Apr 24, 2021

Billy Warlock

Some teen idols never grow up.  As the years pass, they may hone their acting skills and take on more mature roles, but they never lose their youthful exuberance, their passion, or their innocence.  Every day they wake up newly surprised that they are the object of someone's desire.

It's a short list. I would include Shaun Cassidy, Robby BensonMario Lopez, and certainly Billy Warlock.

Born in 1961, Billy burst into the picture in 1982, during the last season of  Happy Days, hired to up the beefcake quota of the doddering sitcom by wearing a trademark cut-off t-shirt.  The teen magazines went crazy, and soon Billy's pin-ups were pushing aside such luminaries as Scott Baio and Ralph Macchio.

Some small roles in movies and tv shows followed, mostly of a type that would allow Billy to appear with no shirt at all, such as Swimsuit (1989) and Class Cruise (1989).  His starring role in Society (1989) was particularly memorable for three reasons:

1. The teenage Bill (Billy Warlock) feels that he is an outsider, not quite fitting in. Gay kids could relate.

2. Although he enjoys the company of woman, Bill enjoys some strong buddy-bonding and rescue moments with his friend Milo (Evan Richards)

3. A woman seduces Bill by ripping off his pants.  They kiss passionately. While this is occurring, the camera is aimed directly at his briefs.  You can imagine what happens next.

For three seasons (1989-1992), Billy played lifeguard Eddie Kramer on the beefcake- and cheesecake-heavy Baywatch.  After that he specialized mostly in soaps:

Days of Our Lives (1988-1991, 2005-2006)
General Hospital (1997-2003)
The Young and the Restless (2007-2008)
As the World Turns (2010)
One Life to Live (2010)

But Billy is more than a great set of pecs.  He is deeply involved in social issues, including gay rights.  A gay ally, in 2004 he made his Broadway debut, playing a gay writer who becomes one of the first casualties of the AIDS pandemic in The Normal Heart. 

Apr 22, 2021

"Ham on Rye": Waiting for Something to Happen. Zombies, Pod People, a Fade-Out Kiss. Anything at All. Anything.


"Ham on Rye, a coming-of-age comedy centered on the nervous excitement of youth and the strange horror of entering adulthood explores a suburban community's relationship with a prom-like ritual and the decay of the human spirit."

Who over-writes this stuff?  It uses so many overblown, pretentious phrases to say nothing, and it left out a comma.

"It begins with the crowd-pleasing spirit of a John Hughes movie (I hate John Hughes movies!) and fades slowly into an off-kilter dystopia with the energy of Dazed and Confused."  

Wait -- was Dazed and Confused about a dystopian society, or...does it just use the  energy of Dazed and Confused to describe the dystopian society that has a relationship with the decay of the human spirit, with the spirit of John Hughes?

The plot description on wikipedia is even more overblown and pretentious.  Apparently the town teens gather at the local diner for "a surreal ceremony of food, dance, and romantic angst that will determine the course of their lives forever. Many of the teens are granted instanteous escape from the clutches of suburbia, while an unchosen few are left to dwell interminably in their vacant hometown."  

Suburbia has clutches?  Does "dwell interminably" mean "live forever"?

If the blurbs are so overwritten, imagine the dialogue!  Life's too short...um, I mean...existence is insufficiently interminable.  I'll just go through it on fast-forward, looking for beefcake and gay characters.

We start with interminable minutes of the hands of people getting dressed in fancy clothes and playing with cigarette lighters.  A flash of a bare male chest, but the camera is mostly into their hands.

We finally see some people, but they are not differentiated.  There are 103 cast members, no focus characters, no character development, and very few conversations, so I don't know who anyone is.  These beefcake photos are from random cast members' instagram or facebook pages.

To continue: four boys in fancy clothes walk down the street.  One wonders whether "porking" is really the only worthwhile activity in life.  What about doctors and nurses in emergency rooms? Don't they perform an important service that has nothing to do with porking?  What about gay people?  They never pork at all.  Does that mean that their lives are meaningless?

  We concentrate on someone who looks like the long-haired dude from Dazed and Confused.  But he fades away.  

Meanwhile, three girls from Picnic at Hanging Rock walk into the woods, discussing who likes whom.

A dad tells his son "Talking is over.  Now is the time to act.  Get out there!" Presumably he means "Go get laid!"

