Feb 15, 2014

Giovanni Ribisi: Not Cute Anymore

I first saw Giovanni Ribisi on Friends, where he had a recurring role as Phoebe's cute, naive younger brother Frank (1995-2003).  He has a relationship with his much older female teacher, and later asks Phoebe to be the surrogate mother for his children.

But the 21-year old actor was a busy child star under the name Vonnie Ribisi, with recurring roles in The New Leave It to Beaver, My Two Dads, The Wonder Years, and Family Album; below he stars in the nuclear family sitcom Davis Rules (1991-92), along with Luke Edwards and Nathan Watt.

As a young adult, his lean, rugged frame and handsome but quirky face did not gain him a lot of mainstream blockbuster roles, but he made a splash in independent films:

SubUrbia (1996): a group of teens in small-town Austin, Texas (of all places) experience angst and want to escape.  Notable for Giovanni's first nude scene.

Lost Highway (1997): I have no idea what it's about.

First Love, Last Rites (1997): Two Generation X-ers have sex and are bored.  Another nude scene.

Scotch and Milk (1998): Notable for starring both Giovanni Ribisi and his lookalike Adam Goldberg.

And his resume goes on like that, movie after movie that few people outside the art house circuit have seen, with an occasional mainstream title: Gone in Sixty Seconds, Avatar.

And pitiably few tv roles. Chiefly My Name is Earl (2005-2008), where he played Ralph Mariano, an old buddy of Earl's who reappears and asks him to resume his life of crime. They have a combative relationship with the implication of previous homoerotic activity.  (And he appears in his underwear).

Still a nice physique, but he's not aging well, getting more and more craggy.

In 2013-2014 he starred in the execrable Dads (2013-14), which I saw only half an episode of.  That was enough.

I get such a strong gay vibe from Giovanni that I expected a lot of gay characters or subtexts in his work.  It is astonishing that there really isn't much, just the obnoxious gay soldier Levi Kendall in Basic (2003) and creepy Donny who kidnaps the talking teddy bear in the execrable Ted (2012).  

But he's apparently heterosexual in real life.  And he may even be a homophobe of the Seth Green  "No way am I gay!!!!" school.

Feb 13, 2014

Sid Caesar's Gay Connection

Sid Caesar died a few days ago, at age 91.   I knew him as a mugging, elderly guy in some 1970s comedies, such as Silent Movie, The Cheap Detective, and Grease, but he was one of the pioneers of the television industry.

In February 1950, the former Borscht Belt comedian and stage actor became the headliner in Your Show of Shows, an anthology of music and comedy that presaged Saturday Night Live 25 years later.  I'm not sure if Show of Shows meant that it was superior to every other program, or that it included a variety of "shows."

Other performers included Imogene Coca (later to star in It's About Time), Carl Reiner (creator of The Dick Van Dyke Show), Mel Brooks (left),  future voice artist Howard Morris, and a huge selection of current and future celebrities, including Charlton Heston, Jackie Cooper, Eva Gabor, June Lockhart, Wally Cox, Eddie Albert, and Bob Cummings.

It lasted until 1954, and hasn't been rerun (many episodes are lost), but there are videos of many of the sketches.

Caesar and Coca play the Hickenloopers, a bickering couple.

A German-accented Professor (Caesar), an expert on everything, is interviewed by a reporter (Reiner), a precursor of the Two-Thousand Year Old Man albums.

There are parodies of movies, tv commercials, game shows, even ballets and operas (Die Grosste Shau in der Welt).  

A lot of heterosexual yearning, and not a lot of gay content, just some jokes about gender-transgressions: a woman with muscles and a moustache, a man named Sheila.

And substantial beefcake; Caesar had an impressive physique for the 1950s, and stripped down for such parodies as the beach scene in From Here to Eternity ("From Here to Obscurity") or the "Stella!" shout in A Streetcar named Desire ("A Trollycar Named Desire").

