Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Oh God I have something to share. It's time to come out of the closet and admit that I am a Stephen Sondheim fan. I think that makes you about as gay as you can get. Even if you play football at the weekend, like to spend as much time as possible under the bonnet of your car, and make the sign of the cross every time you see a man with blonde highlights, liking Stephen Sondheim instantly cancels all of these butch points out.

I blame it on the recent film Camp, which is a kind of Sondheim 101. The film is a nice enough little tale of misfit teens who go to summer camp to put on musicals. There's the acne-riddled gay wannabe drag queen, his slightly dowdy fag-hag, a needy hunk with OCD, and the teenage versions of Eve Harrington and Margo Channing and a fat girl with her jaw wired shut. However, amid all of this character development and life-changing experience ("nothing was the same after that summer"), are the actual musical numbers that the kids put on, taken, totally out of context, from a range of Sondheim shows. And they are 100%-approved trashtastic, hardcore wig-out groovy. Coming from shows like Promises, Promises, Follies and Company, these now-forgotten numbers need an instant revival. Here's my guide:

The Ladies Who Lunch (Company). A bitter little number, sung by a woman wearing black and clutching a cocktail glass (that she'll eventually shatter). An ode to female alcoholism, consumerism and the vapid pointless "Hello Magazine" existence that threatens to overwhelm us all, it could have been written as an accompaniment to Karen Walker. With lines like "Everybody dies" and a rousing ending where the audience are compelled to Rise! Rise! Rise! from their seats, this is pure Sondheim. Key line: "When they get depressed it's a bottle of Scotch, plus a little jest."

I'm Still Here (Follies). The plot of Follies is all about ageing stars returning to a theatre that's going to be knocked down to make a parking lot - the beautiful ghosts of their younger selves shadow and mock them. It's all very allegorical and addresses the gay man/diva's fear of ageing so very well. Anyway, "I'm Still Here" is one of those autobiographical songs which sums up a lifetime of strife, laughing in the face of adversity and "seen it all bought the t-shirt" which characterises Sondheim's plucky older actress types. Key line: "First you're another sloe-eyed vamp, then someone's mother, then you're camp."

Another tune from Camp, which isn't Sondheim, but is almost as good, is Turkey-Lurkey Time (Promises, Promises). A late-60s ensemble hoe-down involving the entire cast, and ending with absolutely everyone freaking out, with the requisite girls dancing very quickly on raised plinthes. It's a kind of weird homage to Christmas and the lyrics are so silly that they will stuck in your head forever. It has some of the most complicated, campy, rinky-dink dance movements that you'll ever see. Everything that you ever wanted to know about 1968 is summed up in this song. Key line: "A snowy, blowy christmas, a mistletoey christmas, a turkey lurkey christmas to you!"

Excerpts from most of these can be downloaded from here.

Friday, September 24, 2004

What are you like?

Although I am 32, according to the "what's your real age quiz" I just took (courtesy of Planet Dan), I am 21. This is thanks to my boring, clean-teen lifestyle. However, while it's nice to be classed as so young (I regularly get people thinking I'm in my mid or late 20s, particularly when I pay them to say so), I don't think my "real age" is 21. For one thing, I have no desire to go inter-railing, I don't use text messaging language, I don't find Bo Selecta funny and I haven't been to a nightclub in years. In fact, I dispute my "real age". I'm a 45 year old, trapped in the body of a 21 year old. (Re-reading that sentence, it sounds like some sort of intergenerational porno blurb).

And according to the What Am I Like personality test at the BBC, I am a "peace-keeper", which means I'm spontaneous, ruled by my head, a facts person and an introvert. I feel somewhat stigmatised for being an intro, but I hate extroverts - they're so loud and surfacey, their mouths always wide open with big honking laughs coming out. And all of that jumping out of planes etc that they do - why can't they just get their kicks from a good sunset or particularly apt aphorism? Gah!

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

It's over, it's all over my friend

It's been a day of endings. First Russ Meyer has died. He was the creator of two of my favourite ever films, the high-octane morality play set in the desert Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill, and Hollywood freak show lazy Susan Beyond The Valley of the Dolls. I never tire of watching either of these films. They're both packed with inventive, funny dialogue and are filmed like pop videos.

Also, Nixon of Popdizzy has announced he's quitting his blog. Although we never met and I think he found my middle-class consumerist ways rather annoying, he's someone who I admired and respected a great deal, and I often read his posts while thinking "I wish I'd said that". I hope he gets tired of not writing and returns in some form.

