Archive for the ‘film’ Category
My show-going in 2014 started out slowly, all thanks to grad school. But, thankfully, by the summer, it was in full swing again. So, there is plenty to gush about on my annual list. Always so grateful for the Bay Area offerings…and no doubt one of the reasons I continue to call it home, especially as travel is a bit fewer and farther between these days. Performer friends, if you’re show’s not on here, I didn’t see it <wink, wink>. I hope you enjoy my musings! What were your favorites of the year?
1. Cher, with Cyndi Lauper, at SAP Center – San Jose
Cher tops my list. Surprised? Cyndi was her opening act, with a voice still in surprisingly rocking’ shape. Can she really be 61? And, for that matter, can Cher really be 68?! (Don’t answer that.) Highlights were “If I Could Turn Back Time,” “Believe” (a remix), a “Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves,” and “Half Breed” carnival-themed set, and a Burlesque-themed set (incl. “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me”), a duet with Sonny, and a staging in which she was floated above the audience, as if a religious icon (not that she isn’t). The show was really perfectly crafted…and OFFICIALLY her last. It indeed felt like a farewell. No one could pull off what she did. My friends and I had a ball, shaking our tail feathers and lip-syncing from our nose-bleeds once things heated up.
2. Matt Alber, at Great American Music Hall
Matt is the only solo repeater this year. He topped last year’s list. His brother, Lou Jane was the opening act this time. Matt’s set included “The Wind,” “The Stars,” “Field Trip Buddy,” “Rivers and Tides,” “Handsome Man,” “Velvet Goldmine,” “Rescue,” “Make You Feel My Love,” “House on Fire,” “Spectacularly,” “Brother Moon” (duet with brother, Lou Jane), “Always” (a jazzy, ACAP cover), “End of the World,” “Walking on Sunshine,” “Send in the Clowns”. It was a transfixing and warm, familial night. He alternated between piano and guitar accompaniment. His band and some classical instrumentalists joined for various songs, including a sensitively played cello, and his dad sweetly tickled the ivories as well.
3. Karrin Allyson, Jazz at Filoli Gardens
Her smoky tone and easy swagger make her one of my jazz favorites of late. Highlights included “All You Need to Say (Never Say Yes),” which features the moving line: “Search to find true happiness and the world will say yes – yes is all you need to say.” Also, Simon & Garfunkel’s “April Come She Will,” “All I Want” (Joni Mitchell), “What a Difference” (with Kenny Washington), Cat Steven’s “Wild World,” “O Baquino,” and “I Can Do Anything As Long As I Know You Love Me,” a beautiful new song by her. This is also a fantastic, intimate outdoor venue.
4. “Luster,” SFGMC, with Ann Hampton Callaway, at Davis Symphony Hall
This show featured “Tyler’s Suite,” a commissioned tribute to Tyler Clementi. Out of the three SFGMC shows I attended this season, this one was the stand-out. The chorus soloists were surprisingly solid, and the chorus delivered finely textured harmonies. Ann did an improvisational piano solo before which she asked for names and local/SF places of note from the audience, and incorporated them into her song. She had us rolling in the aisles. And that voice! So soulful, nurturing, contralto-ey. Cuts to my heart.
5. Nutcracker, SF Ballet
This production is still very fresh after 10 or so years, and delivers on all its holiday promise. Highlights were the Grand Pas de Deux, featuring Yuan Yuan Tan, and her VERY dashing prince, Luke Ingham (not pictured; I wonder if HE was “taught to be charming, not sincere”), and the magical snow scene, very moving with audible en pointe and snowfall onstage. They do NOT scrimp on the amount…for five minutes your head is in the Sierras. Calling the Zamboni!
6. Norma, SF Opera
The level of musical attunement, and true bel canto shared between Sondra Radvanovksy and Jaime Barton is a rarity these days. It harkened back to the Sutherland/Horne pairing in its best moments. How to say it…Rad’s voice is never not interesting to me. I don’t understand her vocal production, which makes it fascinating. It’s richly textured at best…buzzy at worst. Reminiscent of Callas in the lower range, and belted utterances. She was very liberal with the gossamer pianissimi, and offered some thrilling full-throttle high notes. Barton displayed moments of Horne in her lower chest. She knows how to move, and seems really “in her body,” which offered a sensuality. She’s also the most youthful Adalgisa I’ve yet seen, which made Pollione’s passion all the more believable. The production offered some nice detail, but didn’t inspire, and the Avatar-style makeup was mystifying. Norma’s two children were beyond precious.
