Friday, November 30, 2007

New Low

American Idol's Kellie Pickler, a role model to some, or at least source of entertainment, has illuminated just how stupid and ignorant Americans can be about the rest of the world. I'm seriously worried about the next election.

I'm genuinely depressed.

PS - That's the Hungarian flag above. Click the link to understand.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Comics You Should Read

Time for a plug: Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine. Adrian is the twisted mind behind the Optic Nerve series - which frequently feature stories about folks with unhealthy relationships or obsessions - and the last several issues comprise the recently released graphic novel, Shortcomings.

It's friggin' awesome.

And it's released by Montreal-based Drawn & Quarterly, which I am hoping to visit during this week's trip up to Montreal, where I'm serving as judge on the Image+Nation film festival's jury...

Those of you in Quebec, check out the fest! They have some mighty fine stuff showing this year.


Friday, November 16, 2007


This Japanese singer provided the vocals for the amazing music from All About Lily Chou-Chou. She has two solo CDs out. And here is a totally crazy-assed, trippy video for one of her songs.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Back on the Bus

I really liked Shortbus. My DVD has gone missing from its case, so may have to get another copy.

Meanwhile, took a look back at my feature article on the film and its making, and decided to post it here - since you should see the movie too, if you haven't yet. This is the never before published full version...