And Dan of UltraSparky, who I have met, has given notice in his job. Good luck - I hope you go on to bigger and better things.

Finally - it was the last episode of Big Brother 5 (America) today. When Big Brother's over, you know the summer's over too and all you have to look forward to now are naff Christmas adverts, even lousier weather and it getting dark at 4pm. At least someone pretty won (scarily he has an identical twin). I hate endings.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Who wants to be a sheep?

I watched Woody Allen's Sleeper last night. No matter how often I see this film, it never fails to have me laughing - it's also a film that you appreciate on different levels the older you get. Although it has a lot of silly slapstick in, it also has plenty of political commentary. I particularly love how the camp robot is called Regan "Here's your silly old hydrovac suit!"

My favourite character in Sleeper is the Diane Keaton role: Luna. She starts the film as a typical mindlessly shallow member of the futuristic facist America that Woody Allen wakes up in. She is the most high-maintenance person who ever lived, throwing tantrums at the least provocation: "I haven't had a bath for seven hours! I need my orb!" She studied oral sex at a "population centre", holds parties with her silly friends and writes poetry that is not only bad, but factually incorrect. She makes a wonderfully vaccuous speech early in the film about how the world is so full of beautiful things. "We have the orb and the telescreen and the orgasmatron. Why would anyone want to spoil things?" Her initial fear and disgust of Woody Allen is later met with curiosity and eventually she becomes an "enlightened" member of the resistance movement - living on the run for 6 months, "like an animal".

In almost all dystopic (futuristic-society gone wrong) fiction, there is usually a conformist "sheep" character like Luna who is a representative embodiment of everything that is wrong with the society. In Farenheit 451 it is Mildred - who is constantly plugged in to soothing music and inane chatter - she occasionally overdoses, perhaps because she's too thick to remember how many sleeping tablets she's taken, perhaps because on some level she hates herself and her life. Who knows? In Orwell's 1984 the futuristic sheep is Tom Parsons - a rather sweaty man who believes everything that the Party tells him (yet he still ends up being denounced by his own children as a traitor). In Brave New World, the sheep is Lenina - a good little Beta-girl who says things like "a gramme is better than a damn" and "ending is better than mending". She personifies the values of hegemony, hedonism and capitalism that exist under Ford's New World Order.

In many ways, these sheep characters are more interesting than the "rebel" characters who populate these stories and act as the chief protaganist. For one thing, while the rebels are generally a bit brooding and miserable, the sheep are usually quite camp and funny (in a Karen from Will & Grace kind of way). It's also interesting to see if they'll experience the journey towards consciousness and eventually rebel against the society. And our own world is full of sheep who simply echo what they're told. I love hearing people say things like "I love McDonalds - I can't see why anyone would want to protest about it!". Or people who love paying a lot of money to watch organised sports, people who buy lottery tickets, people who like what's in the Top 20 (of anything). The world is so easy for them - you can just walk into HMV, for example, and all of the films and music that you want to buy is right at the front of the shop on the first shelf that you see. Think of the time saved. Imagine turning on the telescreen and not having to change the channel because the programme that's playing is always going to be interesting to you. Being one of the brooding and ineffectual outsiders, I find the "I don't think therefore I'm happy" philosophy of sheep (both in fiction and in real life) fascinating and charming.


Oh the irony. After writing the above, I went to town to buy a copy of Sims 2. It was right at the front of HMV on the "new releases" shelf. Baaa!

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

What do the gaydar stereotypes say about you?

People who log on to gaydar are always greeted by a picture of a couple (or in some cases a lone "gay") who represent some facet of the gay scene. Maybe this is to show how diverse we are as gay men. Or maybe it's to give us suggestions about the sort of people we should be looking for, or trying to be like. Most of them I find quite scary. Here's my analysis, for what it's worth.

Ben and Tom.

They're the archetypal Gap girls of Gaydar. Utterly vanilla, well-adjusted, with their little sitcom Starbucks lives. They go to all the right circuit parties, holiday at Key West and P-town, have a cat and claim to be monogamous. You're supposed to hate them. They don't exist.

Angelo and Damien.

Flamboyant, dramatic and slightly weird - they swoosh around in an alternative universe, never really able to leave any of the 4Cs -
the Castro, Canal, Compton or Christopher Streets. They're big trouble and most people who've been burnt by them cross the road to avoid their nightmarish world of gossip, complicated threesomes and scandal.

Marge and Stella.