7. Jimmy James, at Rebel
Highlights included his impersonations of Cher, Bette (doing “Feliz Navidad“), Barbra, Billie, and Liza (doing “Single Ladies”!!!) had us alternately in tears and stitches. He is a very skilled entertainer, with an incredibly versatile and impressive voice. I hope he’s fast becoming more of a gay household name that he should already be, aside from his ’80s appearances on the talk show circuit as THE perfect Marilyn impersonator.
8. Esalen Work Scholar “Reading,” in the Solarium
It was a privilege to sit in on this informal, private event. It featured teacher John Smith’s “If I Were a Robin,” and included original songs and poems/prose by the students. My emotional response to the event was no doubt stoked by the Big Sur setting, and the crackle of new writers growing their creative wings. Here’s “…Robin” from a previous show.
9. Showboat, SF Opera
What a treat to see this great american musical for the first time, and performed at this level. Standout performances were by Morris Robinson as Joe, and Kirsten Wyatt as Ellie Mae. Patricia Racette’s rendition of my favorite “Bill” was beautifully and movingly handled. Not operatic in the least. Perfectly scaled down. The production was beautiful and really served the piece.
10. Mary Lambert, at the Nourse Theatre
Mary is such an open-hearted, disarming, and authentic artist. She warmly invites you into her unique vision and storytelling. Highlights included “Jessie’s Girl” (cover), “My Body,” “She Keeps Me Warm,” and “No Secret” (encore). Her themes of body image, and mental illness/health are much needed in our current culture. Young Summer was the opening act. She was reminiscent of Lana del Rey.
Other Notable Performances:
• Michael Fabiano, as Rodolfo, La Boheme, SFO, delivered Golden Age tenorial squillo and passion
• Heidi Melton, in recital, SF Performances, SF Conservatory of Music, a Merola/Adler star returns again, incl. idiomatic and stunning Sibelius and Strauss sets
• Jef Valentine, in Panorama, ACT Costume Shop, a beautifully committed and personal vision of the Peter Pan legend
• Sean Patrick Murtagh, in Holiday Test Drive II, Martunis, incl. a perfect, refulgent “Oh Holy Night”
Favorite Drag Show of the Year:
MASCARA “Burlesque,” hosted by the Castro Country Club, featuring irreverent, moving, messy, unforgettable numbers by Uphoria, Serenity Heart, Jada Stevens, Dina Isis, Dusty Porn, and more. All in service of, to inspire, and raise funds for the queer recovery community.
Top 5 Best Movies of the Year (that I saw):
1. The Grand Budapest Hotel
2. Into the Woods
4. Love is Strange
5. The Theory of Everything
Share your favorites. And, here’s a toast to what 2015 brings!
A gay take on a great scene from one of my favorite movies, and arguably one of the best romantic comedies of all time (which I just gladly rewatched).
❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤
Harry: You realize of course that we could never be friends.
Sal: Why not?
Harry: What I’m saying is — and this is not a come-on in any way, shape or form — is that gay men can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.
Sal: That’s not true. I have a number of gay male friends and there is no sex involved.
Harry: No you don’t.
Sal: Yes I do.
Harry: You only think you do.
Sal: You say I’m having sex with them without my knowledge?
Harry: No, what I’m saying is they all WANT to have sex with you.
Sal: They do not.
Harry: Do too.
Sal: How do you know?
Harry: Because no gay man can be friends with a man that he finds attractive. He always wants to have sex with him.
Sal: So, you’re saying that a gay man can be friends with a man he finds unattractive?
Harry: No. You pretty much want to nail ’em too.
Sal: What if THEY don’t want to have sex with YOU?