Get on the Bus

By Lawrence Ferber

Movie directors have gone to extraordinary, unexpected lengths to gain their cast and crew’s trust, or coax performances. Add actor/writer/director John Cameron Mitchell to that ever-growing list of auteurs. While shooting Shortbus, his dramedy about a group of New Yorkers who intersect at a progressive underground salon/sex party – which features explicit, very real sex - one of the lead actors felt that Mitchell should show solidarity by going to the same lengths he expected his cast to.
“She was like, ‘If we have to have sex, you should do something,’” he recalls. “I said, ‘alright, I’ll do something I haven’t done - I’ll eat pussy.’ So I eat pussy for the first time in one shot. I didn’t get turned on, but I realized that from that angle I could see the actors and could continue to direct them from down there, so that was fun.”
The long-awaited follow-up to 2001’s Hedwig and The Angry Inch, and Mitchell’s second feature as director, Shortbus begins as a gay couple, depressed former hustler James (Paul Dawson) and extroverted former child actor Jamie (PJ DeBoy), seek relationship help from a couples counselor/sex therapist, Sofia (Sook-Yin Lee). But Sofia is dealing with her own relationship problem – she’s never had an orgasm with her husband, Rob (Raphael Barker). So her new clients take her to Shortbus, a modern-day underground salon where art, discussion, music, and sex intermingle. At Shortbus, Sofia meets Severin (Lindsay Beamish), an emotionally jaded dominatrix who may hold the key to her G-spot. Meanwhile, James and Jamie welcome a third lover, youthful Ceth (Jay Brannan), into their relationship, much to the chagrin of an across-the-street stalker, Caleb (Peter Stickles), who obsessively spies on them. Can this diverse group of individuals reconcile their love and sex lives… or must they ultimately exist apart?
Sprinkled amongst the cast are some of NYC’s best loved queer and underground performers, including Justin Bond (of Kiki & Herb), drag king Murray Hill, film guru Stephen Kent Jusick (whose real-life event, dubbed “Cinesalon,” served as an inspiration), and musician Scott Matthew. Gorgeous animation sequences by John Bair – an amalgamation of CGI and miniatures depicting the city and its outer boroughs – bridge the film together, which is ultimately a celebration of and valentine to the city and its omnisexual denizens. It’s a place, scene, and population where Mitchell himself came of age, explored his sexuality, and developed as an artist and person.
“In the film, a character talks about New York being the place everyone comes to get fucked, metaphorically or literally,” Mitchell says. “To bend over and see what life has got to give you. It’s the where I came of age, where I first was sexually active. Literally fucked. But it was also a place where I had to prove myself. It’s a brusque, direct city. And that was new to me because I came from a very conservative, uncommunicative environment. Very Catholic, military. There was directness but not a lot of honesty and the city requires honesty to get by. New York is Walt Whitman – I sing the body electric, fuck the world, fuck me. It taught me a directness I didn’t have.”
After starring in, writing, and directing Hedwig, which garnered international acclaim and prestigious film festival awards (at Sundance, the Berlin Film Festival, and numerous others), Mitchell decided that he would exist exclusively behind the camera when it came to his next project (barring unforeseen cameos!). He also decided to incorporate explicit sexuality, which he saw emerging in serious arthouse fare like Patrice Chéreau’s Intimacy and Catherine Breillat’s Romance, but with a humor those titles lacked (“We tried to integrate the sex into the characters’ lives the way it is in life,” he adds). The story and characters would be developed through improvisational workshops, a la the films of Mike Leigh, and the actors playing couples and sexual partners would need to have genuine sexual chemistry together. Mitchell dubbed this ambitious undertaking the “Sex Film Project” and, in early 2003, he, producer Howard Gertler, and casting director Susan Shopmaker held an “open call” via the internet and trade ads, soliciting audition videos from thespians and would-be thespians willing to have real sex onscreen.
Nearly 500 tapes arrived.
Mitchell says that few full-time or professional actors submitted tapes – most maintained other artistic endeavors or careers. “Sook-Yin is a journalist and musician and filmmaker,” he notes. “PJ is a musician. Paul is a writer.” Yet there was one well-known exception: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who since has starred in Mysterious Skin). “It makes sense that the best known actor who auditioned was a former child star,” Mitchell observes, “because they’re the ones caught in a very mainstream box and they’re desperate to break out. Joseph was fantastic. He had a very provocative videotape. I was seriously considering him but there was no perfect consort and I wanted [believable] couples and it didn’t work out with some of the other actors for compatibility. But I think he enjoyed pushing the envelope and I really admire him.”
Aside from chemistry, Mitchell says practical concerns included STDs (everyone who made it to the workshop stage was extensively tested, while background actors who had sex – dubbed “Sextras” – were all preexisting sexual partners) and representing a wide variety of different body types (on the de facto lack of small penises onscreen: “You know, there are a couple of average penises but you have to look. I didn’t really check size when I cast, it kind of turned out that way. And of course the screen does add ten pounds.”).