Although they've got the obligatory piercings and tattoos, they're actually as camp as Christmas, existing within a small clique of similar men, who've all had sex with each other, all have female names (usually based on some soap opera they all watch) and sometimes do drag.

Kevin and Chris.

Welcome to the world of long trips to Banana Republic and cottaging at the airport between connecting flights. This pair of A-gays may not have the looks, but they've got the cash and the personal trainer. "Professional", "Own Home(s), Own Car". They're shockingly conservative and ever-so snobby. Unfortunately, their chi-chi dinner-parties usually descend into drama and/or orgies.

Biff and Ted.

The construction of masculinity via "expressive artefacts" and "concrete objects" are what this pair are all about. If it's even slightly butch, they'll fetishise it. In a kind of reverse-obedience, they reject the standard notions of gay attractiveness (See Ben and Tom). They may sometimes pair up with Kyle and Travis (see below) for a jolly foursome.

Kyle and Travis (aka Master and Pig).

From the outside it all sounds a bit dark and nihilistic, but in reality the maintenance of complicated master-slave relationships becomes as all-consuming and socially fraught as a Jane Austen novel. Just bring along plenty of wet wipes with you.

Matt and Ricky.

These college boys have just discovered Queer Theory and you'll be so sorry they did. They've only been together for three weeks and have already had a commitment ceremony, experimented with an open relationship, split up, got back together again, moved in, moved out and generally divided and alienated all of their friends. Leave them to sort it out and come back in five years.

Toby and Bobby.

The not-so-secret fantasy of every gaydar user - these chickens are practically jail-bait and are the ones who hold all the real sexual power in every gaydar game (only they won't know that until they're older and don't have it). Their tastes dictate the music we have to listen to, the clothes we wear and the hairstyles we emulate. All-too-often their "Beautiful Thing" phases lasts the better part of a year and they've experienced male pattern baldness, beer belly and dark circles round their eyes as a result of too many late nights. Get them while they're (still) hot!

Mike and Leroy.

The only couple which feature two non-whites, they are a bold statement that you don't have to be a "banana", "curry" or "rice" queen or whatever racist language is used to describe men who have sex with different ethnic groups. They're also the happiest and most natural-looking couple - I'm sure there's a message there somewhere.

What's missing from our line-up are couples featuring guys over the age of 50 - as well as anyone who looks very camp - where's the equivalent of Carson Kressley with floopy (yes floopy) blonde shoulder-length hair? The couples all look disgustingly urban as well (I bet they all stink of cigarettes, even if they don't smoke) - there are no country mice like me, wearing an unfashionably sensible anorak. Still, some representation is better than none. But we still have further to go...

Monday, September 13, 2004

One of the things that got me through the awful, boring mid-1980s (along with The Golden Girls on Friday nights) was Agatha Christie. As a teenager I devoured her books at the rate of about 1 or 2 a week. They were terribly middle-brow, but you don't know that when you're 13. For me they opened up a glamorous world of foreign travel, upper-class sophisticates living in mansions with shingled hair and monocles and dramatically camp murders (usually of people who deserved it). It was a million miles away from the rough council estate I grew up in - but it planted a seed - I now live in a 1930s house which Agatha Christie could have dreamt up.

There are only 2 Agatha Christie books which I still enjoy. One is Death on the Nile, the other is And Then There Were None (formerly Ten Little Indians, formely Ten Little Ni**ers). Politically-incorrectness aside, I still love this book - and re-read it recently on the plane to New York. Along with Valley of the Dolls, 1984, Vanity Fair and the Mapp and Lucia books, it's something I never get tired of reading. It's unlike any other mystery novel in that there is no hero, no love interest and no detective. It's like an early incarnation of the tv shows Big Brother or Survivor, with the cast gradually whittled down and you have no idea who's going to be left. There are some very weighty issues of guilt, justice and ethics going on - all of the characters have been assembled on an island because they have committed and got away with murder - they are to be executed - and it's all going to be literally enacted alongside the nursery rhyme ten little indians. Agatha Christie said it was one of the hardest novels she had to plan and when it came out she was really proud of it because she knew how difficult it had been to write.