The teens all gather in the schoolyard and discuss nonsequiters: "When they invented mathematics, they took a picture of the sky and turned it upside down.  And they had sponges back then, so they put a sponge in the middle of the picture."  

Eventually they head to a local teen hang-out and discuss nonsequiters.  The boys all pair off and dance together, but it doesn't appear to be romantic: they keep eyeing the girls.  

When the music stops, they all line up, looking terrified.  Time for the lottery?  No, time for each boy to go down the line, point, and get a thumbs-up or thumbs-down (all in hand close-ups.  Somebody has a fetish!).  If it's thumbs-up, they walk off together, finger-in-finger (it looks as stupid as it sounds), both partners apparently believing that they're on the way to the slaughterhouse.

I thought it was boy-hands choosing girl-hands, but the camera pans across a mixed-gender group, waiting in terror to be chosen.  One hand looks like it pointed at a boy.  Maybe you can choose either?

Wait -- what did they choose each other for?  In the next scene, they're not paired up anymore.  They're in a big group, dancing wildly, eyes bugging out, screaming.  Preparing to meet the Insect God?

Ok, now they pair off for slow dancing.  Probably all boy-girl, but it's hard to tell because so many of the boys have long hair.

They dance until dawn, whereupon they emerge into the bright light, happy and victorious.  Except it's not dawn anymore; the sun is going down. 

Five minutes of shots of various porch lights, house lights, convenience store lights, street lights, and so on.  The blurb says that the town is "vacant."  Maybe all of the adults have vanished?

Daytime again.  The kids return to the community.  Endless scenes of adults staring at them with hatred and disgust; apparently what happened last night (or daytime) was unwelcome.  No one speaks for upteen minutes.

Some Dazed and Confused guys smoke cigarettes and stare.  Then: "Cheer up, man.  Just don't think about it."  I surmise that the teens have now grown up and will replace the adults in the community, who must now leave.  Or maybe die?

They skateboard to a back yard where a group of adults is eating corn dogs, playing Uno, staring endlessly at a fire, and looking depressed. No one speaks for upteen minutes.  Then: "I'm happy.  I'm glad that it's happening."  So, just light the Wicker Man already.

Eventually four guys get into a car and drive away, discussing nonsequiters.  

Wait -- the adults don't all leave town or die.  The next scene is a family dinner, an extremely depressed mom and dad and teenage girl discussing nonsequiters.  

 Then two guys on a couch watching tv late at night (maybe a gay couple?).  

Then a boy or girl with confetti hair having a birthday party at the park, where there a lot of people around.  Life goes on.  The end.

So many sinister precursors that led nowhere. So many people being terrified or depressed about what was going to happen, but nothing happened.

No.  The teens are played by real teens, not 25-year old fitness models.  The adults are mostly nondescript.

Gay Characters: Who can tell?  103 characters, no one spending more than a few minutes on stage, and most don't speak.  There are only about five lines of dialogue, all consisting of nonsequiters.  Plus most of the boys have long hair, making it difficult to differentiate between boy-girl and boy-boy couples.

Obvious Director Fetishes: Long hair.  And especially hands.

Significance of the Title: Who knows?  No one eats a ham sandwich or discusses ham sandwiches among the nonsequiter conversations.

Homages:  The Lottery, The Wicker Man, and various other movies about sinister goings-on in small towns.  Except there's no pay-off.

You can tell from the horribly overwritten blurbs that the writer/director has never had a class in creative writing, so  he ignored the first rule of the first day of class: stories must always be about something happening.  You can't just have people staring and looking depressed or terrified for 1 1/2 hours, without showing what they're depressed about or terrified of!

What Happened: I read in a review that most of the teens in town vanished during the Night, so that's why they're terrified.  And the next day the adults are either terribly depressed over the loss of their kids, or else angry and resentful at the ones who survived.  If you look closely, you can see that there are more people around early on.  But the depiction is so subtle that you'd never get it without an explanation from the "director."  And it's never explained.  

My Grade: You can only grade movies, and this was not a movie. It was people standing around, staring.

Apr 21, 2021

Father Dear Father: Gay-Friendly Britcom without Gays

In the spring of 1977, during my junior year in high school, I couldn't wait for 10:00 pm on Thursday nights, for the logo of Thames TV, with Parliament, Big Ben, St. Paul's Cathedral, and London Bridge rising from a cloud-covered Thames, and the Britcom Father, Dear Father (1968-73).

 Although I don't remember it fondly as "good beyond hope," I have never laughed so hard at a tv series.  My parents finally forbade me from watching it in the living room, where they would be disturbed in their bedroom nearby.

The premise: gay actor Patrick Cargill played Patrick Glover, a rather uptight, easily-flummoxed novelist.  He had two teenage daughters, the effervescent, free-spirited Anna and Karen (same personality, impossible to tell apart).

Like Three's Company, Father Dear Father was about humorous misunderstandings, mostly involving sex.

Anna and Karen are looking after the pregnant cat of their friend Andrew (Clifton James), who is black, and Patrick thinks one of them is pregnant.  He interrogates Andrew, who says that when the babies come, he'll "keep the black ones and give the rest away."

Anna takes her own apartment, but when Patrick calls, neighbor Justin (Richard Fraser) answers the phone, and he thinks they're living in sin.

Karen and her boyfriend Howard (Richard O'Sullivan, a future Dick Turpin) are going camping, but Patrick thinks they're going to get married and live in a tent. "But what if children come?"  "We'll just chase them away."

Patrick disapproves of Anna's hippie boyfriend Dumbo (Brian Godfrey, who has made his career in drag) and tries to hook her up with a more conservative boy, but instead the boy's mother thinks he is proposing marriage.

Eventually Anna marries photographer Tim (Jeremy Child), whom of course Patrick doesn't like.

Not a lot of beefcake, and a lot of hetero-shenanigans going on.

But there were three points of interest:

1. The other British Invasion series were science fiction or anarchic comedies, but Father, Dear Father was set distinctly in modern Britain.  Patrick and his family live in Hampstead, a northern suburb or London.  I had not yet been to Britain, or anywhere outside the U.S. except Canada, so the glimpse into another country was fun and exciting.

2. Patrick displayed no heterosexual interest of any sort.  He had a number of male friends, including a ne-er do well brother, but the women in his life consisted of his housekeeper, his agent, and his draconian ex-wife.

3. Anna and Karen were gleefully tolerant of anyone and everyone.  None of their friends every specified that they were gay, but many could have been.

Apr 20, 2021

Peter Falk: When Columbo Played Gay

Boomers remember Peter Falk as Columbo, the rumpled, disorganized detective who feigns cluelessness to catch the culprits off-guard; my friend Aaron in high school called him Clod-Dumbo.

After introducing the character in Columbo: Prescription Murder (1968), he appeared on the NBC Mystery Movie (1971-78), then on the ABC Mystery Movie (1989-90), and occasionally in specials through 2003.

The series had only one gay character amid the hundreds, in a 1994 episode.

 After seeing him as the same rumpled, shabbily-dressed, middle-aged character for 35 years, it is difficult to imagine Peter Falk as anyone else.

But he broke into acting at the age of 30 with serious dramatic roles in the Golden Age of Television: Studio One in Hollywood, Armstrong Circle Theater, Kraft Theatre, and others.  

During the 1950s and 1960s, he played a lot of gangsters and thugs, notably a Beatnik psycho in Bloody Brood (1959)

And Guy Gisborne in the Rat Pack showcase Robin and the Seven Hoods (1964).  

Some buddy-bonding roles, such as Machine Gun McCain (1969), about two mobsters (Falk, John Cassavetes) competing over a young gun (Pierluigi Apra); and Husbands (1970), about two suburban husbands (Falk and Cassavetes again) who bring their mourning buddy to London.      

He played gay-vague in Jean Genet's The Balcony (1963), and somewhat more gay-obvious in the  spoof Murder by Death (1976). Sam Diamond, aka Sam Spade (Falk) and some other literary detectives solve a murder hosted by twee Lionel Twain (gay writer Truman Capote).  

He throws a few gay slurs around, perhaps to hide his own same-sex desire:  

Tess: Why do you keep all those naked muscle men magazines in your office? 
Sam: Suspects. Always looking for suspects.  

Tess: Why were you in a gay bar? 
Sam: I was working on a case! 
Tess: Every night for six months?  

In his autobiography, Just One More Thing (2006), Falk states that what he remembers most from the movie are his "little chats with Truman Capote."  

Falk worked steadily through the 2000s, playing a series of irascible grandfatherly types, often in movies with gay characters, such as Corky Romano (2001) and 3 Days to Vegas (2007).  He died in 2011.     

Apr 18, 2021

"Thor" (2011): I See the Way You Look at Him

In the year 965 AD, some benevolent aliens called the Aesir, who had super-advanced technology but still preferred to ride horses and fight with swords, used a transdimensional bridge to come to Earth and help the primitive inhabitants of a small town in Norway stave off an invasion from evil aliens (called Jotuns or Frost Giants).  

After the crisis was over, they left, but the Earthlings continued to worship them as gods, especially Odin Allfather and his son Thor (whom they imagined as an adult wielding the magic hammer Mjolnar, even though he was still a little boy and wouldn't get to wield Mjolnar for centuries).

Time passes slowly in Asgard, the Aesir's homeworld; it took over a thousand years for Odin's two sons to pass through childhood and adolescence and become men.  Thor (Chris Hemsworth), whose blond hair signified goodness, became amiable, gregarious, fun-loving, surrounded by loyal companions: Sif, who the Earthlings imagined as his wife although she was just a little girl when they last saw her, and the Warriors Three, Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Fandral (Josh Dallas, left)), and Hogun.  

Odin's other son Loki Tom Hiddleston), whose black hair signified evil, became introverted, sullen, a loner, jealous of his brother's popularity ("Dad always liked you best!").  Eventually he discovered that he was adopted, a Frost Giant, so innately evil. Nature, not nurture, in this world.

When some Frost Giant activists broke into the Aesir vault and tried to re-take a cultural artifact that Odin's troops stole from them, Odin forbade retaliation, but Thor disobeyed him and led Sif and the Warriors Three to their planet for a vengeance-battle.  Enraged, Odin stripped Thor of his powers and threw him off the transdimensional bridge to a place called New Mexico, on Earth.  He sent Mjolnar along.  When Thor proved his worthiness, he would be allowed to pull the sword...um, I mean the hammer...from the stone.

Fortunately, all Aesir are equipped with universal translators, so Thor was able to communicate with the humans.  He didn't understand Earth customs, of course, but he learned quickly under the tutelage of a scientist, Erik Selvig, and The Love Interest, his daughter (actually his colleague's daughter) Jane, who happened to be studying intradimensional bridges.  There was another girl with them, but she didn't do much.  

Jane civilized Thor, like the Jane in Africa civilized Tarzan, teaching him human traits of compassion, empathy, and kindness.  Dr. Selvig assumed that they were falling in love; "I see how you look at him," he noted, without realizing that, when Thor took his shirt off, everybody looked at him like that.  But eventually they did kiss.

The heterosexual romance turned out to be essential to Thor's salvation, allowing him to prevail over many threats: Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), head of the sinister SHIELD organization, which stole all of Jane's research; Loki, who usurped the throne, put on an evil-black costume, and set out to kill him; and Laufey, king of the Frost Giants, who was emboldened by an alliance with the new alt-right king of Asgard.  

The kiss allowed Thor to finally embrace his humanity, receive the hammer Mjolnar, and regain his powers.  But after the final battle with Loki (it always comes down to a sword fight), the transdimensional bridge was destroyed, so Thor was forever cut off from the Woman He Loved. Until the sequel, anyway

Beefcake: Only Thor, but isn't he enough?  I see the way you look at him.

Other Sights: Very impressive depiction of Asgard and the Bifrost Bridge.

Getting the Myths Wrong:  Don't get me started.

Heterosexism: Only Thor and Jane express heterosexual interest, but their romance is crucial to the plot.

Gay Characters: I figured that Loki was a standard gay villain, but during the climactic final battle he threatens to go to Earth and rape Jane (according to The Hollywood Reporter, he's canonically bi).

Cliche Plot: Extreme.  But still fun.

My Grade: B+.

The Bloated White Caterpillar of "A Confederacy of Dunces"

When I was an undergraduate at Augustana College (1978-82), I got bored to death with Southern Gothic. It was all any English major ever talked about, except for Ulysses:  I had my fill of The Sound and the Fury, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Light in August, The Grass Harp, A Streetcar Named Desire, the disgusting stories of Flannery O'Connor and Eudora Welty...

So when everybody began praising A Confederacy of Dunces, around the fall of 1980, my junior year in college, I wasn't interested.

But they kept up.  Spectacular!  A masterpiece!  A classic!  The greatest novel ever (except for Ulysses).

Plus, like all "great novels," it had an interesting origin story.  John Kennedy Toole (1937-1969), a gigantic mass of flab, an aspiring writer, a literary wit, a permanent student who never finished his Ph.D. (although he was much smarter than his professors), an avid heterosexual stymied by constant "just friends' speeches from girls  (maybe cut back on the cake?), an anti-Catholic teaching at a Catholic college, a prude who railed against the vulgarity of the 1960s co-eds who filled his classes, finally couldn't take it anymore, and committed suicide at the age of 31.

While cleaning out his things, his mother found a carbon copy of a novel called A Confederacy of Dunces (the original had been rejected by some publishers and finally destroyed).  She contacted writer Walker Percy, who at first refused to read it -- who needed another Truman Capote, especially a heterosexual one?  But eventually he gave in, loved it, and after 11 years managed to get it into print.  The rest was history:  Stupendous!  Colossal!  A masterpiece!

Prey to peer pressure, I bought a copy, read a few pages, and threw it out, not so much offended as disgusted, like when you touch a door handle and there's something gross and sticky on it.  40 years later, I don't remember what the problem was.  I remember that it featured a bulbous jerk who hated everybody and everything except Boethius, but why the visceral disgust?  Why does it come back every time I hear about Confederacy.

So I found a preview on Amazon and read the first few pages.

Page 1: In a godforsaken small town in the South, no doubt somewhere near Yoknapatawpaw County,  the bulbous Ignatius waits for his mother to finish shopping and criticizes the fashion choices of passersby (Ignatius is O'Toole. I get it).  He's wearing a hunting cap and boots too small for his bulbous feet.  He's so fat that movement is difficult.

Page 2: The town turns out to be New Orleans (not that small).  More about how fat he is:  when he tries to move, "in his lumbering elephantine fashion," he sends "waves of flesh rippling."  Even his boots are swollen to bursting from his swollen fat feet. (This guy isn't just fat, he's a disgusting bloated white caterpillar with a nearly human face..  That's what caused the disgust!  I feel my gorge rising even now!).

Plowing on:  the bloated white caterpillar is upset because his favorite game at the arcade is missing, which we hear about for several paragraphs.  (Boring, but it beats hearing how fat he is again).

 Page 3: More about the arcade game.  A police officer, seeing his bag of sheet music and spare string for his lute, saunters up and asks him for an ID.  Ignatious objects, complaining that the city is full of criminals, like sodomites and lesbians.  Why not target them instead?  (And he's blathering homophobe!  Help!)

Page 4: Meanwhile, Mom is buying macaroons and cakes.  More about how fat her son is. She talks to a friend, who complains about her feet (More about feet!  Was Mr. Toole a bit of a foot fetishist?).  They discuss the fact that Ignatius isn't married, and how he gets nasty when she doesn't provide enough cake (he's nightmarishly fat -- I get it).

Page 5: Back on the street, people are gathering around in defense of Ignatius, and the cop threatens to arrest them, particularly when they imply that he might be a "comuniss." Fortunately, Mom comes to the rescue, macaroons and wine cake in hand (I'm never eating a piece of cake again.  I may never eat again, period).

According to wikipedia, I'm not missing much plot.  Confederacy seems to be mostly episodic, minor adventures with various colorful characters, in fact, just about everyone from his opening-cop diatribe, including a sodomite, lesbians, strippers, onanists, and so on.   Meanwhile, Ignatius discusses how vulgar modern society is, and how much he likes Boethius.  The only major events:  Mom decides to get married, and to commit Ignatius to a mental hospital (good!)

There's a statue of Ignatius on Canal Street in New Orleans, to scare away the tourists. He looks rather svelte for a bloated white caterpillar.

There have been numerous attempts to film the book, but most actors who have agreed to play Ignatius died before they could sign a contract: John Belusi, John Candy, Chris Farley, Divine.  John Goodman is still alive, but getting a little old to play the 20-ish misanthrope. Will Farrell and Zack Galifianakis have also agreed to star in versions that never got made (good!)

Oddly, I have no problems with chubs or even superchubs in real life.  I find them rather attractive.  But the bloated white caterpillar was disgusting. And homophobic.

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