Once filming began, Mitchell admits a few unforeseen sex-related complications arose, resulting in the occasional comedy of errors. “Some people tried Viagra and took it too early,” he recalls, “so they were on Viagra during some dialogue scene and had to take it again. Some people came by accident, or the camera missed them cumming and we had to do it again.”
Other times, the sex was as good at it gets for both the filmmaker and the actors. “The female orgasms, I think we counted 7 orgasms, real orgasms, onscreen,” he adds. “Only one is simulated. I’m not telling which one.”
During the extensive improvisational workshops, Mitchell encouraged his omnisexual cast (none of whom, refreshingly, are sheepish about their real-life queerness) to incorporate elements of their own lives into the story and characters. Yet DeBoy and Dawson, close friends who became a bona fide couple over the course of the film’s making, stress that it was equally important to not simply play themselves.
“The reason John wanted us to dig around in our own sexual and emotional baggage was to get the authenticity of the character you see,” says Dawson. “He wanted us to be playing things that were important to us and that we were especially equipped to play. But also he was clear from the beginning this wasn’t a reality entertainment project and in order to do this process we were going to have to distinguish ourselves.”
“It was very important to have the characters not be us at all,” DeBoy adds. “That’s why it was such a great experience creatively.”
Dawson and DeBoy shared some pretty intimate experiences with co-star Jay Brannan – famously, a riotous three-way scene during which they sing “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Singer/songwriter Brannan moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting but became disenchanted and quit. Then a friend spotted a Sex Film Project ad in a trade magazine and thought Brannan, by that point working as a receptionist, might be interested. Brannan was intrigued, albeit intimidated by the real sex aspect. “I thought I’ll send in the audition tape and take it one step at a time,” he recalls. “I believed in what John was trying to do and if it is something I believe in why not. He’s so good at creating an environment that’s safe and comfortable and it’s very validating. For me it was as big or bigger of a challenge and fear to do the acting stuff as sex stuff. Because I’m self-conscious and insecure I’m not that comfortable in front of the camera. But doing this project helped me work through some of that.”
Like Brannan, the Los Angeles-based Beamish (one of the few cast members who identifies as heterosexual – although she’s open to same-sex possibilities) had also grown frustrated with acting in Hollywood. Yet when referred to Mitchell by her friend Miranda July, Beamish flew to New York and joined the in-progress improvisational sessions (she was replacing an actress that dropped out). “I loved and trusted John right away and wanted to help him make his vision come true,” Beamish says. “And it was very affirming to me as an actress. It’s hard, as Jay was saying, to live in LA and audition for shitty TV commercials. But it was definitely like I finally felt like I got to accomplish what I always thought I could do and was given the opportunity to realize my potential.”
Beamish also had an opportunity to do a little bit of method research for her role, learning the ins and outs of the dominatrix arts. “As soon as I learned all the whip techniques I had a huge desire to beat up every man I saw,” she laughs. “It unleashed some latent thing in me!”
All of the actors praise Mitchell and the creative atmosphere that allowed them to journey down sometimes outrageous, provocative directions and come up with some very funny riffs on pop and political culture. But not all of those elements and scenes made it to the final cut. One cut sequence saw Ceth masturbating while cruising online porn ads, text messaging, and instant messaging at the same time when, just as he ejaculates, his mother calls. “It’s a bit of a satire on this multitasking thing that overwhelms us and we end up not being able to communicate at all,” says Mitchell. And a subplot in which the character of Caleb was working as the Bush twins’ personal assistant, constantly communicating with President Bush via a wireless headset (which he’s still seen wearing in the final cut), was excised. “We found that it called too much attention to this character,” Mitchell explains. “It was an editing decision but it’ll all be in the DVD.”
If Mitchell has his way, by the time the DVD hits shelves we will see a revival of salon culture and social-artistic-sexual gatherings in real life, which he feels could inject a little much-needed liberation, connection, and free-thinking and willingness to explore ideas in today’s queer community. “Personally I like a multi-sexual setting,” he says. “I think too many gay men in a room is bad news. People start thinking with their dicks and don’t end up hanging out and relaxing. Same with too many women. But I’m a little disappointed in today’s gay culture. At how conformist it has become. We listen to the same music, have the same clothes, the same bodies, the same bullshit. I was saved by being gay. If I hadn’t been gay I would have accepted all kinds of things I was told. Being gay showed me the world. It opened me up to art, politics, to question religion. Now it just seems to be an entrée to a certain marketing niche, letting people tell you what you’re supposed to like. There’s a lot of diversity and why not use the fact you’re a freak to create.”

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Hey You Little Gay Boy

If you haven't yet seen the Sigur Ros video for "Vidrar Vel Til Loftarasa," click here and spend seven minutes watching the screen. You'll probably feel a tear or two welling up in your eyes.

Of course it takes an Icelandic band to create something like this.

Sigur Ros' lead singer, Jonsi, is gay. Plenty of free mp3s and stuff on their website, and a new album is out.


Neil Gaiman on Gay Men (and Women)

I interviewed comics writer God Neil Gaiman about his film Mirrormask for the gay press a year or two ago. Funny enough, I'm not a huge fan of his writing - I'm more in the Alan Moore/Warren Ellis corner. And Garth Ennis. Dirty dark senses of humor and political edge.

In any case, Gaiman is involved with the upcoming Beowulf film, so out comes my draft of the Gaiman piece... with a bonus cut quote.



By Lawrence Ferber

In the fantastical new film, MirrorMask, a teenaged girl embarks on a Wizard of Oz/Labyrinth-esque quest in a CGI-generated world of bird-monkeys, human-faced sphinxes, and a witchy diva. But the show stops for a very odd musical number, a version of The Carpenters’ “Close to You” performed by a roomful of creepy, giant music box robot dolls. It’s the most striking, memorable performance of a Carpenters’ tune by dolls since Todd Haynes’ cult classic Superstar. And it’s but one nugget of strange springing from the mind of comics/fantasy literature god Neil Gaiman, who created MirrorMask with longtime collaborator/artist David McKean.
The UK-born Gaiman has folded all sorts of queerness into his work, notably the groundbreaking 1990s The Sandman comic series, which revolved around a skinny, Robert Smith-haired Goth, Morpheus, Master of Dreams. The Sandman’s spin-offs include the 1996 GLAAD Best Comic award-winning “Death: The Time of Your Life,” and the recent Manga (Japanese comics) style “The Dead Boy Detectives,” starring a pair of ghostly preteen sleuths who don drag while investigating a girls’ school.
“For more or less as long as I can remember I’ve had a huge gay, lesbian, and comparatively huge given the small number of them, transgender fans,” Gaiman notes. “These were all my friends and people I knew and didn’t see any reflection of them in the comics I was reading, so I put them into MY comics.” Other highlights include “Murder Mysteries,” a grim tale of sexy gay angels illustrated by out artist P. Craig Russell, Marvel’s 1602, and the short story “Changes,” which was about “the side effects of an anticancer drug that switches your gender and what it would mean when people start taking it recreationally.”
Gaiman, who counts homo horrormeister Clive Barker and Tori Amos amongst his friends, admits some readers have been puzzled by these queer inclusions. “This morning I got an e-mail from somebody who was puzzled by the scene of gay sex in [my novel] American Gods,” he says. “A gay Arab trinket seller and a genie who drives a cab in New York get together. And I thought it was just fascinating getting this letter saying ‘please explain this, why were they gay and have sex?’ Because they were gay and had sex!”
Some of Gaiman’s creations have even had gay sex without his involvement - in “slash” fiction, a genre of fan-scribed stories that sexually pair up real and fictitious characters. “People have sent me links to slash with ME in it,” he admits, amused. “The cutest one was me and Morpheus. Kind of sweet. But there was a me, Trent Reznor and Tori Amos threesome! Slash fiction fascinates me. I remember paging through, with my jaw open, Knight Rider slash. It was David Hasselhoff and the car, and it was all ‘impale yourself in my throbbing gearstick.’ And he did. Repeatedly.”

Cut quote: “The great thing about being a Carpenters fan is it goes beyond being cool or uncool,” Gaiman admits. MirrorMask was directed by longtime collaborator/artist David McKean. “There have been times in my life when it was incredibly uncool to be a Carpenter’s fan, times when it was cool, and then times when it was only cool to be a postmodern Carpenter’s fan so you could have the ‘I Wish I was a Carpenter’ album.”

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Tori Two

I interviewed Tori Amos for the second time in 2002. My first time, for LA Weekly, was a sort of definitive Tori 101 and look at why the fans go ga-ga for her. This was pretty much focused on her album Scarlet's Walk, and for the gay press.

It runs longer than the version published back in the day. Um... it was never spell-checked, either, so a few spelling and grammatical errs.

Enjoy, Tori fans!


Scarlet Fever

by Lawrence Ferber

Perhaps taking a cue from Jack Keroauc, fire-haired myth-loving songstress Tori Amos hit the road for her latest album, Scarlet’s Walk (Epic). Through the experiences of an everywoman alter ego, Scarlet, Amos touched upon every state in the nation, connecting with people and the land itself. Boasting Cherokee blood (from mom’s side), Amos’ journey is both spiritual and physical, and Scarlett takes part in soul-searching episodes with young porn stars (“Amber Waves”), manic depressives (“Carbon”), a September 11th-inspired plane crash (“I Can’t See New York”), and a gay friend who dies (“Taxi Ride”). The latter song touches upon the loss of Amos’ real-life gay friend, acclaimed author/makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin (he died in May of 2002).
It’s a dense album - 18 songs - and possibly her best, a melodic and passionate kiss to the USA. Coming off a root canal (“ice cream sundae and Percocet,” she recommends as post-op treatment), Amos made a speaking appearance at New York’s annual CMJ Music Fest on November 1st. Later that day, I spoke with Amos via telephone about Scarlet, Aucoin, and how queerness fits into her -and everyone’s - USA. Incidentally, more songs from Scarlet’s extensive travels can be found on the website, Scarlet’s Web, which you can access with a “key” found on the CD.