Harry: Doesn’t matter because the sex thing is already out there so the friendship is ultimately doomed and that is the end of the story.
Sal: Well, I guess we’re not going to be friends then.
Harry: I guess not.
Sal: That’s too bad. You were the only person I knew in San Francisco.
But, at least Harry doesn’t have to worry about Sal faking an orgasm (ala Meg Ryan)!
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Back in february, CJ and I performed with our friends in “EMERGENCY Cabaret Relief: Haiti.” It was our cabaret debut together, and our first performance together since we met six years ago, in ROLT’s production of The Wizard of Oz.
We performed a song very near and dear to my heart, Paul William’s “When the River Meets the Sea,” from Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas. This Jim Henson movie has been a family favorite since I can remember, and it’s spiritual questioning felt so perfect for the tone of this fundraiser.
I’m pleased to be able to finally share the video of our performance. Unfortunately, the source audio is not ideal, so please turn up your volume for the beginning, and be prepared to turn it down once the source volume increases:
Alas, it’s true…I’m a mere 2 weeks away from this notorious milestone. I aim to make it as whimsical and festive as possible. I welcome a blog roast here on jcm! So, fire away…hit me with your best shot! Whatchyoo got on me? Make Joan Rivers and Kathy Griffin proud.
def: noun. A facetious tribute, as at a banquet, in which the honoree is alternately praised and insulted.
Thanks (again) to Vinyl Divas, I discovered the singer “Gohar Gasparyan.” I youtubed her, simply because her name was so eccentric, and her mug not exactly the prettiest. I immediately smelled a camp classic discovery. Well, I was both wrong, and right. Turns out, she was very lovingly considered “The Armenian Nightingale.” It struck me that each country or culture seems to have their diva…the one considered to be the greatest, and to inspire and somehow embody the spirit of the nation.
Here’s a look at some of the biggies. Some of these names immediately came to mind, but a few took a little more digging. Some are genuine classics, and a couple (ie: Gohar and Yma) have one foot firmly (if unintentionally) in camp. One of the qualifications of a true diva is a title, nickname, or single name (ala Cher), as most all of them prove. Pathos is a requirement, and often a tragic life and/or death the deal maker for that highest rung of fame in posterity. In some cases, an operatic diva reaches this highest level of mainstream public adoration, but only in those cases did I include them here. Of course, the diva phenom and the gay sensibility are inextricably linked, and although that is surely part of my own inspiration, it is not the focus here.
Gohar Gasparyan (’24 – ’07): “The Armenian Nightingale”
“In ’48, she migrated to Soviet Armenia, along with hundreds of thousands of other Armenians from the Middle East.” Upon her death, she was billed “The greatest master of the Armenian Opera Theater, the People’s Artist of the USSR, the hero of the Social Labor, the National Artist of Armenia, the Mesrop Mashtots order-bearer, and the professor of the Yerevan State Konservatory after Komitas.” In her prime, she displayed beautiful control and range:
This video of “O beau pays“ from Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots shows she had the chops, but no technical or interpretive greatness in western opera to qualify her as a true operatic legend outside of Armenian rep. She delivers priceless camp at 7:05, with a shameless peekaboo that will have you rolling! As with all true divas, she was still worshipped in her later years, when her voice and body were in decline, because her heart and expressivity were at their most potent (the accidental whistle on her “sh” consonants is precious).
When I originally read the “Stars On Ice” program lineup, the highlight, hands-down, was the prospect of a Cohen/Czisny performance of Delibes’ “Flower Duet,” from Lakmé. It was the only number that came close to the inventiveness of my “GAY Stars on Ice…“ lineup! (Yuka Sato’s “Clair de Lune” was also enticing.) Well, since I don’t plan to attend the show live, thankfully a youtube video of it has surfaced, however janky and incomplete it may be.
Unfortunately, it feels quite underrehearsed, which is odd for the two perfection queens of the ice. But, it’s still quite pleasing, considering their peerless, but comparable spiral positions. Hello Charlottes…I’ve missed you so! It’s quite the “Anything you can do, I can do better” routine. Good thing they don’t attempt any of those pesky jumps.