In 1954, Sid Caesar moved on to dozens of guest shots in movies and tv programs, frequently playing "himself" and racking up Emmy nominations.

Knowing him only from the homophobic movies of the 1970s, I naturally assumed that he was as homophobic as other men of his generation.

But then, researching this post, I stumbled onto a blog post, "My Seder with Sid Caesar," about a Passover Seder at the Friar's Club with a number of comedians, including Estelle Harris, John Byner...and Sid Caesar.  Theo Bikel, officiating, announced that “A religious man was once overheard saying that gays and lesbians have an much of a place in the Jewish tradition as an orange does on a Seder plate."  So he put an orange on the Seder plate.

The blog has only one entry, and it's not signed, but still -- Sid Caesar was participating in a pro-gay Passover Seder.

The Beefcake Empire of Ancient Crete

When I was a kid in the Midwest, I thought of Greece as a "good place," where same-sex desire was open and free, based on the My Village books of Sonia and Tim Gidal, books on Greek mythology, some movies set in modern Greece.

And a small paperback book, The Bull of Minos, by Leonard Cottrell.

 It told me about the Minoan Empire of Crete and the Aegean Sea, that predated the Greeks and was completely forgotten until Arthur Evans excavated the Palace at Knossos in 1900.

Their language is unknown.  They had two alphabets, one partially translated, the other still a mystery.

What kid wouldn't find that fascinating?

But the illustrations (and the illustrations I found in other books) were even more fascinating, displaying an exuberant interest in the male form.

There were some naked ladies, including a topless snake goddess, but many more naked or loincloth-clad men serving beverages, leaping over bulls, farming, fishing, hugging each other as if they are lovers, and just standing, waiting to be objects of desire after 3300 years.

That's right, leaping over bulls.  Apparently bullfighting originated in an ancient Minoan ceremony where semi-nude young athletes grabbed bulls by the horns and leaped over them, a spectacle of man and muscle without the blood.

Remember Theseus in Greek mythology, who had to enter the labyrinth and fight the monstrous minotaur?  This is most likely a memory of a homoerotic ritual, in which a naked warrior fights a man in a bull costume to signify the triumph of civilization over barbarism.

Others have noticed the masculine energy of the ancient Minoans.

The Minoan Brotherhood, founded by Edmund Buczynski in 1977, draws from the Minoan mysteries to enact neopagan rituals for gay and bisexual men.

In 2008 British composer Harrison Birtwhistle transformed the story into an opera, The Minotaur.  The Minotaur (John Tomlinson) gains the power of speech and despairs of his violent existence, while Theseus (beefy Johan Reuer, right) looks to him for meaning.

Flights from Athens to Heraklion, the capital of Crete, take about an hour, but it's more fun to go by boat.  You can stop off at the gay resort of Mykonos on the way.  (Also stop at the Penis Festival in Tyrnavos.)

Feb 12, 2014

Matthew James Thomas and Company: The Bulging Biceps of Spider-Man

Mathew James Thomas is best known for playing the alternate lead in Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark on Broadway (2011-2012).  I didn't go as a matter of principle -- I hate Peter Parker in any incarnation.  But I understand that his costume was the most bulgeworthy since Burt Ward's tights on the old Batman tv series (scroll down to see it).

He's also displayed his very tight, hard physique elsewhere, in Pippin (both on Broadway and at the A.R.T. in Boston), Fame, Romeo and Juliet, and Dorian Gray, a musical version of the gay-subtext Oscar Wilde classic.

He hasn't done a lot of movies, but you can see him in Billy Elliott (as a gay kid that Billy beats up) and About a Boy.

And on tv in Bad Girls, Trevor's World of Sports, Doctors, Genie in the House, and Midsomer Murders.

He starred in the Fame clone Brittania High (2008) as Jez, a rich kid who befriends street dancer BB, with the gay subtexts usual in such teen soaps.

Ok, ready for the Spider-Man costume?

