the first time this critic ever witnessed a Shakespeare play in which colorful eclectic costumes so completely upstaged the actors wearing them. From an emerald toga to a drunk’s blue kimono, from a gold lame dress to a harlequin’s purple velvet attire, from menacing masks to an actress in masculine jacket and pants with white feather wings (yes, these are a few of stage manager/costume designer Tara Mary Schmitt’s inventive things), "Twelfth Night" in Tribeca is practically Shakespeare on the catwalk.

To read the rest of my review visit Theater Online.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

London Calling

Yet another reason to move to Europe.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Under Our Skin

“Under Our Skin” is a rigorously researched and highly thorough piece of investigative reporting on the silent epidemic that is Lyme disease. Director Andy Abrahams Wilson, whose twin sister was diagnosed with the illness, painstakingly profiles a vast array of sufferers—everyone from a "usual suspect" park ranger whose doctor wouldn't diagnose Lyme even though he'd proffered the tick that bit him as evidence, to a young, pretty, often wheelchair-bound blonde and a hipster chick, an event producer for U2 who offers, "The hardest thing is everybody thinks I'm normal." And through montages of talking heads divulging the many different diseases they were misdiagnosed as having, their outrageous out-of-pocket expenses, and the startling diversity of their symptoms, Abrahams has managed to create a film that flows with the same head-spinning feel that informs these victims' frustration with both their debilitated bodies and the medical establishment at large.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant.

Human Rights Watch International Film Festival 2009: In the Holy Fire of Revolution

On its surface, Masha Novikova's “In the Holy Fire of Revolution,“ which follows the Russian chess champion and activist/politician Garry Kasparov as he and his comrades in The Other Russia movement wage a campaign battle against Vladimir Putin and his supporters, would suggest “The War Room” Russky-style. Unfortunately, the doc doesn't sizzle like its title, but merely fizzles out. Novikova, instead of digging deep into the heart of the former Soviet Union, is merely content to toe the party line, trotting out all the usual dissident suspects to needlessly remind us that Putin's Russia is a thug state. The main problem with “Revolution” is that it tells us nothing new, but merely shows us what anyone who's tuned in to any international media outlet since the turn of the century already knew. That Kasparov's contingent would hold their meetings in a crumbling, commie-drab building by candlelight since the electricity was cut off, and that a young mother working for the Kasparov side could be brutally attacked with a baseball bat, is sad, but not the least bit surprising or illuminating.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Be Like Others

It's rare when a documentary comes along that truly shines a light on a virtually unexplored issue, and Iranian-American director Tanaz Eshaghian's “Be Like Others” is gripping drama because it does exactly that. Sure, taking a camera to Tehran to follow the lives of several young men awaiting sex change operations in a country which punishes homosexuality by death would be intriguing in and of itself. But that the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa two decades ago allowing for these "diagnosed transsexuals" to legally undergo gender reassignment is nothing short of astonishing.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant.

Friday, June 12, 2009

…And The Fear Cracked Open.

As part of this year’s Anti-Depressant Festival at The Brick Theater the troupe Ten Directions is presenting “…And The Fear Cracked Open.,” which follows on the heels of their award-winning “Bouffon Glass Menajoree.” While I haven’t seen the company’s parody of that American classic their latest piece about a Minnesota couple’s journey from meeting cute, to moving in together, to tackling the domestic drama of unpaid bills and infidelity, makes me wish I’d seen “Bouffon Glass Menajoree” instead if only for the blueprint Williams’ drama would have provided.

To read the rest of my review visit Theater Online.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Human Rights Watch International Film Festival 2009: The Reckoning: The Battle for the International Criminal Court

"Without justice, people have no respect for each another," one victim of the atrocities in the Congo offers in Pamela Yates's “The Reckoning: The Battle for the International Criminal Court.” "If this is left unpunished, it will happen again," he adds. Opening the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival with a whimper rather than a bang (as did last year's underwhelming cinematic salvo), Yates's film follows ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo and his dedicated deputies as they seek to bring to trial the worst of the worst war criminals of our time. Unfortunately, the doc is no fascinatingly addictive character study a la “Sin City Law” writ large, but rather a clinical procedural better suited to classroom use than for theatrical release.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Shiny Happy Unclassified People: Why “Hair” Matters

Free love is in the air—and “Hair.” Forty years after the summer of ’69, the greatest tribal love-rock musical ever sung just won Best Revival of a Musical at the Tony Awards, while Pola Rapaport and Wolfgang Held’s documentary “Hair: Let the Sun Shine In” recently made the micro-cinema rounds.

The film’s clips from recent rehearsals notwithstanding, I’ve yet to see the musical in any of its incarnations (as I developed an aversion to peacenik shit during my punk rock youth). But after watching “Hair: Let the Sun Shine In” which mixes archival footage from the era and the production (along with its surrounding hype) with present-day interviews with the original cast and creative team, I feel like at least I’ve gotten the hippie Cliff’s notes version.

To read the rest visit my Sex Beat column at Carnal Nation.

Portrait of an Artist as Rambo: A Conversation with Zack Oberzan about Flooding With Love For The Kid

When Jean-Luc Godard referred to his criticism and filmmaking as one and the same he couldn’t have envisioned the “one-man cinematic war” called “Flooding With Love For The Kid,” Zachary Oberzan’s no-budget ($96 to be exact) version of “First Blood,” shot entirely by himself in his Manhattan studio apartment, in which he plays all the characters.

I spoke with Oberzan on the set of his upcoming film (aka, his apartment) about our mutual appreciation of action heroes, mind versus body control, Stallone versus Van Damme and so much more.

To read the interview visit The House Next Door.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Burning Bush!

Like the very best preachers Tracey Erin Smith in her one-woman dynamo show “The Burning Bush!”, which follows a rabbinical school dropout named Barbara who discovers the true meaning of spirituality at the Tit for Tat strip club – and takes both miraculous message and exotic dancers on tour to spread the holy word – doesn’t actually preach to her congregation. Instead the exuberant and passionate Smith actively listens to her audience, connecting, engaging and adjusting as she segues effortlessly from embodying the uptight Barbara to becoming a variety of diverse characters. There’s Christie, a Marilyn clone who worships Madonna, Sammy the homegirl stripper, a southern Jewish Martha Stewart, a Texas handyman who’s a dead ringer for Matthew McConaughey – and even the nebbish Jackie Mason himself who serves as Barbara’s guide and inner compass. Smith has taken Barbara’s revelation that strippers “listen” to their customers while giving lap dances to heart.

To read the rest of my review visit Theater Online.


with “Half price tickets: The Burning Bush!” in the subject line.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Save 6/11 for Rambo

My friend Zack Oberzan whose one-man, off-B’way show Rambo Solo I raved about at Theater Online is unveiling “Flooding With Love For The Kid,” his film version of “First Blood” shot entirely by himself playing all the characters in his Manhattan studio apartment for 96 bucks. It’s pure cinematic genius – and it’s free! See the invite below – and hope to see y’all there…

"An outsider-cinema masterpiece...Oberzan's mania knows no bounds."

"An absolutely amazing concept. Wildly creative and energetic."
-DAVID MORRELL, NY Times bestselling author of First Blood

Hello, Friends:

I'd like to invite you to the NYC premiere screening of my movie, Flooding with Love for The Kid.

I adapted David Morrell's novel, First Blood, word for word, into a feature film and shot it all here in my apartment, by myself. It's a one-man cinematic war.

It's going to play at Monkey Town on Thursday, June 11th, at 7:30 PM. Admission is FREE.

Monkey Town is a wild experimental place in Williamsburg that projects its films on four screens, while you sit in the middle. You can have dinner there, and drinks. (Reservations recommended for dinner.)

For more info about the movie click here.

For directions click here.

And of course...the trailer is here.

Hope to see you there!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Unmistaken Child

“Unmistaken Child” follows Tenzin Zopa, the lifelong disciple of the recently deceased Tibetan Master Lama Konchog, in his quest to discover that to which the title refers: the unmistaken child who is the reincarnation of Zopa's beloved master. The documentary was shot verité style over the course of four years, with its director Nati Baratz receiving unprecedented access to a process not often documented. Unfortunately, the straightforward, fly-on-the-wall approach Baratz takes doesn't do justice to the supernatural aspect of such an incredible tale.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Hottest Ticket on Broadway

Literally. And this theater critic can be bought for the price of a backstage ménage a trois.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Outing the Outers

“Roy Cohn is not a homosexual. Roy Cohn is a heterosexual who fucks around with guys!" So proclaims Al Pacino as the notoriously ruthless McCarthyite in a clip from Mike Nichols' film version of Tony Kushner's “Angels in America.” While the lines are meant to play for camp laughs, the words astonishingly morph into something absolutely revelatory in Kirby Dick's latest documentary about the outing of gay Republicans, “Outrage.” Kushner penned the lines in an effort to understand Cohn's way of thinking, to humbly step inside the head of someone whose life experience was so foreign from his own. Which is something the self-righteous, outing bloggers and journalists profiled in Dick's documentary never even attempt to do. For what Cohn is really saying is just an extreme version of what the Republicans who "fuck around with guys" are really thinking. Which is, "I am not your definition of homosexual. I have a right to decide my own identity, and I will not be pigeonholed to fit your narrow-minded, simplistic point-of-view."

To read the rest visit my Sex Beat column at Carnal Nation.

Working Stiff: Offices

"Tedious" is not a word I often associate with the Coen brothers — or with theater director Neil Pepe for that matter. But Ethan Coen’s latest onstage diversion, “Offices,” three short comedies about the cubicle world, is about as fun as a day job. One can never be sure what’s going on inside the brothers’ collective mind though, in this case, one question begs to be asked of the Ethan half, “O Brother, What Art Thou Thinking?”

To read the rest of my review visit The House Next Door.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Soderbergh Experience: The Girlfriend Experience

According to IMDb’s plot synopsis, Steven Soderbergh’s latest indie tryst, “The Girlfriend Experience,” starring porn star Sasha Grey, is a "revealing look at the world of prostitution from an elite call girl's point of view." While it’s true that Ms. Grey plays high-priced hooker Chelsea (a.k.a. Christine), the film is less a "revealing look at the world of prostitution" than it is a narcissistic indictment of the director’s own world. Rather than bravely and avidly explore lusty new territory, Soderbergh merely grafts the wheeler-dealer movie industry he knows so well onto the sex biz and calls it a day.

To read the rest of my review visit The House Next Door.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

New World Order

Perhaps the most surprising revelation uncovered in “New World Order,” Luke Meyer and Andrew Neel's look at conspiracy theorists, is just how downright boring the people who make up the underground anti-globalist movement truly are. The doc is less an expose than a classic case study of filmmakers asking all the wrong questions. From its unoriginal opening of JFK's voice over the credits, warning newspapermen of the dangers of secrecy in society (before a cut to images from the Zapruder film), to filmmaker/radio host/showboat Alex Jones's long, crazy, on-air rant that resembles an audition for “The Exorcist,” the directors have announced their intention not to dig too deep, but to merely reaffirm mainstream perceptions of New World Order theorists as disenfranchised crackpots.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Way to Heaven

“Way to Heaven (Himmelweg)” was inspired by the true story of the Nazis’ charade at the Theresienstadt concentration camp where “Himmel Weg” or “Paradise Way” was the name of the street leading to the gas chamber. The play, which recounts the stormtroopers’ building of a happy-go-lucky fake town for international inspectors to visit, is an off-Broadway must-see, not for the obvious historical reason but for two equally important artistic ones. Between Juan Mayorga’s intricately layered script, which probes the meaning of theater as literally life and death event, and Francisco Reyes’ tour de force performance as the Commandant, “Way to Heaven” comes alive like few contemporary dramas in recent memory.

To read the rest of my review visit Theater Online.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Sasha Grey Interview

Originally published at SpoutBlog:

Sasha Grey Interview

“I have to say that the adult films have been a total pleasure. They were like getting paid to live out my greatest fantasies. The rest of the stuff … sometimes got to be a real grind.”

