Monday, May 27, 2013

Liberace: Behind the Candelabra or Whatever Happened to Fey Gay?

 As a gay man, I had mixed emotions about watching Steven Soderbergh’s recent HBO biopic, Liberace: Behind the Candelabra. On the one hand, as a depiction of the personal life of one of the few gay entertainers of the 20th century (closeted though he was his entire life), I was looking forward to it. On the other hand, as a depiction of someone who represented some of the worst stereotypes about gay men, I held my breath.
At least there was Matt Damon’s ass to look forward to.
I must admit that, on paper at least, it sounded intriguing. Michael Douglas, master portrayer of macho hubris in such movies as Wall Street and Fatal Attraction (and now recovering from throat cancer) as Liberace, perhaps the most effeminate gay man who ever lived. Could he pull it off?
And Matt Damon, whom I’ve had a crush on at least since The Talented Mr. Ripley, as his lover, Scott Thorson. Who could resist?
Actually watching the movie, on the other hand, was kind of like watching the proverbial train wreck: repulsive at times, yet you can’t look away.
For starters: How do you depict a man who was camp personified without lapsing into camp yourself? I must admit, Michael Douglas toed the line pretty well, nailing Liberace’s voice and mannerisms without overdoing it.
But then there’s the whole creepy May-December nature of their relationship which, while accurate, is still difficult to watch. The first time I saw Michael Douglas without his wig on, I had the same reaction Scott Thorson did when he and Liberace went to the video store.
Then again, as such shows as Dynasty and Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous have shown us, there’s a certain voyeuristic pleasure in watching how the other half lives and, to his credit, it appears that Liberace was in on the joke.
The movie had its genius moments, too. Cheyenne Jackson’s slow burn in the beginning as Liberace’s soon-to-be-rejected protégé, called back at the end of my movie by the soon-to-be-rejected Matt Damon. Rob Lowe as the plastic surgeon who, as a friend of mine pointed out, really did look like Michael Jackson. An unrecognizable Debbie Reynolds as Liberace’s mother. If nothing else, Steven Soderbergh always makes interesting casting choices.
And despite what the Times said, I really did believe Michael Douglas and Matt Damon as sexual partners, not just surface portrayals. They really did “go for it.”
So, ultimately Liberace: Behind the Candelabra accurately portrayed the dueling forces at work within one of the most famous, and most closeted, gay entertainers of the 20th century, in the process revealing the mixed feelings gay men often have about themselves as well as the mixed feelings society often has about wealth and fame.
Plus there was Matt Damon’s ass.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Punk: Chaos to Manure

 When I went to see “Punk: Chaos to Couture” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art today, I did something really punk rock: I skipped the admission line.
Now, technically, I wasn’t breaking any laws (since the Met has a “suggested” donation), but I wasn’t about to stand on line for an hour and pay $25 to see an exhibit that takes about 15 minutes to walk through.
It’s hard to know which is more ironic: the idea of having a show about punk fashion at The Metropolitan Museum of Art or listening to some middle-aged housewife from New Jersey trying to explain to her children who The Sex Pistols were.
As for the show itself: It’s mainly a collection of T-shirts from Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s store in London (variously called “Let It Rock,” “Too Fast to Live, To Young to Die,” “Sex,” “Seditionaries” and “World’s End”) and haute couture interpretations of punk rock clothing from such designers as Versace, Junya Watanabe and Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy.
Of course, the whole raison d’être of punk rock was a “DIY” aesthetic that flew in the face of designer fashion. So the idea of paying $10,000 for an outfit that looks like it’s about to fall apart is obscene, to say the least.
Besides, Vivienne Westwood didn’t really get interesting until her “pirate” and “Buffalo Gals” collections. That’s why her recent show at FIT was more interesting than this one.
The show ends with a so-called recreation of the bathroom at CBGB. I’ve played at CBGB and that, sir, is no CBGB bathroom. The actual bathroom was much smaller and not so artfully disheveled. (I wonder if they used real feces in their “recreation”?)
But that’s the world we live in today:  a world where anything truly original is repackaged and sold to the masses as a simulacrum of its former self. It’s like having a branch of CGBG in Las Vegas. Or a John Varvatos store at the former CBGB in New York.
Perhaps the appropriate reaction to a show like this is a gob of spit and a middle finger. Sid Vicious would be proud.