 Explain how that got past the censors.

Of course, the other two guys who played Spider-Man, Matt Caplan and Reeve Carney (below), are equally bulgeworthy.  Maybe it'st the costumes.

Feb 10, 2014

Jordan Dean: a Buffed, Shirtless, Homoerotic Robin Hood

If you are anywhere around Boston, check out the A.R.T., the American Repertory Theater, in Cambridge.  They have a full season of traditional dramas (such as Matthew James Thomas in Pippin), plus creative, eclectic performances, like The Donkey Show every Saturday night and Acoustica Electronica on occasional Fridays.

Buffed redhead Jordan Dean (right)  just finished up the starring role in The Heart of Robin Hood, a retelling of the legend that makes Robin and his Merry Men a street gang (wearing leather vests and no shirts) until Martin arrives (Maid Marion in drag) to transform them into freedom-fighters.  Robin and Martin fight together, and share a mutual attraction.

When a guy is attracted to a guy who turns out to be a girl, does it count as heterosexual?

A graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, Jordan has performed all over the Northeast, in a buffed Shakespearean As You Like It, Cymbeline, and A Midsummer Night's Dream (as Demetrius, the one falling out of his underwear).

Plus three Broadway plays that require not only him but most of the cast to be buffed and shirtless: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Mamma Mia! (as a replacement for the original Sky, reclining).

And The New Century, a collection of short plays by Paul Rudnick, about gay life in contemporary Manhattan, including a woman with three gay sons, an older gay man condemned for being too flamboyant, and a cable tv series called "Too Gay."

He has done a few movies, such as Not Fade Away (2012), about a New Jersey rock band in the 1960s, and Burning Blue (2013), about two gay Navy pilots.

Feb 9, 2014

The Best Place to Buy Testicles

My ex-boyfriend Fred grew up on a farm, where every summer the hogs born that spring would be castrated, and the testicles -- aka Rocky Mountain Oysters -- were breaded, fried, and served for breakfast, along with pancakes and syrup.  You could also eat them with ketchup, hot sauce, or cocktail sauce.

They have about the consistency of scallops, without much taste of their own.  Not really a big deal, except for guys who get queasy over the thought of chomping down on something that used to be part of a hog's genitals.

That seems to be the point of the testicle festivals, or Testy Festys, that have popped up all over the United States, in Montana, Missouri,  Michigan, California, Texas, and Illinois, devoted to the consumption of fried, grilled, chocolate-covered, and raw testicles of hogs, bulls, and even turkeys (yes, birds have testicles).

Generally they are advertised by horrific puns, like "Come and have a ball.  If you miss it, you're nuts."  The one in Texas has an evangelical Christian focus, so it tells you to "Come and have a ball with Jesus."

I've been to the "original" Testicle Festival, held every summer for the last 32 years at Rock Creek Lodge in Clinton, Montana (there are daily shuttles from Missoula, if that helps).

You'd expect a festival dedicated to male sex organs to have some gay interest.

Not a lot.

Hard-bitten redneck women in cowboy hats pretending to be surprised at the size of their partners' penises.

Hard-bitten redneck men in cowboy hats who aren't having nearly as much fun as the women, and don't flash their penises very much at all.  There's a little male nudity, but mostly of scary guys.

There's a wet t-shirt contest so you can see ladies' breasts, but many of them go topless anyway.

The website advertises "The Hottest Bartenders."  Lady bartenders, that is.

Even the Big Ball Contest is exceptionally heterosexist: guys stand up, drop their drawers, and get their size, shape, smell, and touch evaluated -- by a panel of women.

There is no indication anywhere in the festival that any man might want to look at another man's "big balls."

You'd be better off buying some of your own from the Exotic Meat Market.  They sell USDA-approved testicles by the pound: bull/bison/veal ($20), wild boar/lamb/goat/elk ($25), duck/yak ($30), ostrich ($50).  Get several kinds and have a buffet.
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