Also, my hopes for some hint at the implied (or projected?) lesbian subtext of the duet were dashed. No surprise there. Although, I’m still tempted to bill this the “Spiral Bump” routine (ala “Donut Bump“).
The full name of the scene is: “Viens, Mallika, les liens en fleurs…Sous le dôme épais.“ In the context of the opera, “Lakmé and her servant Mallika are left behind and go down to the river to gather flowers…As they approach the water at the river bank, Lakmé removes her jewelry and places it on a bench (while they bathe)” (Wikipedia). It is one of the examples of grand opera’s and mainstream culture’s obsessions at the time with eastern exoticism and orientalism (also evident in Madama Butterfly).
The duet was also famously used to set the tone in the beautiful, overtly lesbian scene with Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon, in “The Hunger.” It uses it to full effect.
Below is the libretti excerpt. What do you think? Is the lesbian subtext intended, or projected by the viewer or culture of the time?
Under a dome of white jasmine
With the roses entwined together
On a river bank covered with flowers laughing in the morning
Gently floating on it’s charming risings
On the river’s current
On the shining waves
One hand reaches
Reaches for the bank
Where the spring sleeps and
The birds, the birds sing.
Under a dome of white jasmine
Ah! calling us
As I pine for the Vancouver Games, a recent date with youtube.com nudged a series of oh-so-relevant videos into my gaydar (think two Olympic “Battles”), like a gift from Baby Jesus. So, take a seat at jcm’s table, as I dish up some classic camp, with a generous side of masterful interpretive skating…dare I say “Art”?
But, for a moment, I digress. The opera Carmen has a storied relationship with figure skating. The score has been used in programs by the likes of Curry, Fratianne, Witt, Thomas, Bestemianova & Bukin, Petrenko, Krylova & Ovsyannikov, Navka & Kostomarov, Yagudin, Kwan, Plushenko, Slutskaya, Cohen, Suguri, Lysacek, Asada, Nagasu…and that’s just the short list! It’s the program that most skating fanatics prayer be hung up for a good decade or two, or better yet retired, and yet each new generation can’t resist it. So, we stomach it. Fortunately, Nagasu’s most recent take on it was more Opéra-Comique: playful and coquettish, and less about the “sexy.” (Whew…as she’s only 16!)
Although I surely knew about the film “Carmen on Ice” (1989) back in the day, I somehow forgot about it, and am not even sure if I ever saw it. The made-for-tv figure skating movie features the duo of Katarina Witt & Brian Boitano in their oft-billed faux “straight”/hawt package…and throws in Brian Orser for good measure. All three won Primetime Emmy’s for “Outstanding Performance in Classical Music/Dance Programming.”
They really do LOOK their parts: Witt smoldering and fiery, Boitano (Don José) brooding and even dreamy at times, and Orser (Escamillo) showing great bravado. Allowing for the forgiveness factor that these are skaters, not “actors”, the acting ranges from acceptable, to quite good in select moments. Other than perhaps Kim Yu-Na, or Oksana Baiul (in her prime), and maybe Sasha Cohen, I can’t imagine another female skater meeting as many of the requirements of this role. Boitano is a wooden actor, but skates beautifully, and with romantic strength throughout. Orser really lights up his scenes. Fratianne Olympic gold spoiler Anett Pötzsch (Witt’s sister-in-law) even makes a cameo as Mercédès. German actor Otto Retzer is quite sexy as Zuniga, but his skates proove to be rather pointless.
I prefer the more playful moments (most of the links highlighted below). Not surprisingly, the solo skating scenes are the strongest, but the more intimate moments, which require a strong connection don’t ring as true or conjure up much heat, as none of these principals were pairs skaters or ice dancers (and are gay, gay, gay). The production values are actually quite high, especially for a skating production.
However, I would have preferred a more pared-down approach, with minimal sets, so the pure skating could emerge as the primary mode of expression, rather than get lost in what feels like it’s trying too hard to be a legit movie. In this same vein, the director uses too many close-ups throughout, which fall rather flat, as they don’t play to their strengths, or allow us to see the choreography, edging or footwork.