It's been filmed about 5 times, although all versions have been heavily criticised as being too low buget, badly acted or corny (which is kind of missing the point). The only version I've seen is the 1974 version which has the bizarre pairing of Elke Sommer and Oliver Reed. The 1965 version has B-hunk Hugh O'Brien and Bond Girl Shirley Eaton in the same roles. Almost all of the film versions (except for the 1989 Russian version) have a sappy happy ending which is missing from the book and therefore kind of destroys the whole premise of the film. It also deletes my favourite scene, right at the end, where almost-heroine Vera Claythorne, the last survivor - and at this point completely insane with guilt from her hand in the death of a child, starts talking to the last statue of one of the 10 indians, that have been mysteriously vanishing as each person dies. "You can come with me. We've won my dear! We've won!" However, this is not Survivor and there is no million dollar prize rating for Vera - only madness and oblivion. That's why I love the book - it transcends the usual cheesy mystery genre and becomes something much darker and more disturbing. I love it.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Dontcha just love Fox News - one of the many forms of media owned by Rupert Murdoch. If you don't love Fox News already (and you should) here are some reasons. Read them, and then tune your brain to a 24 hour newsfeed.

1) SAVE MONEY! You don't have to bother reading George Orwell, Ray Bradbury, Philip K Dick or any other science fiction writer - the dystopian future is already here and live 24/7 on Fox News.


2) SHUT UP! Bill O'Reilly has this as his little catch-phrase. Somewhat interestingly, it's also the catch-phrase of fabulously camp Jack from Will & Grace. But while Jack uses it in that playful "What amazing news!" way, Bill O'Reilly uses "shut up" to mean, well "shut up!" How reassuringly literal. But when does it occur? Just watch out if one of his guests holds a middle-ground or (ohmigod) liberal opinion. First his eyes will start to bulge. Then his neck veins will stand out. "SHUT UP! You SHUT UP!" Watch him demand an ad break while the poor sap is "escorted" out of the building. I'm hoping that one day someone will cause Ms O'Reilly to have a heart attack onscreen by a) making a gay pass at him b) telling him he's a stupid cunt c) slapping him in the face with a big fish d) all of the above.

3) We REPORT! YOU DECIDE! Yes, contrary to what you may have heard, Fox News is an unbiased news channel. Whaaaaat? Are you daring to tut and disagree. How can you when their other slogan is "Fair and balanced".

4) WE WON! Yesssssss you Americans, why bother with the expense, and quite frankly the bordeom of a proper "above board" election, when Fox News can just tell you who wins without anyone having to do any of that funny "counting" of votes. During the last election it was Fox who got to choose who got to play the role of President of the United States by announcing it as a fact (when it wasn't). And this time round, they've already decided, months in advance that George W Bush is going to win again by saying things like "120 days until George W Bush is re-elected as President".

5) SCARY SCARY TERROR! Let's face it, the news is often a bit boring. And having it broadcast all day must mean that you might fall asleep or switch channels to watch something on VH1 with Paris Hilton. However, Fox News recognise this and have decided to "sex up" the news with a constant barrage of WHOOSHING logos and graphics that tell us "NEWS ALERT!!!!!!" and "TERROR ALERT!" Fox News will have you reaching for the emergency rations and torches and then you'll be ever so grateful when you realise it's just some little piece about Jennier Lopez and you don't have to go into the bunker for 30 years after all. Hurrah!

Despite all of this, I have decided that although Fox News is very good, it actually sometimes gets its facts a bit muddled and I even suspect that Bill O'Reilly is a little biased at times. So I have been looking round for a news source which is more unbiased and truthful. And readers! I have found it!! It's called Weekly World News and it is fabulous! Here are some headlines from it - I think you'll agree - it's a more accurate source of news than Fox News: "ISLAND OF TRANSVESTITES FOUND IN SOUTH PACIFIC", "POPE'S NAUGHTY SECRET Guess whose panties he keeps in his pocket!", "NEW DEMON IS WORSE THAN SATAN . . . SECRET VATICAN REPORT WARNS!". Sorry Fox News, but our relationship is over. Make way for Weekly World News.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Currently in London for a conference - I am mightily sick of hotels at the moment and just want to be at home. So I will pretend I am and talk instead about the film Thundercrack (1975) which I saw recently. This is one of those films which gets talked about a lot (usually in hushed tones) but is really difficult to get hold of. I found it in Kim's Videos in St Marks, New York (on the site of what used to be a famous gay bath-house). Thundercrack is a cult horror film, along very similar lines to the Rocky Horror Show. But it's much more experimental and hardcore. In an early scene, the film's star, played by Marion Eaton (the only "serious" actress in the film), bends over a toilet bowl to vomit. Unfortunately her wig falls off while she's in mid-throw-up. Never mind, she just fishes it out and puts it back on. The story involves a group of strangers who take shelter at a spooky old house during a thunderstorm. But once Ms Eaton tells them all to change out of their wet clothes in what used to be her son's bedroom at the far end of the passage - and we see that it's full of porn and sex toys - we realise that this is going to be a bit of an odd fim. Soon there's sex of every kind going on - with close-ups of penetration and ejaculations. Lesbian, gay, hetero, voyeurism, sex-doll, (peeled) cucumber, vaccum pump, dildo and ape are all featured. Someone even unwittingly eats the cucumber at one point. There's also some gothic stuff about Mrs Eaton's suspiciously missing son and husband, as well as a subplot involving a travelling circus. Most bizarre of all, two of the male characters are called Chandler and Bing. Who knew that the writers of Friends were so playfully cinema-literate? See this if you get the chance.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Just back from a holiday in New York. (Nice to see the always entertaining, witty and all-round good guy Mr UltraSparky again) It's all very political over there at the moment with an upcoming election and the Republican Party Convention being held. There were people wearing badges and holding banners everywhere. I got in on the action by saying "fuck you" to two smug Republicans holding "Kerry flipflops" signs. I also joined an anti-Starbucks demo for a few minutes and had my face videoed by the police. However, I think my actions were compromised somewhat by the fact that only minutes earlier I had actually been in a Starbucks having a drink (blame my boyfriend - he is a caffine addict and can't make one hour to the next without a double espresso). Here are some other things I noticed about New York:

1. Republican Wives. While their menfolk were at the convention, these elderly candy-floss haired ladies were let loose on Manhattan. They looked like Halloween drag queens who had spent all night partying and had left the nightclub, blinking and still drugged-out into the street the next morning. I got the feeling many of them had never been to New York before, or had to order food themselves in a cafe, from the way that they ordered complete strangers (ie me) around.

2. Crazies. New York has more crazies than anywhere, and that includes my home town Peterlee (unemployment 854%, illiteracy 299%). You'd be hard pressed to get from A to B without seeing at least 2 people talking (ranting) to themselves in that lovely unself-conscious way. If you did this in Britain you'd be sectioned (at least you would have been before Margaret Thatcher's 'hugely successful' "care in the community" scheme).

3. Cruisy straight men. Attractive or even half-way decent women have it bad in New York - I've never seen so many straight men loudly comment on women walking past or stare at them with their mouths hanging open while grabbing their cocks through their pants. Now I know why Sarah Jessica Parker took 7 years to find a man: her potential breeding pool consisted of animals! Animals!

4. Large portions. I can never finish a meal in New York, much to the disgust of waiters. I always want to say "This could feed a family of 6!" but natural shyness prevents. It's particularly bad in cinemas where the food is now so huge, it now comes on trays.

5. Sexy policeman (see also points 2, 3 and 4). They're everywhere. They hook their fingers through their belts and clutch their batons in a very Tom of Finland way. There are so many of them at the moment Manhattan looks like a facist police state, but who's complaining when they all look like they do gay porn part-time.

6. Scary News. Fox News is bad enough (and I'll be reserving my bile for a special Fox News essay a little later in the week). But even the other news channels get you into panic mode with their "watch our show tonight or YOU WILL DIE!" adverts. Children's toys, escaltors, petrol pumps - everything's a source of agonising death on American news.

7. Too-friendly shop assistants. "Hi, how you doin'?" The act of walking into a clothes shop makes you feel like you're about to enter an episode of Friends. Everyone's so helpful. Too helpful in fact. But you're just prey for assistants who work on commission. I've been dissapproved over for just buying socks "Just socks? Is that all???" I've been advised to buy a tie "to go with that shirt". I've been implored to visit a website and tell "the company how good my service was". I like to be ignored while I'm shopping, not made to brush up on my non-existent small-talk skills.

8. The most humorless immigration/customs staff in the world. And this predates September 11th. But now they're just scary. Something about my name set off alarm bells in their computer system and I was "escorted" to a little room with a two-way mirror where I had to wait an age and then answer a series of questions such as "have you ever been arrested?" Once I was released, I collected my suitcase from the carousel (the last one - everyone else was long gone). Then customs decided I didn't look stressed and harrassed enough so I was dragged off again to another holding area where my bag was searched. For goodness sakes - I'm about as square-looking and clean-cut as you can get.

This all sounds like I hate New York. Actually, I don't - I love it and I'd move there in a shot if they'd give me a green card (and let my family live there too). As that ain't going to happen, I have to find something to complain about, otherwise I'll just go around being depressed.