So sayeth the late, great Marilyn Chambers. And though porn star Sasha Grey, who makes her “mainstream” debut as a high-end call girl in Steven Soderbergh’s “The Girlfriend Experience,” would most likely disagree with the latter part of that sentiment, I couldn’t help but think of Chambers’ often wasted talent as Grey and I sat down to chat. This self-proclaimed “performance artist” is every bit as intelligent and articulate as Soderbergh’s latest HD fling is tedious and condescending. Here’s hoping Grey’s next experience is worthy of her wonderful lust for life.

Lauren Wissot: So how did you hook up with Steven Soderbergh?

Sasha Grey: One of his writers contacted me through my MySpace page. They’d both read an article about me in a Los Angeles magazine, um, about three years ago now. So Brian Koppelman said Soderbergh’s casting his next film and he’d like to talk to me, and I was like, “Yeah, right, whatever. O.K., have him leave me a voicemail.” And then I get home one day and there’s a message on my voicemail and it’s Steven Soderbergh and I was, like, “Oh, wow! O.K., this is getting interesting.” (laughs) So we had a meeting about three days later. It was really an unorthodox way of casting. Literally, it was a forty-five minute meeting and that was that.

LW: So it just kind of fell into your lap? That’s interesting. As someone who’s been around the sex industry for over a dozen years, though in the S&M area, and who spent six years with a high-end male escort, one of the things –

SG: You were in a relationship with an escort?

LW: Yeah, but a guy.

SG: Oh.

LW: Oh, yeah. Anyway, I didn’t really recognize the world of “The Girlfriend Experience,” and I’m wondering, is this a fictional take? Is there something from your own life represented in there? It just seemed really foreign to me and I’m trying to figure out why that is. Did you have anything at all to do with the script?

SG: No, actually there was already an outline written by Brian Koppelman and David Levien. The casting director then found these two escorts. So things like Chelsea’s screening process, where she relies on personology books – that came from a real escort. Also, how Chelsea goes home after appointments and writes in detail in her diary in order to remember conversations she’d had with the clients. One of the escorts did that so it would seem like she was genuinely interested in them. She’d always look back on her notes before the next date, next meeting, what have you. Or the guy in the diaper – one of the girls had a client like that. Or the Hasidic Jew, that was another guy this girl had.

LW: So this was kind of a new thing for you. You didn’t really know about the escort industry. You had to do your own research.

SG: Yeah, exactly. I mean, after Steven and I met I went home and Googled “escorting, escorting,” (laughs) trying to find information. I mean, unless you want to hire a woman to go out on a date with you it’s really difficult to find actual personal information, or how these people really feel about what they do. So the casting director gave us her research information and also all these links to escorting blogs.

LW: So did you get to speak with escorts? Did you do your own first-person research?

SG: Steven and I met with one the day before I came to NYC to shoot. And then the day before we started shooting in New York we met with one. So within a couple hours I was trying to get as much information as I could.

LW: So you didn’t actually go out and escort?

SG: No, no.

LW: Let’s talk a little bit about the production. It seemed as if Steven was trying to draw parallels between the business of moviemaking and the business of sex. What I’m more interested in is, what are the differences? What stood out for you about the differences between the porn industry and the indie filmmaking industry?

SG: Actually there are a lot of surprising similarities. You’d think there’d be more differences. I guess for me, personally, it was the preparation. I put a lot more preparation into this character than I do into my sex scenes. I’m playing myself in my sex scenes. There might be certain things I want to say or do within those scenes but I’m still myself, whereas in “The Girlfriend Experience” I’m playing somebody else. I wrote a back story – where she’s from, what her parents are like. Is she rich? Is she poor? I just took all that and presented it to Steven.

LW: So how long did you prepare for your character?

SG: A couple months. And a lot of it you’re not even going to see onscreen. It was more a matter of I had to exercise my skills as an actor.

LW: One thing I liked was your rapport with Chris Santos who plays your boyfriend. What was the rehearsal process with him like?

SG: We hung out in LA a few times before we shot the film just because Steven really wanted us to be comfortable with each other and not feel robotic and stiff. As far as rehearsing the scenes we didn’t really do that. Whatever we did we shot it.

LW: The other thing that really stood out for me about your character is Chelsea’s patience. Not only with these self-absorbed clients, but with the boyfriend, and then she’s got to deal with this journalist who’s asking her these inane questions. And she’s just sitting there nicely and patiently answering him. I mean, if it were me I would have strangled him with his statements like, “I’ve never met an escort in a committed relationship.” Which to me is quite condescending.

SG: Uh-huh.

LW: I just thought that really rang true for the character. I mean, you do have to have the patience of a saint to be in the sex industry. Did you purposely try to convey that? Was that something you’d written in your back-story about her? That this is how she deals with people?

SG: Yeah, yeah. Well, her angle is always money. She’s always working to make more money and to save more money. So whether it be granting an article to a journalist to better her career and make the public aware of her so that she gets more clients, whether it’s placating her clients…it doesn’t matter if they’re easy to work with or tough to work with –they give her money! (laughs) So the end result for Chelsea is always the money.

LW: Which is probably different from porn, right? I mean, there’s other things involved than just going out and getting the money.

SG: Yeah, exactly. I look at what I do as performance art. There’s definitely a difference between what I do and the way Chelsea lives her life. Solely as a performer in the adult business you don’t make that much money. It’s a good income, but –

LW: Well, you do if you use it to escort.

SG: Huh?

LW: I mean, if you use porn as a promotional tool you can make a lot of money.

SG: Oh, yeah. (laughs) A lot of girls do that…but unless you’re directing or producing or have your own company in the adult business you don’t make a lot. You just have to be happy with what you do. I think that’s the most important thing.

LW: Is this something you’re gonna invite all your relatives to come see?

SG: (laughs) Yeah!

LW: Because everyone walks that tightrope differently. I know people that tell their family absolutely nothing. And then there are the people who are totally open with their families. How do you negotiate that?

SG: My family knows what I do.

LW: But obviously they don’t watch your films.

