Feb 13, 2016

Oh, Calcutta!: The First Nudie Musical

The sexual liberation of the hippie generation led to a number of plays with momentary nudity and casual references to sex, but Oh! Calcutta! was all-sex, all-nude.  It debuted off-Broadway in 1969 and ran for 1,314 performances, with an additional 5,959 performances in the 1976 revival.  There was also a 1972 movie version, plus references in tv shows such as All in the Family and One Day at a Time, making it one of the iconic musicals of the era.

In case you are wondering, the title comes from the French phrase "O quel cul t'as!", "What a nice butt you have!"

It's a series of not-very-funny comedy sketches, written by such high-brow luminaries as Sam Shepherd, Jules Feifer, and Samuel Beckett.   A boy tries to rape a girl; a girl learns to become less inhibited; a young couple investigate wife-swapping; a boy learns to masturbate.

Notice what's missing?

Right -- no gay people, no reference to same-sex desire or behavior of any sort.

Author and producer Kenneth Tynan was an old-school libertine, into many different heterosexual activities with multiple partners, but tremendously homophobic -- he invented the term "gay Mafia," which he called "the homosexual Mafia," in 1967.  He insisted that there be no crossdressing or "perversion," by which he meant gay people.

In the end, for its pretense of controversy, Oh! Calcutta! preaches the heteronormative message of boys and girls gazing into each other's eyes.

Still, it's an interesting study of mainstream resistance to changing sexual mores, with an amazing amount of full-frontal male nudity.

The most hunky of the cast was the muscular and gifted-beneath-the-belt George Welbes (top photo), who appeared in only three movies before he died in 1974.

But the most famous was certainly Bill Macy, who played the husband of the "uncompromisin', enterprisin', anything but tranquilizin'" Maude (future Golden Girl Bea Arthur) from 1972 to 1978.   When I was in high school, we whispered that he had been a "porn star" and watched hoping to get a glimpse of his superheroic endowment.  Unfortunately, we never saw anything.

In 1976, The First Nudie Musical appeared, with lots more 1970s tv stars.

Feb 11, 2016

The Thirteenth Year

Every now and then the Disney Channel airs a movie over-brimming with teenage and young adult beefcake, only to hide it in a vault and refuse to release it on DVD, as if the network bigwigs find it embarrassing: Jumping Ship, Luck of the Irish, Johnny Tsunami, Full-Court Miracle.  But the most egregious is The Thirteenth Year (1999), which seems little more than an excuse to display 17-year old Chez Starbuck and his friends in swimsuits.

Chez plays Cody Griffin, a "normal" 13-year old whose main problems are: 1) the swim team, where he competes with star athlete Sean (Tim Redwine, left), and 2) his marine biology project, where he is partnered with the uncool science nerd Jess (Justin Jon Ross).  Oh, and his body is changing, and not just the expected changes of puberty: he's developing gills and scales.

Jess performs some tests, and concludes that Cody is turning into a mermaid -- or rather, a merman.  Turns out that his mother is a mermaid, and he will eventually transform altogether.

In spite of the "keeping my secret" hilarity, the movie is rather disturbing.  The transformation is painful and traumatic, and when it is complete, Cody will no longer be human.  He must abandon his human friends and seek out "his own kind" in the ocean.

But there's substantial gay content, and not just the endless swimsuit shots.

1. Although Cody has a girlfriend -- this is Disney, after all -- he ends up buddy-bonding with Jess.  The climactic rescue comes when he saves Jess from drowning, and then uses his mermaid electrical power to revive him.

2. None of the main characters other than Cody express any heterosexual interest.  They all seemed extraordinarily focused on him.

3. The "fish out of water" looking for a place where he can be himself.  Ok, gay symbolism.

Chez Starbuck hasn't done much acting since The Thirteenth Year.  He played a jock in Time Share (2000) and got undressed in the MTV series Undressed.  He appeared as himself in the reality series The Real L-Word (2011), about real lesbians, and for some reason made a plaster cast of his penis.

Feb 9, 2016

Charlton Comics: More Gay Subtexts than Casper

When I was a kid in the 1960s, my staple was Harvey comics: gay-vague pacifist Casper the Friendly Ghost saving the world from science-fiction threats.  I liked the Gold Key jungle comics, Little Lulu, Archie, and occasionally a Marvel or DC title, but I hated the bottom-of-the-barrel Charlton comics: cheaply printed on bad paper, amateurish illustrations, horrible dialogue, stupid stories.

Until one day my boyfriend Bill suggested that I take another look: "They're all full of best men."

That was our word for gay romantic partners.

I wasn't convinced.  "No way.  Harveys are lots better."  I picked up the first on the pile.  "Abbot and Costello?  My Grandma talked about them -- they were on tv like a thousand years ago."

"The big guy has to rescue the little guy all the time."

A same-sex rescue was our main test of whether two guys were friends or "best men."

"What about Timmy the Timid Ghost? It's stupid!"

It was a blatant knock-off of Harvey's Casper the Friendly Ghost.  There was even a tough derby-wearing ghost, Manny, a blatant knock-off of Harvey's Spooky the Tuff Little Ghost

"Do Casper and Spooky live together?" Bill asked pointedly.

No.  Casper lived with his uncles, and Spooky lived alone.  Their paths rarely crossed in the vast Enchanted Forest.

Domesticity -- male characters living together -- was our second test of best men!

The only original characters made no sense, like Surf n' Wheels: good surfers vs. evil motorcyclists in one issue, then crime fighting surfer-motorcyclists in the next.

But Bill pointed out that they had their shirts off for about half of every issue, more than you ever got with Harveys.

Beefcake -- guys taking their shirts off, or even better, wearing only underwear or swimsuits -- was our third test!

Bill pointed out that some Charlton titles, like Hercules, Jungle Jim, and Robin Hood, were even more beefcake-heavy than the Gold Keys.

Beefcake, same-sex rescues, and domesticity.  What else could you ask for in a comic book?

Competent stories, interesting artwork, and dialogue that made sense.  I still didn't like Charlton.

Feb 7, 2016

Neil Gaiman's Sandman: The Goal of Every Journey

You know my history with graphic novels -- growing up with comic books, I keep wanting to like them, but they always turn out to be the depressing angst-ridden memoirs of Millennials, and immensely heterosexist, with The Girl as the goal of every journey.  

But I've heard so much about the Sandman series, by Neil Gaiman -- it's complex, woven in with mythologies, philosophical, cool -- “Expansive and atmospheric, jammed with brainy, contemplative moments and dry humor...stunning, gorgeous artwork."

And Joseph Gordon-Levitt is scheduled to play the Sandman in the movie version.

So when the "Overture" of the series came out recently, I bought it, figuring it would be a good introduction, plus something stunningly great.  So I forked over my $15.00, got the hardcover, read the cover blurbs: "Gorgeous from start to finish": "A sweeping and extravagant prequel."

And opened it.

Remember, I have almost a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature.  I speak three languages.  I've read James Joyce, William Faulkner, T. S. Eliot.  I know all about Derrida, Foucault, and Baudrillard.

I'm really, really smart.

So I opened it...and...


Terrible is not the right word.  Terrible implies that there's something to evaluate.  There's nothing here to read.   I can't make out the meaning of a single one of the images --- and there are hundreds of every page.  Or the self-important purple prose.

1. A planet full of sentient plants that never dream start dreaming of death.
2. In London in 1815, a businessman named Ian Stuart receives a mysterious visitor who tells him that he brings news, but not about his brother.
3. Destiny of the Endless (that's his name) gets a visit from his sister,  who is worried about Dream, a hundred galaxies away.
4. George Portcullis, who has a portcullis instead of a face, gets a mysterious visitor, the Corinthian, who he sends to see the Master, who tells him that he won't get a trial.
5. Sigmund Freud talks to a pumpkin-headed man.
6. Lucien is pulled "halfway across the universe in the one fraction of forever."  A group of people and a giant cat, who are all him, ask "What kept you."

And that's just the first ten pages.  It goes on like that.

All I can figure out is, something bad is happening in the universe.

And the goal of every journey is Hugging Naked Ladies.

The Dream of the Endless, and a giant cat who is also the Dream of the Endless, plus the daughter of a dead blue guy, go on a journey to...somewhere.  

Dream hugs and kisses a lady, whose name is Delight, and "makes a world" for another lady, who is also Delight.

Then a chapter happens with people talking.

Then Dream hugs another lady, named Dusk.

Then the giant cat talks to a giant bird lady.

And another lady, who is probably Desire and Delight and Dusk, discovers that "in the grand dance of creation and destruction, the worlds are ending and she is there for all of them."

Dream gets naked to roll around in agony in the endless night:  rather skinny, with a good sized penis.

Then "there is nothing but the circle and the dark"

And a grey alien lies "deep beneath the ground, in a room lit by candles," and "it begins."


I'd rather read a 60-year old Tarzan comic.

Or James Joyce.

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