Nov 18, 2021

"Hollywood Steps Out": Queer Looney Tunes in 1941

 


When I was a kid in Rock Island, Captain Ernie's Cartoon Showboat on weekday afternoons displayed a lot of old Looney Tunes cartoons.  No matter that they were originally for adults, and full of references to 1940s culture that went over our heads -- if it starred Bugs Bunny, we were interested.

Except not all of the Looney Tunes featured Looney Tunes stars.  There were parodies of travelogues, advertising, and short subjects. I found one particularly memorable: "Hollywood Steps Out" (1941), with caricatures of contemporary Hollywood stars dining and dancing at Ciro's Nightclub.  I had never heard of any of them.  I know who many of them are now, of course: Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Oliver Hardy, Mickey Rooney, Henry Fonda, Groucho Marx.  I've even heard of Jerry Colonna and Kay Kyser.  But to give you the idea of what it was like going in cold:


Establishing shot of Ciro's Nightclub in Hollywood, where dinners start at $50.00 ($940 in today's currency).

1. Soulful Eyes exclaims "What a place!"  Elderly Blond Woman sells him a cigarette, and lights the match with her shoe.

2. Guy with Big Lips talks to a Developmentally Challenged Girl, who responds with a series of "oomphs."  Apparently she can't speak.  Disturbing!

3. Johnny Weissmuller takes off his coat, revealing his muscular physique.  I knew who he was -- Tarzan (top photo). Wow, beefcake!

4. Three Gangsters talk about how risky a job is.  But it turns out to be pitching pennies. 

5. Crazy Guy with Frizzy Hair gives the Elderly Blond Woman a hot foot, but she doesn't respond.

6.  Big Ears swerves his head to gaze at a Lady in Red passing, with a fan over her face.

7. Pipe Smoker takes the stage.  As he introduces the first act, he's interrupted by a horse and jockey, who apparently want to have sex with him, but he shooes them away.  

8. Feminine Old Guy swishes as he conducts the music.  Swishy -- gay hint!


9. Jimmy gets cruised by a woman, who wants to dance with him.  He refuses, and finally runs away, leaving a sign "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."  Not interested in girls -- gay hint!

10. Big Ears from #6 dances across the floor, following the Lady in Red. Some other people are dancing, including an ice skater and Frankenstein.  The Three Stooges slap each other.  Fat Man dances with two women at once. A man with big feet dances.  


11. Andy and his date are getting milkshakes.  He's shocked that they cost $50, and asks his father at the next table for a loan. But Dad doesn't have any money, either, so they both end up washing dishes.

12. Big Ears is still following the Lady in Red, while Pipe Smoker from #7 takes the stage again.  The horse and jockey flirt with him again.  Then a woman dances, naked except for a giant bubble held in front of her (gross!).  A Guy in a Cap and Gown gazes in lust, and yells "Students!"  A table full of men wolf-whistle (Gross!  This isn't fun anymore!).

13. She dances for a long time, while a man comments: "I haven't seen such a beautiful bubble since I was a child." Henry drools, but is called away by his mother. Googly-Eyes says obsessively "Gee!  Gee! Gee!"   A man looks through binoculars and says "Guess who?"  Crazy Guy hits the bubble with a sling shot, and it pops, revealing that she is wearing a barrel.


14. Big Ears finally catches the Lady in Red, and turns her around.  

She turns out to be a guy in drag! 

During my childhood, before I was aware that gay people (or drag queens) existed, I was confused by the revelation.  Why was this man dressed as a lady?  Why had he been flirting with Big Ears all night?  Did he want to hug and kiss? But...boys didn't hug and kiss boys. Did they?

A glimmer of gay potential on Captain Ernie's Cartoon Showboat

Sam on "Mythomaniac": Butch Lesbian, Femme Gay Boy, Transgender, Non-Binary, or None of Your Business?

 


The French drama Mythomaniac just dropped amid my Netflix recommendations: a woman tries to get attention from her family by faking a cancer diagnosis.  





Ordinarly I would run from such a depressing premise, but then I saw this person in the trailer. mascara, eye shadow, a dangling earring, and red nail polish.  I couldn't tell if they were a butch girl, a femme girl, or nonbinary.  






Their name is Sam, but that could go either way.  They are played by Jeremy Gillet, who is presenting as male in this photo, but elsewhere on their Instagram page poses in drag, so maybe transgender?  I still didn't know.

In Episode #4, "Niklas discovers Sam's secret."  The secret was no doubt being gay or transgender, which would answer the question of Sam's gender.

There were various plotlines -- everyone in the family has dark secrets -- so I just watched the sections starring Sam.



Minute 1;20:
Mom's test results come back negative.  Dad (Mathieu Demy, top photo) and their kids, including Sam, hug her. Sam has short hair for a girl but long hair for a boy.  They're wearing a long-sleeved shirt and jeans.   They have a striking resemblance to Jo from The Facts of Life, but their gender is unclear, perhaps deliberately.

Minute 5:45: Sam in school.  The teacher compliments them on a good assignment.  Out in the hallway, a girl approaches to ask if Sam is going to Camille's tonight.  They say "no."  For some reason this enrages the girl, who asks if Sam is feeling guilty over what happened to Kevin.  Sam becomes irate and smashes her into the wall: "We're all responsible!  Fuck you!"  

The girl's friends comfort her, saying "She's totally crazy."  Aha, Sam is a butch girl.

Minute 8.27:  Sam visits an unconscious boy in the intensive care unit of the hospital (Kevin, I surmise), and puts earbuds in so he can listen to music during his coma.

Minute 16:29: Sam tossing and turning in bed.  They flash back to a night with a lot of teens gathered outdoors, smoking and drinking.  As Sam watches, a boy, no doubt Kevin, climbs onto a ledge, then stumbles and falls off.  I can't see why Sam would feel guilty about that; it wasn't their fault).

Minute 28.02: Sam, now in a leather jacket, leaves what appears to be a police station.  Their mother picks them up, and wants to know why they didn't tell her about the charges being filed.  Sam doesn't know.  Mom then prompts Sam on what to say in court, to avoid self-incrimination. Sam confesses: "It was my fault. We were playing Truth or Dare, and he got the dare to kiss me, and refused."  So does this mean that Sam isn't a girl, or that they are unattractive?  "I was mad, so when it was my turn, I dared him to climb on the wall."


Minute 44:
Sam and their sisters in their bedroom.  Sister wants Sam to cut her hair, in solidarity with Mom's fake cancer.  The end.

Wait -- when did Niklaus discover Sam's secret? Who is Niklaus, anyway?  Actor Marceau Ebersolt is shown in bed with Sam's sister, so I assume he's her boyfriend.  He appears in the episode but does not interact with Sam.

So I still don't know if Sam is a butch lesbian, a femme gay boy, transgender, nonbinary, or what? I guess one's gender identity is important only if one is interested in a date.  

Ok, there's a Mythomanic Wiki.  Sam is a transgender girl.  Niklas is a foreign exchange student staying with the family.  They start to make out, and when Niklas reaches down to Sam's crotch and finds a penis, he reacts badly and punches Sam in the face.    

I could have looked up the Wiki in the first place, but isn't it  more fun to figure out these things on your own?

Nov 17, 2021

Shock Treatment: Romance is Not a Children's Game

In the summer of 1981, just after my junior year at Augustana College, I went to see Shock Treatment, which was widely advertised as "the sequel to The Rocky Horror Picture Show!"  

Ok, so it starred Brad and Janet from the original movie, played by different actors (Cliff de Young, Jessica Harper).

No other characters from Rocky Horror, no references to Rocky Horror, no sweet transvestites, no gay relationships, no references to gay people except for a racist/homophobic anecdote!

But once you get over your initial disappointment, Shock Treatment presents an interesting conceit: the world is a tv studio, and everyone a player (shades of Shakespeare).  Everyone is under surveillance, everyone is acting in a show within a show within a show.  There are no private moments; everyone is always being observed, commented on, controlled.

And they're trapped.  Like many stories with gay symbolism, there is no way out.  This is the whole universe.

The story is a heterosexist fable: studio owner Farley Flavors is in love with Janet, so he hires Drs. Cosmo and Nations McKinley to institutionalize Brad in their psychiatric-hospital Faith Factory program.  To make Janet forget about Brad, they groom her to star in her own show.

Jessica Harper has a much stronger voice than Susan Sarendon, the original Janet.  Shock Treatment is worth watching just to hear her paeon to egotism, "The Me of Me"

Deep in the heart of me, I love every part of me
All I can see in me is danger and ecstasy
I'm willing to die for me.
One thing there couldn't be is any more me in me

Or to feel the throbbing sexual energy as she walks through red-draped hallways and cruises "young blood."

Janet:  I want some young blood, I want some young blood, and I'm going to get it somehow!
Brad: I'm looking for love....
Janet: I'm looking for trade!

The gay symbolism comes when the various couples prepare to bed down for the night.  Cosmo and Nation begin an SM game, with evocations of the danger of the "jump to the left" that comes with acknowledging one's same-sex desire.