SG: Yeah, exactly. I mean, my mom keeps calling me now. “When is your movie coming out? I wanna come see it!” So she keeps bugging me. (laughs) I told her, “I’ll let you know as soon as it comes out because I want you to tell all your friends because I’m actually getting backend.” And she’s like, “What? You’re getting back-ended?” So I’m like, “Mom, you’re an undercover pervert. You just don’t want to admit it!”

Love in the Time of Terror

Though the press notes cite Brecht, Beckett, Ionesco and Lynch as inspirations for “Love in the Time of Terror” there’s a Dada feel to this WOW Café Theater production. Right from the start three characters, at turns sexy and bedraggled, announce to the audience that the play may not necessarily make sense to us. To offer a plot summary of a show that includes a Rubenesque diva in a sequined, aqua blue number straight out of “The Little Mermaid” (belting out sultry tunes in a dynamic voice that seems to weigh more than she does), bickering lesbian couples, and a blind woman whose family and cat were murdered in a genocide is to merely fall down a rabbit hole.

To read the rest of my review visit Theater Online.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Reasons to Yawn at Neil LaBute

Provocateur playwright/filmmaker Neil LaBute traffics in alternate reality, in a world where perfectly timed jabs and witty comebacks abound. He transforms “what we wish we could say” into pretty bits of dialogue. It’s been obvious right from his audacious directorial debut, “In The Company of Men,” that LaBute is in love with the stylization of language over emotional substance. That film—brutally shocking in its misanthropy, with its use of words as blood sport—was a risk-taking revelation for its time. But in the dozen years since “In The Company of Men” stormed the indie scene, LaBute hasn’t grown much as an artist. He’s been creating on autopilot, merely repeating himself with colorful stunts that masquerade as deep explorations of the human psyche. Simply put, if you’ve seen one LaBute piece you’ve seen them all. Which brings us to his latest play, “reasons to be pretty,” now playing at the Lyceum Theater.

To read the rest of my review visit The House Next Door.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Little Ashes review

“Little Ashes” examines a love affair between renowned poet Federico García Lorca and surrealist genius Salvador Dalí during their college days in Madrid in 1922, where the legendary Luis Buñuel formed the husky hetero point to their bizarre triangle. But you won't buy any of this while watching British director Paul Morrison's predictable flick, whose characters bear absolutely no resemblance, physical or otherwise, to their real-life namesakes. We get no inkling that these amigos would go on to become three of the greatest masters in their respective crafts since they've been reduced to a stereotypical sensitive poet, a goth Johnny Depp type, and a raging homophobe. The movie stars exactly one actual male Spaniard, Javier Beltran as the doomed writer, and two of Morrison's fellow Englishmen, Robert Pattinson as Dalí and James Dean lookalike Matthew McNulty as Buñuel. Indeed, beginning with the ridiculous casting, “Little Ashes” is less a film than just a series of bad ideas piled on top of one another, many courtesy of first-time screenwriter Philippa Goslett.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Nosemaker's Apprentice: Chronicles Of A Medieval Plastic Surgeon

A bitter divorced alcoholic and unlicensed plastic surgeon (Ian Lowe) tells a bedtime story to his wise beyond her years, eight-year-old daughter (Molly Ward). It’s a fantastic tale of the medieval roots of reconstructive surgery loaded with characters salvaged from somewhere on the cutting room floor of “Young Frankenstein” and “Monty Python and The Holy Grail.” The father, as a means of both explanation and exculpation, sees himself through the role of innocent apprentice hero Gavin (Eric Gilde), rescued from the Ivanhoe Workhouse for Criminally Impoverished Boys by the local nosemaker Wulfric (Corey Sullivan). “No one has shown me such love since my mother – and she died long before I was born,” a grateful Gavin laments. To which Wulfric later replies, “Poor boy – parents died before he was conceived.”

To read the rest of my review visit Theater Online.

Friday, May 1, 2009

A Wink and a Smile Review

Originally published at SpoutBlog:


The ten brave students at Seattle’s Academy of Burlesque, who shimmy in pasties and heels, unexpectedly and touchingly reveal themselves in more ways than one in Deidre Timmons’ “A Wink and a Smile.” The film combines talking head interviews with the mostly average Jills and their anything-but-average headmistress Indigo Blue (who also serves as an enlightening guide and narrator through the burlesque scene of both today and yesteryear) with actual performances courtesy of the exhibitionist men and women of Seattle’s vibrant scene. But the biggest revelation of all is that this breathtaking doc just might be the sexy feel-good flick of the year.

It’s no coincidence that the performers of burlesque and “boylesque” tend to run in the same circles as the mistresses and masters of the BDSM scene and the queens and kings of drag art. Not only do these stripper artistes share costumes (with the fetish world a penchant for corsets and stilettos, with the drag scene a preference for the lovingly handmade over the store-bought, a la the grand balls most notably featured in “Paris Is Burning”), but also a common goal. As much as the students in “A Wink and a Smile,” who come to Miss Blue’s school from every walk of life and for an equal variety of reasons, might profess a desire to wield their taboo female sexuality as a power tool, the reality is that burlesque (and S&M and drag) is really a tool of transcendence, rising above the simplistic gender binary of male/female (and by extension any gay/straight sexuality). As Miss Blue notes, the definition of burlesque is to mock something, in this case the very notion of a fixed female sexual construct. “The distinctions between male and female in our society are not as rigid as they were in the past – and neither are they in the burlesque world,” Miss Blue proclaims. Indeed, the biologically female Swedish Housewife was “raised by drag queens” and incorporates camp into her performance, while the male-born Waxie Moon makes a female student swoon that she’s “in love” even as he commands the stage in the ultimate symbol of femininity, a white wedding dress. Boldly, Timmons’ film makes visual that which is so freeing about burlesque – and also so terrifying.

And like with S&M play and drag shows, body type within burlesque – the mere physical form – is truly irrelevant, while the melding of sexiness with silliness is crucial. It’s a return to an adolescent stage of sexual exploration, an infinite realm of possibility. One student chooses to create a Little Red Riding Hood routine in which she takes on the roles of both innocent child and wolf. Another was astonished to see that “gawky little girl” that she once was, staring back at her in the mirror as she rehearsed her dance. By the time the students reach the end of their life-changing journey, shown in a montage sequence in which the director deftly quick cuts between the (now nine) women’s class final/live show, their transformation onstage is nothing short of astounding, all the more so since it’s got little to do with tassels and boas. Miss Blue had defined the basic burlesque formula routine at the very beginning as, “Performer enters with some clothing, magic happens, and performer exits the stage with less clothing.” What’s truly remarkable is that Timmons’ lens has managed to capture that middle part.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

TMI Trumbo: Johnny Got His Gun

The too-much-information age is a strange thing indeed. Take for instance Shout! Factory’s long-awaited DVD release of Dalton Trumbo’s “Johnny Got His Gun,” which takes place mostly inside the mind of wounded WWI vet Joe Bonham, a deaf/dumb/blind quadruple amputee. Smoothly and effortlessly the film weaves back and forth in time, from the present, B&W hospital setting (seen from third-person POV) to Joe’s colorful memories of the past to the trapped soldier’s vivid fantasy world. Adapted from the legendary screenwriter’s own award-winning book, Trumbo’s sole directorial effort was a film I’d never gotten around to seeing, so I was pretty thrilled when I noticed that the DVD contained a slew of bonus features. In addition to Robert Fischer’s 2006 doc “Dalton Trumbo: Rebel In Hollywood,” there’s a 2009 interview with star Timothy Bottoms, and the music video for Metallica’s “One” (a metal homage of sorts to “Johnny”). As if that weren’t enough, there’s also behind-the-scenes peeks with Bottoms and DP Jules Brenner providing commentary, the 1940 radio adaptation of “Johnny” (the book) starring James Cagney, a 1971 feature article from “American Cinematographer,” the original theatrical trailer and, oh yeah, a replica of the original poster! It’s like an all-in-one, film junkie overdose kit.

Which would be great, save for one giant spoiler, which I could have avoided had I not been so geeky that I watched the extras first.

To read the rest of my review visit The House Next Door.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Ride with The Devil: Il Divo

“Il Divo,” Paolo Sorrentino’s 2008 Cannes Jury Prize-winning study of Italy’s “Life Senator” Giulio Andreotti (who shares his titular nickname with Julius Caesar) is an art-house crowd popcorn flick. Dense with Byzantine political information—blink and you’ll miss a crucial subtitle—the film should have been a miniseries, but nevertheless is steeped in the country’s populist operatic tradition, and moves with the speed (not to mention slo-mo action sequences) of a Luc Besson film. And like that high-flying Frenchman’s movies, Il Divo has the feeling of being completely choreographed. It’s a ballet on steroids, downright militaristic in its precision. Between the lush production design and sweeping camerawork, the overwhelming opera score alternating with roaring rock and roll (and even a silly tune from 80s pop-tart Trio), you forget you’re watching the story of a leader whose ruthless administration makes Bush & Co. look like Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity. (Though all those Bush conspiracy theories do find their counterpart in Italy’s “strategy of tension,” which holds that the government causes chaos to create fear and maintain power—in this case for decades. In lieu of Skull and Bones there’s the secret society of the P2 lodge, of which Silvio Berlusconi, naturally, was a member.)

To read the rest of my review visit The House Next Door .

Monday, April 20, 2009

Putting the T&A in “Namaste”: Enlighten Up!

I always felt that yoga was something for closet perverts, not out-and-proud pervs like me. (Personally, I'm a Thai boxing enthusiast, martial arts being the Zen physical activities of choice among a heck of a lot of BDSM aficionados. But that's a movie yet to be made.) Right or wrong, I always associated the practice with the granola, free love, hippie shit that I've hated since my punk rock youth. So I was relieved to see that Kate Churchill's "peek behind the curtain of a 5.7 billion dollar 'spiritual' industry," according to the press notes for her yoga doc “Enlighten Up!,” stars a skeptical journalist named Nick Rosen whom Churchill enlists in her attempt to prove that down the road and past the hype lies a very real path to enlightenment.

To read the rest of my Sex Beat column visit Carnal Nation.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

And A Day: Forever

While a recent slate of American fiction film directors, including Lance Hammer, Ramin Bahrani and Kelly Reichardt, grab the public’s imagination on these shores by making the intricacies of everyday life riveting onscreen, Lima-born/Rome-educated/Amsterdam-residing director Heddy Honigmann is quietly doing the same in documentary form with “Forever,” just released on DVD to coincide with her latest work, “Oblivion,” premiering at Film Forum. Who would have thought that a slow-paced, poetic meditation on France’s famed Père-Lachaise cemetery could be so edge-of-your-seat engrossing?

To read the rest of my review visit The House Next Door.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Sexonomics: Oliver Stone's "Wall Street" as Lust Story

"Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac," Kissinger once famously proclaimed, and he should know. When someone as hot as a hobbit lands babes like Shirley MacLaine and Candice Bergen it certainly can't be the hairy feet. Of course, in a capitalist society the one sure way to power is through money, which means greedy richies with bad combovers like Donald Trump also can snag bombshells as easily as "Henry the Kiss." So as the countdown to April 15th begins let's look back at how we really arrived at our current economic crisis—the inevitable result of the pursuit of dirty sexy money, of too many aspiring Gordon Gekkos speculating on Wall Street's lusty wild west.

To read the rest visit my Sex Beat column at Carnal Nation.

Venice Saved: A Seminar

Director David Levine’s “Venice Saved: A Seminar” at P.S. 122 is pretty much what it sounds like. Less a performance than an audience participatory, intellectual inquiry, the piece employs an unknown activist playwright (Simone Weil) and her obscure and unfinished work (“Venise Sauvée”) from the last century as a jumping off point into the subject of political theater and its relevance in today’s world. With both audience and actors collectively seated around tables Levine gently guides the discussion, beginning with a brief history of the iconoclastic Weil – born a hundred years ago and dying of tuberculosis at the age of 34 – whose longing to bridge the gap between art and the real world led her on a passionate quest for physical experience.