My favorite current tv skating commentator Sandra Bezic offers some memorable choreographic touches. Interestingly, most of the sets are actual historic locations in Seville (and Berlin), and many of the Corp/Extras are locals.
My Recommended Highlights
The entire film is broken down into 10 youtube.com videos. The following are my favs, for either their camp or artistic value. You can easily link to all the other videos on youtube.com. Y’all enjoy now!
“Près des remparts de Séville”, Witt & Boitano
Although at first contrived, this rope dance won me over, and is really rather inventive. It’s an interesting way to allow the skating to tell the story.
“Lillas Pastias & Toreador Song”, Witt & Orser
Orser delivers loads of testosterone here, and it’s surprisingly convincing and entertaining.
Don José & Escamillo Confrontation, Boitano & Orser
Melodrama at its best. The boys go at it! Some priceless facial expressions.
“Parade & White Dance”, Corps, Orser & Witt
The “White Dance” with Witt & Orser is quite beautiful. They have a bit more chemistry than Witt & Boitano, perhaps because they’re not trying so darn hard.
I love that Orser refers to his character as “Escamilio”. Perhaps that’s his character’s guido nickname!?
My post with the most “hits” ever (ok, that’s only since February ’09, but it’s still notable) has also just found a home over at gay.com’s Gay Sports Blog. Clearly peeps just can’t get enough of Johnny.
My originally titled “Pop Star on Ice” @ The Castro Theatre is now enjoying a second coming here: Review: Johnny Weir’s “Pop Star on Ice”. (Special thanks to Aaron. Hey, I scratch your back…you scratch mine!? jk)
It’s always lovely to reach an even broader audience.
Keep an eye out for a screening near you!
When my friend booked my ticket to “Pop Star on Ice” at the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival, I knew the flick would dish up plenty of bitchy humor and celeb-style entertainment, and figured it would reveal Johnny Weir as a fascinating, but also superficial and narcissistic personality. Instead, he thankfully comes out looking disarmingly and utterly real, complex, insanely and innately gifted, and truly one-of-a-kind. And, the documentary itself is a lovingly crafted piece, telling the story of his life, not just to frivolously entertain, but also to enlighten and inspire.
I’ve always rooted for Johnny, especially when pitted against Evan (Lysacek). My tendency towards the underdog, and his vulnerable, straight shooting (pardon the pun) personality has always drawn me to him. Clearly, as 3-time National Champion one could hardly call him an underdog, at least a few seasons back, but the traditional expectations and desired mold purported by the US Figure Skating Federation and community against which he has had to push qualifies him as such, in my mind.
I will try not to divulge too much detail about the movie, as I’d hate to steal any of the thunder of your experiencing it fresh, but I want to at least help tout this excellent film by dangling a few carrots.
The opening titles are accompanied by critical sound bits about Johnny, narrated in multiple dialects/accents, with hysterical comedic flair: flamboyantly gay, Paris Hilton Valspeak, Minnesotan housewife, Russian, and so on. At the end we discover that this is not the voice of just any narrator, but Johnny himself…yet another skilled and entertaining facet of this performer and personality. If you don’t mind a spoiler, of sorts, watch this intro segment here.
One of the opening scenes sets the tone…clearly Johnny does not take himself too seriously (off the ice), and is just as willing to make fun of himself as others, which is very endearing. He sits naked (presumably) in a frothy bubble bath with his best friend Paris Childers, wearing a campy blond wig, whilst interviewing him in a thick Russian dialect. He asks him questions about Johnny (himself), and Paris answers in queeny fashion. Johnny says they’re so close, “we’re like a married couple without the sex”. Wait, married couples have sex? jk!
The story-telling of the documentary is crafted along a graphic timeline (complete with illustrated icons!) of Johnny’s skating career, and the three primary locales in which he has lived (Quarryville, Pennsylvania; Newark, Delaware; Lyndhurst, New Jersey). It moves back and forth along this timeline to give you a perspective of a competitive season, but also a bigger picture of an athlete’s progress over a longer span. This technique helps build drama, as we see Johnny train, and then how he holds up in competition (although the results are of course not a surprise, it makes the story more interesting).