I love your new album, Tori.

“Thank you honey.”

And so big, so many songs.

“Yeah - it’s a big country.... and there are more songs [that aren’t on the album]. On Scarlet’s Web now, ‘Tom Bigby’ is up, which is itombi, which means ‘he who prepared the bones for burial.’ So that’s a chocktaw word and that takes place in Mississippi, Alabama terrirtoy. Then we’ve got ‘Seaside,’ that happens over on Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. But there are different roads off the path and that will be on Scarlet’s Web. ‘Operation Peter Pan’ made it on the European B-side, that occurs in Miami. Between 1960 and 1962, I think it was, a lot of children were sent from Cuba in this whatever you call it, Operation Peter Pan, experiment. And a lot of people were separated from their families, a lot of children. That’s explored in that song.”

I notice that Scarlet doesn’t go to Puerto Rico, a commonwealth.

“I don’t go to any commonwealths.”

Puerto Ricans are going to hate you for that.

“I love them. It’s in my curl, sweetie. It’s in my curl and in my heel. Always.”

This is the first album of yours, that I’ve been aware, in which you openly address gay people and gay matters.

“I don’t know - I think over the years there have been references to all kinds of sexuality, but on this record there are characters that Scarlet runs into. Her friend, Taxi, is gay and he dies. I think a core theme running through, though, is the outer betrayal versus the inner betrayal. The polarity of that, so in ‘I Can’t See New York’ [in which Scarlet witnesses a plane crash in midair] we see the culmination of outer betrayal that may have stemmed from some kind of inner betrayal. But then in ‘Taxi Ride’ the inner betrayal is taken to friendship where, at his death, Scarlet’s having to look at everybody that’s there and question were we really a good friend to him when he was in need?”

Do you feel you were a good friend to Kevyn when he was in need?

“I question myself every day.”

Kevyn’s friends, by virtue of who they are, pretty much have to be self involved - they’re artists and in the entertainment industry. And I think that in a way it’s almost harder to maintain that kind of I’m-there-for-you friendship, don’t you think?

“Yes. I think that is true. And I think that’s a fair point. I also think, however, that what’s being addressed in the song is that only you can look at your relationship with a friend and know if you could show up. Not when you needed them, but when they needed you. The thing about Kevyn is he always showed up when you needed him. But sometimes I think the question with us as ‘celebrity’ friends, the beauty icon, if he could make you beautiful, great. But if he couldn’t were you really there for him? And that is the question that Scarlet and I are asking ourselves. Talking to you on a personal level, Kevyn is the inspiration, but this is the story of someone Scarlet meets. There’s more than one gay friend that has died that brings up things in people. Death always brings up questions. This is the result. Loss that she has after the public loss everybody went through [during September 11th] in ‘I Can’t See New York.’”

Is there something more you’d like to say about ‘I Can’t See New York?’ Have you already talked that one out?

“No. I think really that’s about is the question of what is permanent. Scarlet’s only a thread. She can be any woman, she bleeds. The men in this record are terra firma, they’re very flesh and blood, they’re real. But the women that are Scarlet, meaning any woman who isn’t, Amber, Carbon, those creatures, that can be America personified and real women. She is shape shifting through these others, crawling inside them, talking through them, penetrating them. So at this stage in the story, trouble’s been brewing. Amber has been making some choices and I think that at a certain point there are consequences to choices you make whether you’re a country or person. In ‘Pancake’ we’re exploring power, all sides of it. And what it can implore you to do. She’s investigating it. She’s toying with it, she’s looking at it. She’s intimidated by it but also drawn to it. And people that may have it and know what to do with it are also people she feels are picking it up and pressing their own agenda with it.”

On the topic of agenda, on this record you’re taking this trip to figure out what these things mean on a whole in relation to the land. What we give, what the earth gives us. How do gays fit into America?

“I think it’s something that may be being redefined right now. You all suffered quite a loss of a lot of people in the 80s, as you know. A wealth of intelligencia, artists, that were core, part of your fabric. And now the next crop is stepping to this metaphorical fire to plant the seeds, to hold spaces for others to come. It seems to me anyway, from the outside, it is about community now and networking. Because those making choices for our world now are networking just fine. And making decisions we may not agree with and may not be good for our true mother, our earth, or us. It seems to me that sometimes in name only we’re the land of the free and this is something the gay community... it’s feet to the fire time. There must be a stepping forward about what you all feel. How you penetrate, say, the culture.”

Do you feel that right now gays give something to the culture?

“Yes I do, but I think there can be more. I think it’s time to stop shying away from your place at the fire of wisdom. I think gays have been very shamed and I know you all feel you can give in fashion and art, but it’s time now for perspective. But you all have to do that work.”

Do you mean on an ecological level? Political?

“I mean every level. But that comes from thought, not just from style. Maybe the thought has to be put forth with a bit of style! But I’m talking about people’s projections and you must as a group make peace with that... I think you all can bring a temperance but not if you’re holding everybody’s guilt. It’s not your job anymore.”

Did you see Kevyn making a difference?

“Absolutely I saw him making a difference. He inspires me every day.”

How did he make a difference?

“He wanted to see someone’s goals. Each individual had goals, he believed that, and beauty. He would find the beauty in someone who couldn’t find any in themselves and then show it for them to look at.”

In a superficial, external way?

“But don’t you see, it might have been the way that they giggled that he was able... he was a painter, one of the master painters of this generation. He painted faces, but he could’ve painted something on a rhino’s butt and it would have been beautiful. He could do that in his sleep. That’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m suggesting is perhaps Kevyn found that nugget, that element, that real treasure someone had and found a way to paint it. By the eye, a glitter, so when they looked it was metaphorical for what it was. It was symbolic and they knew what it meant. That was his gift.”

Did Kevyn have a hand in the Strange Little Girls’ looks from last album? You were transformed into a different girl persona for each song you covered...

“Her look was designed by Kevyn and Karen Benz (sp?).”

That must have been fun, going for all the various sessions.

“It was. We had backstories on these girls for months and months and they were alive. They were the anima of these songs.”

Have you ever inhabited a gay persona or character, Tori?

“That’s a good question. I think some of the little girls are.”

Which ones?

“I have to go talk to them. But they certainly aren’t... they don’t all have one orientation, that’s for sure. And they all don’t get along either.”

Is Scarlet queer perchance? Bi-curious maybe?

“Right now I think more than anything she’s about being a good friend. Whether Amber does whatever she’s been doing and Taxi’s been doing whatever he’s been doing, they’re some of her closer friends and that’s where that sits.”

Thanks Tori!

“Don’t be a stranger!”

Monday, November 05, 2007

Say Boo!

Musically I'm a huge Anglophile. For some reason, the music I first connected to - as a teen during the mid-1980s - all seemed to come from the UK. I ached to visit London until my first trip there in 1992, when I spent hours upon hours in every record and CD shop in sight.

One of those UK bands I loved so much was The Bible. The frontsman, Boo Hewerdine, has become a very gentle folk artist since his more plugged-in The Bible days. He's also collaborated with and written songs for other artists, including Danny Wilson's Gary Clark, another of my late 80s/early 90s faves. One of The Bible's defining songs is "Graceland." Great pop. And some music journalist noted Hewerdine's slight air of Morrissey within the vocals. You be the judge!

Lots of other free mp3s, from The Bible and his solo and collaborative work, and info on Hewerdine's website. Enjoy...


Thursday, November 01, 2007


I love that the Japanese can be wackier than, well, anyone. My ex boyfriend's boyfriend spent a while in Japan bought a ton of CDs. I got turned on to a whole bunch of Japanese bands thanks to his indulgences, one of them being alt-rock band Supercar. They change a bit from album to album sound-wise: shoegaze, upbeat Phoenix-style pop, guitar-driven rock....

Here's a crazy Supercar video for "Wonderword"!

Are you hooked yet?