To read the rest of my review visit Theater Online.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Rambo Solo

I have seen the theater future and its name is Rambo – or more accurately, one fearless thespian named Zachary Oberzan who’s got the right combination of mesmerizing lunacy and sheer cojones to guide an audience through the entire plot of “First Blood” in his Manhattan studio apartment then transport the journey to the live stage of Soho Rep. “Rambo Solo” comes courtesy of the Nature Theater of Oklahoma, whose co-directors Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper conceived the piece out of Oberzan’s passion (which began not with the Stallone franchise, but with David Morrell’s book about a decorated and disturbed Vietnam vet whose clash with a small town sheriff leads to a cat-and-mouse chase with the law).

To read the rest of my review visit Theater Online.

Friday, March 27, 2009

American Swing interview

Originally published at SpoutBlog


As someone who has been to an untold number of swing parties in NYC, and often had a hilarious time, I’ve never found them the least bit sexy. Truth be told, average Joes engaging in group sex is rather boring to me. So I was hoping that through interviewing Jon Hart and Mathew Kaufman, co-directors of the Plato’s Retreat doc “American Swing,” they’d upend my POV, get to the essence of why the notorious 70s sex club was so alluring. I spoke with the filmmakers during their opening night screening at the Museum of Sex.

Lauren Wissot: Jon, since you’d already exhaustively researched Plato’s Retreat and written about its founder Larry Levenson for “The NY Times” and “The Village Voice,” what drove you to want to tell the story through film?

Jon Hart: He was a larger than life character. He just had a great story. It was moving and funny. And Larry was an actor, he was a ham – there were just so many elements. I always knew it was a film.

LW: And Mathew, what was your attraction to the subject?

Mathew Kaufman: Well, I produce documentaries so I’m always looking for a good story.

LW: Oh, I didn’t know that. What documentaries have you produced?

MK: I did a two-show special for “Nightline” in 2004, I worked on something with evangelical Christians – I like weird subject matter.

LW: You and Alexandra Pelosi have something in common. (laughs)

MK: A friend of mine introduced me to Jon. But I’d read his articles before we even met. It was such a fascinating story. No one had done a documentary on Plato’s Retreat. It would be a first so that excited me.

LW: And could you talk a little bit about the audience you hope to reach with your film?

JH: I don’t really think about that. It’s just such a great story, even without all the salacious elements.

MK: I just felt like “If you build it they will come,” the “Field of Dreams” bullshit – no, seriously. It’s just such a great story.

LW: I’m also wondering where did you get your “never-before-seen” archival materials? I mean, who was allowed to film at Plato’s Retreat?

MK: The archival footage was absolutely necessary, because without it it’s just a bunch of talking heads.

JH: On very special occasions they did allow cameras on the premises. On those nights people were informed that filming would occur.

MK: We also got the rights to a documentary that was made in the 80s called “Coupling,” and then some other TV shows. We just dug with absolute determination, trying to get every scrap of footage we could find.

LW: Getting back to the talking heads, in the film they range from Buck Henry to Melvin Van Peebles to Helen Gurley Brown, yet hardly any of the well-known names interviewed were famous at the time of Plato’s Retreat; they only became famous later on. This strikes me as quite different from Studio 54, which operated at the same time as Plato’s and also ran into trouble with the IRS, where all the celebrities wanted to be seen. Was this the case or were you just unable to interview any stars that frequented the club?

MK: (laughing) We tried. I must have called Richard Dreyfuss’ office at least every two weeks!

JH: He even wrote about Plato’s in an “Esquire” article at the time. Look, if you were at Plato’s you’re admitting that you enjoy a certain aspect of human sexuality, and people are a bit squeamish about that. Even so it was really the atmosphere that was the star more than any celebrity personalities.

LW: I also noticed you have Annie Sprinkle, who talks about Plato’s Retreat dying a “natural death.” In other words, even without the tax evasion charges that sent Levenson to prison, even without the AIDS epidemic that caused Mayor Koch to padlock Plato’s Retreat’s doors for good, the club had run its course, much like disco and Studio 54. Wasn’t Levenson’s biggest mistake in not realizing the 70s were over a decade before?

JH: Larry had no plan B. He didn’t even have a plan A. A clock exists for not just Plato’s, but for any club in NYC. They all eventually become passé.

MK: But if you equate that with Larry’s character, it kind of makes sense, you see the egotism and the hubris –

LW: Which is what allowed him to take a chance on a sex club in the first place.

MK: But New York is such a fast-moving city, and he refused to see that.

JH: Larry wasn’t a businessman. He liked the attention and the media hype, but after Plato’s had been open for a couple years it became a job.

LW: He also wasn’t an artist, but an entrepreneur who craved being around kinky creative types, which is usually the case with people in charge of sex businesses. I felt that this social connection to people beyond his suburban milieu might have superseded the actual screwing for him. I know Al Goldstein chides Levenson in the film for not realizing that sex is just “friction,” but I think Levenson’s optimistic hope for connection is what drove him to create Plato’s Retreat in the first place. Do you have any thoughts on this?

JH: Larry was a small businessman who didn’t look at Plato’s as a business.

MK: In the beginning maybe.

JH: But he did love the connection. He never stopped enjoying meeting with people. He became a cab driver after Plato’s closed.

LW: Which makes total sense.

JH: He loved being “he host” above all. That’s what he was meant to be.

LW: Which is kind of the opposite of what Al Goldstein was saying, that Larry was only there for the sex.

JH: Al Goldstein was on the dark side. He’s a very intelligent guy. But Larry believed in what he was doing. He drank the Kool-Aid. He truly believed.

MK: Look, I didn’t know Larry like Jon did but I have a different viewpoint. I really think that Larry had to have known at some point that the Kool-Aid he was drinking wasn’t working. We tried to show in the documentary that he had to have known.

JH: Had to have known what?

MK: That it was doomed to failure, that it was just commerce after a certain point.

JH: Sure, it became a job at some point – but this is all he knew. There was no plan B. I don’t know what he knew or what he didn’t know. Larry lived completely in the moment, not looking ahead.

LW: When I was watching the film I felt that Levenson wanted to bring the middle class swinging lifestyle to the masses, but the problem with doing this is he’s simultaneously trying to play it both ways – promoting the wholesomeness of the people involved while hyping the unwholesome titillating excitement. Levenson seemed pretty uncomfortable with what his dream in the end had become, evidenced by his ludicrous denial that prostitutes were working the club.