We soon meet Priscilla Hill, Johnny’s coach from age 12 to 2007. Interestingly, he was drawn to her because she too was a clockwise spinner/jumper. Their relationship is just as complex as Johnny himself is. They clearly have/had a great love and admiration for one another (one part mother/son, one part fag hag/fag), and she helped make him what he has become, but also they had reached a point where they perhaps knew each other too well, and were steeped in some bad habits, which was leading to unsuccessfully training and poor competition results. As with any artist, sometimes one just needs freshening up, a new setting, and/or a new team to collaborate with. I even feel this in my profession, where every 5 years or so have found it best to move on to new horizons, and change things up a bit (of course, economic-related lay-offs have helped this along!). You learn different things from different people, and it would foolish to expect one person to be able to offer everything one would need in such an evolving sport.
It is moving to see Johnny return to his childhood home, where he has both sentimental memories, as well as anxiety, as he is hardly the Quarryville status quo. His first-grade teacher Tawn Battiste is a big fan, and they share a mutual admiration. He visits her current class, and poses for a photo with them.
Other skaters Evan Lysacek, Brian Joubert and Stephane Lambiel have a presence in the film, and some are even interviewed. Johnny’s realness is magnified when contrasted with interviews by Evan, who feels much more calculated, and as if he is carefully measuring what he says, likely to please. Although I have nothing against Evan, think he has much to offer, and certainly believe he deserved to be ’07 National Champion, I was highly amused by (and shared in) the audience hisses at The Castro Theatre, anytime he appeared on screen. He comes across as a villain/antagonist-of-sorts in this film, which is exacerbated by the general media’s highlighting of their “rivalry”.
Given that Johnny was inspired to start skating in his backyard, after seeing Oksana Bauil win the ’94 Olympic Gold, it feels particularly fateful, and fortuitous that he leaves Hill to train with Galina Zmievskaya, Bauil’s former coach. Her more demanding approach, less “friend” or “mother” than Hill had become, appears to be a smart move for Johnny, at least for his ’07-’08 season.
More than any other source I’ve experienced, this film really allowed me to symphatize with the trials skaters and athletes must push against, and the roller-coaster ride of ebbing and waning commitment, passion, connection to one’s sport/art, etc. It is unbearable to watch Johnny train for the ’07 Nationals. We see a quickly edited succession of his multiple jump attempts (and frequent falls). The toll this takes on the body is so easily understood when seen in this way. We see him distracted, without focus, looking quite underweight, and also struggling to work well or even communicate with Hill. It was clear the outcome would not be good.
Perhaps I should find it more frustrating that Johnny does not “come out” even in this context, but after watching this film, I feel he is withholding little about his life. Some notion of his romantic life would have been welcome, and the lack of it leaves him looking a bit asexual, but frankly, that is his business, and perhaps is better fodder for his tell-all autobiography (in 2020?).
The question of whether Johnny is a Pop Star, or not, is answered in that he is indeed one in the eyes of “Johnny’s Angels”, and his fans throughout Russia, Asia, and yes, even America. But, as to whether he’s a true, mainstream Pop Star, not yet…once his competitive career is over (after Vancouver, I presume), I’m sure he could be easily launched into that ether, if he so chooses…as he has all the makings of one, and will have more time to nurture his “brand”.
I was heartened to discover that this same directing team of David Barba & James Pellerito will be involved in the upcoming 8-part reality series about Johnny’s quest for Olympic Gold. At the end of the film there was a Q&A with them. Their involvement in the reality series compelled me to ask the following (to paraphrase): “Since training for the Olympics is such a grueling process, how do you remain transparent to Johnny so that your filming, or the “celeb” aspects of being in a reality series are not a distraction for him?“
The director’s responses were that they remain pretty invisible to Johnny and his team, and have developed a good relationship with him/them, so that if they felt their presence wasn’t welcome in a given context, they could give him/them space. But, Johnny and the team got so used to them that they weren’t playing for the camera, or really noticing them in the training contexts.
The reality series, which will pick up where this documentary left off, will air early next year on the Sundance Channel, building up to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics!