Friday, June 14, 2013

The Warriors: Bloomberg’s Worst Nightmare Meets a Multiethnic Paradise

 Last night I watched The Warriors, a movie that I had fond memories of watching on cable TV as a teenager after it came out in 1979. Boy, have times changed!
I’m pretty sure I didn’t think the movie was camp when I first saw it, even assuming I knew what camp was at that tender age. Watching it almost 35 years later, it’s an unintentional laugh fest on a par with Mommie Dearest. Is this the same movie that struck fear into the heart of suburbanites all over the country?
The first sign that you’re not in 2013 is the subway system: trains covered in graffiti, people using tokens, wooden turnstiles and an illegible subway map. Apparently, there was even an amusement park in Union Square station. Who knew?
But what really makes this a candidate for the Most Quotable Lines Since Scarface Screenwriting Award is the ridiculously clunky dialogue. My personal favorite is when the movie opens. All the gangs of New York are gathered at a park in the Bronx and the Grand Poobah of All Things Gang-Related exhorts the crowd with the following line: “Can you dig it? Can you dig it? CAN YOU DIG IT?!!!” I immediately wanted to break into that line from the old soul classic “Can You Dig It”: “I can digga digga digga, she can digga digga digga, we can digga digga digga digga, Can you dig it, Can you dig it, baby?”
While the gang members in this film exist in some kind of multi-ethnic paradise where all races apparently get along, the characters aren’t always so PC. The word “faggot” was used at least three times by my count, most often as a verb, as in “go faggot” or “gone faggot.” They make it sound like sexual orientation is a choice similar to deciding which restaurant to go to.
There’s another homophobic moment when the gang encounters a group of young women who are apparently lesbian. The call themselves the “Lizzies” and one of them has crimped hair! But they still make out with men (before they try to kill them)! I’m confused.
It’s fun to play “where are they now” with a movie like this. Mercedes Ruehl, who would go on to star on Broadway in Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs” trilogy, plays a tough chick (an undercover cop?) who nabs one of the gang members by coming on to him in a park and then handcuffing him to the park bench.
And, of course, Michael Beck, the handsome lead, would go on to star in “Xanadu” the next year with Olivia Newton-John. Just out of curiosity, I decided to look him up on Let’s just say cute doesn’t age well.
There’s more fun to be had with the gang costumes. It’s hard to imagine anyone being scared of a gang of mimes, much less a gang of baseball players with face paint, a gang of pimps, and what looks like a gang of Asian monks. I hope the costume designer was at least nominated for an Oscar.
Another curious feature of the film is that, in a city of eight million people, almost no one seems to be on the street or the subway at the same time as any of the main characters. Normally, this is a sure giveaway that a movie was filmed on a sound stage. But I’m pretty sure this movie was filmed on location in New York City. I even saw my block show up in one scene. (Look for a sign that says “All State Glass.”)
All in all, good times for everyone. Unless you’re a woman. Deborah Van Valkenburgh plays the kind of female lead that actresses are still trying to overcome. The nicest thing that can be said about her character is that she’s “not a slut.”
But at least she’s not a “faggot.”

The Sadness of the Pet Shop Boys

 For me there has always been a sadness underlying a lot of the music of the Pet Shop Boys. For that reason, they were also the perfect gay band.
I was reminded of this when I was in a gay bar the other night and I suddenly heard what I think is the perfect Pet Shop Boys song: “Love Comes Quickly.”
While it can be read on the surface as an obvious play on words (see also Richard Hell’s “Love Comes in Spurts”), “Love Comes Quickly” perfectly encapsulates not only the sadness and loneliness of a life of one-night stands, but also the sadness and loneliness of the life of a pop star: traveling all over the world but never staying in one place long enough to develop a real connection.
The Pet Shop Boys are, arguably, the quintessential gay band because, while they never talked about anything explicitly gay, they perfectly encapsulated a “gay sensibility,” whether it was the emptiness of consumer culture (“Shopping”) or the power/economic dynamic of a lot of gay (and heterosexual) relationships (“I Love You, You Pay My Rent”). Even their name, the Pet Shop Boys, is a seeming allusion to the Richard Gere/gerbil myth that refuses to die.
What was it about the ’80s that gave birth to so many gay bands, and why have they suddenly disappeared at a time when gays are more visible than ever? Certainly, there was a lot of “gender-bending” going on, whether it was Eurythmics or Culture Club or Boy George’s pop star friend, Marilyn.
But you also had The Smiths, who were so melodramatic it was funny (“I was looking for a job and then I found a job. And heaven knows I’m miserable now.”).
But gays could also be outrageous/campy drag queens like Boy George and Pete Burns from Dead or Alive, although Boy George could also be melodramatic. Who could forget the Barbra Streisand-like production on “Mistake Number Three” and its correspondingly melodramatic video?
They could also be defiantly political and heart-rending, like Bronski Beat with their coming out anthem “Small Town Boy,” depicting the loneliness and isolation of gay life in a small town.
But there was something else about the Pet Shop Boys, whether it was Neil Tennant’s plaintive voice or Chris Lowe, the “cute” one whom you saw but who never said anything and always hid behind his keyboard and/or some outrageous costume.
Chris Lowe could be read as a symbol of the objectification of gay life.
But Neil Tennant was and is something more. Neil Tennant was/is that most feared thing in the gay community and, indeed, society in general: an intellectual. 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Gap is Crap

 I’m old enough to remember when the Gap was a store that sold only Levi’s. That was in 1969, when the store was founded and their slogan was “fall into the Gap.” That means I’ve been a Gap customer for almost 50 years. But lately I’ve been finding that, while their prices, have been going up, the quality has been going down, to the point where they may lose a life-long customer.
Now, this would be no great tragedy were it not for the fact that this phenomenon mirrors what’s happening in the economy in general, namely the disappearance of the middle class. While the middle class is disappearing from cities like New York and people are increasingly either very wealthy or very poor, in the retail landscape this is mirrored by the fact that people are increasingly shopping at either Kmart or Bergdorf Goodman.
I have always relied on the Gap for “dress casual” clothes at “dress casual” prices. After all, I work in publishing, not finance. But lately it seems like they’ve abandoned that market altogether.
Like today, for example, I went to buy some polo shirts. No biggie, right? I went to three different branches of the Gap: Astor Place, lower Fifth Avenue and Chelsea. Astor Place had almost no selection whatsoever, lower Fifth Avenue was under construction with, again, almost no selection whatsoever and Chelsea only had a small selection in odd sizes and ugly colors. I bought the only three “smalls” I could find. I asked the cashier why there was such a poor selection and she told me that all the normal sizes and colors had sold out. “When am I supposed to buy polo shirts?” I asked her. “Winter?”
Just out of curiosity, I decided to walk down to the Banana Republic in Chelsea. There I found an almost completely empty store (their customers were undoubtedly in the Hamptons or Fire Island for the weekend) with stacks of merchandise. The only catch is that their polo shirts were twice as expensive as the Gap’s and almost too nice to wear to the office.
Inevitably, in these situations, my ire falls upon the hapless sales clerks, who have one of the worst jobs in our bad economy. I asked one of the sales clerks in the Chelsea store if there was a corporate strategy to phase out the Gap entirely. I pointed out to him that I have been a life-long customer of the Gap and that while their prices have gone up, the quality has gone way down, to the point where I almost can’t find anything I would even consider buying. The only reason I still shop there, I told him, was because I don’t want to deal with the crowds at Macy’s. (And I must really hate crowds when you consider that it now costs $60 for a dress shirt at the Gap compared to $30 for a better quality shirt at Macy’s. And even after I buy that $60 shirt at the Gap, I still have to take it to a tailor because it’s missing a second button on the cuff, making the sleeves too long and too wide unless I wear one of those large chunky watches on each wrist.)
What I did not mention to him was that this is how companies in general do business these days. They take a product that costs pennies to make and then charge a fortune for it, with most of that money going to the corporate executives at the top as opposed to the people who make and sell that product. I didn’t mention how most of that money is spent on advertising to create a well-known international brand as opposed to creating a better product. And I didn’t mention the sweatshops where these products are made so that people like me could still afford to buy them while the corporate bigwigs raked in the insane mark-up.
After I unleashed my tirade on this poor sales clerk, I apologized to him for doing so and went home with my three polo shirts from the Gap, wondering if that would be the last time I ever shopped there. Because, nowadays, when you “fall into the Gap,” you fall into the crap.