MK: He played a character. He played a role.

JH: Yes, that’s true, that’s true. But Plato’s was contrived to begin with. Swinging is an activity that’s supposed to be organic and Plato’s was forcing people, in a sense that people in that setting are pushed into the activity. Larry knew Plato’s was a business from the get-go. It blew his innocence from the moment the financial portion became involved.

LW: Which is the case with everything. (laughs)

JH: Yeah, it’s like a rock band. You start playing music in the garage and the next thing you know you’ve got silent partners to answer to.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Glory Hole Days: American Swing

Though I've been to many underground sex parties in NYC I can't say I find them all that sexy. Hilarious—quite often; sexy—not so much. Maybe this is because I come from the BDSM world, which means I'm usually the biggest perv in the room. A lot of the swingers at the parties I've attended tend to get wide-eyed at the mention of something as ho-hum to me as caning, and mere screwing ain't enough to turn me on. Or maybe it's because I'm just a shallow genderqueer chick who won't touch any body that doesn't have muscles attached to a big dick. Or maybe it's because I was swinging on the playground when the original deal, NYC's notorious swing club Plato's Retreat, was in full swing.

But after watching “American Swing,” Jon Hart and Matthew Kaufman's doc about the infamous '70s sex club, I can safely rule out that last possibility. Nope, I still don't get why average people having group sex is hot.

To read the rest visit my column at Carnal Nation.

Monday, March 23, 2009

New Directors/New Films 2009: We Live In Public

Ondi Timoner's Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning doc “We Live in Public,” about the rise and fall (and rise and fall…) of visionary Josh Harris—billed as "the greatest Internet pioneer you've never heard of" and the "Warhol of the Web" in the film's press notes—surprisingly lives up to its Barnum-esque hype. The film, a quintessential New York story, begins with a YouTube clip called "Goodbye Mom"—Harris's cyber farewell to his dying mother in lieu of visiting her bedside—and ends in a third-world country. In between, Timoner, who previously took home a Grand Jury Prize at Sundance for “Dig!”, pieces together a thought-provoking portrait of society's future through the technology of the recent past.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant.

New Directors/New Films 2009: Paper Soldier

Russian director Alexey German Jr. announces his intentions right from the start of “Paper Soldier,” which takes its title from a song about a brave soldier unaware that he's really just a toy made of paper—and who meets his demise by voluntarily stepping into a fire. The period film, set in 1961, harkens back to Russian cinema of the '60s. In addition to winning the Silver Lion and Best Cinematography at last year's Venice International Film Festival, the film also stars the mesmerizing Georgian actor Merab Ninidze as a doctor whose conscience insidiously catches up with him as he works with the young cosmonauts at the Soviet Cosmodrome Baikonur. With exquisite imagery and a script co-written by German Jr. (the son of German Sr., a legendary director from the Leningrad film school) that manages to transform a poetic and philosophical meditation into a tightly paced drama, and a cast that includes the radiant Chulpan Khamatova as doctor Danya's doctor wife, “Paper Soldier” deftly visualizes those dual elements of terrifying uncertainty and thrilling history that were the essence of the Soviet liberal experiment era, crystallized in the space program itself.

To read the rest of my review visit Slant.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

"Un Piede di Roman Polanski" on YouTube

CineKink Film Festival 2009’s Best Experimental Short.

Watch it before we get sued!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Screengrab's Favorite Movies About Music: Non-Fiction Edition (Part Three): Lauren Wissot's Favorite: JOY DIVISION (2007)

My first boyfriend when I came to NYC, the lead singer of a local goth band, introduced me to Joy Division – not the band itself, and not the music, since I was already a goth and well-aware of their songs – but the phenomenon. I was a big sound Sisters of Mercy chick who didn’t quite get it, a fan of over-the-top goth like Bauhaus, and the catchy dance beat of the band Joy Division evolved into, New Order. Joy Division itself was more like those minimalist 4AD bands – goth lite. The boyfriend was long out of my life by the time I realized my mistake. You can’t just listen to Joy Division – you have to absorb their aura. Now thanks to Grant Gee’s documentary “Joy Division” (written by punk rock’s tireless chronicler Jon Savage), which Surround Sounds the story of the band with the feel of Manchester through a collage of images, I understand why this is. The British director, by placing himself in the environment that birthed Joy Division, soaks in the band’s essence. This is something that Anton Corbijn, a Dutch photographer and cinematographer who shot the infamous video for “Atmosphere” (and appears in Gee’s doc), and tread the same material in his biopic “Control,” completely lost amidst his lush, gorgeous and painfully stark imagery. Corbijn’s certainly got more artistic talent than Gee, but less of an understanding of the band he knew as a young photojournalist. There’s just less substance in “Control.”

To read the rest of my review visit Nerve’s Screengrab.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

"Stay alive for as long as you have to stay lost": This Beautiful City

As someone who grew up in the hardcore/new wave/goth scene in Colorado Springs in the late 80s, and who recently reviewed Alexandra Pelosi’s “The Trials of Ted Haggard” and penned a column entitled "In Defense of Ted Haggard," I was anxious to wrap up my trip through Pastor Ted-land with This Beautiful City, the latest production from The Civilians, the acclaimed “documentary theatre company” that this time around has immersed itself in the mega-church movement (and its opposition) in Colorado Springs. It’s now playing at the Vineyard Theater through March 15th—so you still have time to catch it before it wins a well-deserved Obie and transfers to Broadway.

To read my review visit The House Next Door.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Looking Back at The Notorious Bettie Page

On the surface it would seem that cerebral Mary Harron would be the perfect director to craft a biopic from the many dueling facets of the mother-of-all-fetish-models’ life. Unfortunately, as I’ve written before, brainy Harron also has a terrific knack for choosing the most interesting, sexy subjects and just draining the life out of them. Watching both “I Shot Andy Warhol” and “The Notorious Bettie Page,” I found myself thinking, "the book would have been better" – if only there were a book. It’s the same feeling I get sitting through French "provocateur" Catherine Breillat’s films. Having intellectually astute women at a flick’s helm is a grand idea in theory, but often all this thinking just gets in the way of an entertaining story.

To read the rest visit my Sex Beat column at Carnal Nation.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Tokyo! Review

Originally published at SpoutBlog:

TOKYO! Review

The producers of “Tokyo!,” three short films by two Frenchmen and a South Korean, aim to do for Japan’s metropolis what “New York Stories” did for the Big Apple or “Paris Je T’Aime” for the City of Lights. That the two Frenchmen are indie darling Michel Gondry and former film critic/”Pola X” director Leos Carax, and the South Korean Bong Joon-Ho, who made an international splash with “The Host,” would seem to lend these three very different takes on a single subject some serious cache. Unfortunately, only two directors rise to the occasion, leaving a gaping hole in an otherwise thoughtful trilogy.

Not surprisingly, of the three directors it’s the warped Gondry, whose specialty is visualizing that fine (often nonexistent) line between life and art, who most throws himself into the task of translating the pulse of the city to the screen, via his newly-arrived protagonists Akira and Hiroko in “Interior Design.” Overstaying their welcome couch surfing at a friend’s cramped studio, they look for dead-end jobs and at cheap apartments (one of which contains a dead cat), the camera moving at typical Gondry speed, from fast motion overhead shots to slow pans, like a fractured subconscious. In the process the self-involved Akira (who pitches concepts to his girlfriend in lieu of engaging in conversation) watches his film career take off after he screens his “Metropolis”-like feature at a porn house, while the unsure Hiroko (played by Ayako Fujitani who happens to be the daughter of Steven Seagal) struggles to find her own identity.

It’s like listening inside the director’s own head as the pair roam the bustling streets, arguing about Hiroko’s “hobbies” not being dreams or ambitions. “What’s the difference?” she wonders, to which Akira replies, “You have to be able to define who you are in the world by what you do.” But when the purposeless Hiroko acquires the ability to physically transform like a character straight out of a Cronenberg flick, becoming both metaphorically “invisible” and useful, Gondry’s press notes claims of Polanski’s “Repulsion” and “The Tenant” as influences, eerie string and woodwind score aside, loses any legitimacy. Gondry is just too warmhearted a filmmaker to pull it off – he doesn’t have the ruthlessness required to delve into such psychological terror. Yet for capturing the essence of this Tokyo, that very warmth feels oh-so-right.

Unfortunately, French provocateur Leos Carax plows through his version of Tokyo with a ruthless arrogance akin to his bogeyman protagonist, named “Merde” (a title as clichéd as his Japanese sewer monster, played by Denis Lavant of “Lovers On The Bridge,” that also goes by the French word for “shit”). After opening with a slow pan of the city’s buildings set to ominous music, an overhead shot takes in a manhole, up from which pops Lavant looking like Larry Fessenden on the very worst of days. A shaky handheld camera captures the half man-half beast’s acts of gratuitous mayhem on the streets as he rips food from people’s hands, licks innocent passersby (the footage captured on cell phones makes the evening news, of course). Merde’s relatively harmless afternoon acts escalate to nighttime Molotov cocktail-throwing – with the monster skipping over the bloodied carnage like a playful kid – but despite the wondrously composed shots, Carax’s story is as empty as the tunnels in the beast’s underground lair. And once the creature is captured and forced to stand trial, leading the media to go on a feeding frenzy of its own, a mysterious lawyer from France who speaks Merde’s language (including body unfortunately) arrives in Tokyo to defend him – and, it would seem, to drive the audience mad.

Luckily for the pompous lawyer, Carax’s Tokyo is really just another version of France. As the hand-held camera that sways with the sewer man and his barrister becomes more and more grating, and the insane conversations between the two reach the realm of experimental theater workshop, Carax just keeps on obliviously rolling along (often showily using three frames onscreen simultaneously). Without any specific cultural touchstone the Tokyo courtroom – like the film itself – could be set anywhere. Indeed, the fact that Carax chose to import a French lawyer (played by Jean-Francois Balmer) to defend a creature embodied by a French actor makes “Merde” more of a French film than any exploration of Tokyo. Even the street protest by Japanese ultranationalists (Japanese ultranationalists?) to call for Merde’s hanging is downright Parisian, the pitiful creature not an international bogeyman, as Carax suggests, but rather an accidental stand-in for western imperialism. The end title card even reads that, “The Adventures of Merde in New York” is coming soon. Undoubtedly via Air France – “Merde” says a shit-load more about its enfant terrible director than it does about Japan.

The final part of “Tokyo!,” Joon-ho’s ”Shaking Tokyo,” is the least earthshaking and the most quietly profound. In voiceover the male protagonist, a “hikikomori” (shut-in) describes life inside his apartment as the camera drifts about the tiny yet organized flat, exquisite lighting tapping into the pathos of shadows. “The first eye contact in eleven years,” the nameless man says upon the arrival of a cute pizza girl, but as the middle-aged recluse pays for the delivery an earthquake rattles the room and the young woman collapses in his doorway. After running around in a panic he discovers a circle tattoo on her arm that reads “coma” below it, and literally pushes her button to wake her. Once she’s revived and gone the modern urban fairytale escalates as the hermit is forced to venture into the blinding sunlight of the big bad world to find his mysterious princess.

But unlike Gondry’s rushing Tokyo, Joon-ho’s claustrophobic quarters give way to spacious empty streets (though unlike Carax’s “Merde” the sense of space and place is apparent and palpable in both their films). After running through the streets accompanied by a lovely, light guitar score – peeking in the windows of other recluses – he finally finds the pizza girl (now hikikomori!) of his dreams, begs her to come out through the bars of her window. As self-imprisonment gives way to another earthquake, as the man pushes her “button” for love, which leads to yet another earthquake, this visualization of emotion allows the film to transcend a city and a specific cultural phenomenon to become as universal as the “dissolution of love” story at the heart of Gondry’s “Interior Design.” Now if only immature Carax hadn’t rudely interrupted the deep dialogue between these two companion pieces “Tokyo!” would shine like the city’s brightest neon sign.