Nation: What a joke.
Cosmo: What a joke!
Nation:  You feel like choking, you play for broke.
Cosmo: Romance is not a children's game.
Nation: But you keep going back just the same.

But even more evocative is "Look What I Did to My Id," in which the cast is in the dressing room, preparing for Janet's big debut, and hoping in vain that it will allow them the freedom to escape:

Cosmo and Nation: With neurosis in profusion, and psychosis in your soul.
Eliminate confusion, and hide inside a brand new role.

Ralph: This could take us to a new town nowhere near here.

I've used that line many times over the years.



The key to escape is not power, not love, but as in Rocky Horror Picture Show, desire, a passion that vitalizes, sets priorities, and makes life clear.

Judge Oliver Wright and Betty Hapschatt, suspecting a nefarious purpose behind the studio, hide in the rafters all night to investigate without being observed.  When they discover that Brad and Farley are twin brothers separated at birth, they break Brad out of the asylum, take him to confront Farley Flavors, and reunite him with Janet.  Then the four find a way out and exit into glorious sunlight while singing about sex:

Some people do it for enjoyment.
Some people do it for employment.
But we're going to do it anyhow, anyhow
No matter how the wind is blowing.
We just gotta keep going.

It's not far from Frank-n-Furter's "Don't Dream It, Be It."

Not a lot of beefcake, although Gary Shail, who played the lead singer of Oscar Drill and the Bits (Janet's opening act), was somewhat attractive.  He also appeared in Quadrophenia (1979). 

Nov 16, 2021

"Tales of an American Hoodrat": Buddies and Gay Subtexts in South Dakota

 


Aberdeen, South Dakota is the home of Northern State University.  Although it has a population of only 28,000, it boasts its own "what's happening in town" magazine.  There we find an interview with Brandon Lunzman, who grew up in Aberdeen, graduated from Full Sail University in Orlando, Florida, and then returned home to produce, direct, and star in his first movie: Tales of an American Hoodrat, about four teens "who don't always follow the rules."  Dude, that's every teen.

I'm surprised that Aberdeen even has a hood, but Brandon is hot enough to warrant a look.  And so are the buds he got to star in the movie with him.

1. He plays Leighton, the focus character, who mildly disapproves of his friends' misdeeds, but goes along anyway, whether it's smoking weed, throwing rocks at cars, shoplifting, or jumping off the roof onto a trampoline.  His problems are caused by abusive parents.



2. Thomas Goetz, whose day job is with the South Dakota National Guard, plays the extremely muscular Jaren.  A gossipping practical joker, Jaren tries to get on people's nerves deliberately, because that's the only way they will notice him.  His problems are caused by a father who's abusive and a drug-dealer.








3. Tylan Glover, who works as a lifeguard, plays Terron, one of those super-horny types who seduced his babysitter at age 12 (but Mom had the girl arrested for sexual assault). Since then. he's slept with half of the girls in town and most of the female teachers, but he thinks that with his current girlfriend Denise, it's the real thing.










4. Nate Bruce Wilson, a Scottish-Korean singer and security guard, plays Kaden, an easily angered loose cannon.  His anger problem is explained by having a dead father, which caused him to be bullied throughout his childhood. Later his mother remarried, and his stepfather is abusive (seeing a pattern here?).  

There are lots of conversations about which girls at school and which of their mothers they have screwed, and Leighton has a naked-lady poster in his room, but only Terron expresses significant interested in actually dating girls. The others go to parties to get drunk, not to get laid.  They are photographed with girls before the prom (with Leighton looking morose, like he would prefer to be anywhere else).  But then the scene immediately shifts to the boys alone by a bonfire.

There really isn't much of a plot arc, just scenarios and vignettes.  Leighton starts dealing drugs to earn some extra money.  They get angry with Terron for ditching the group to spend time with his girlfriend. Kaden gets kicked out of his house, and moves in with Leighton, and then goes to prison.

They are arrested for DUI.  Their respective fathers beat them. Leighton beats up an abusive teacher, and attacks the guys who are harassing his sister. There's a breakup/suicide. There's pizza.











An interesting plot arc occurs when the teacher assigns Leighton to be partners with Lucas (Lyndon Orr, middle, a high school hockey star now playing for the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs).  It's "awkward."  Something happened between them eight years ago, after which Leighton dumped him (it's unspecified, but since they were eight years old, it's unlikely to be sex).  

Lucas appears again, being conciliary while Leighton has a breakdown in class.

In the last scene, Leighton goes off to college at Northern State University, and guess what?  Lucas is there, too! They run into each other in the hallway, gaze longingly at each other, and Lucas says: "We should catch up sometime."  Leighton agrees. The end.

So, Leighton, who seems surprisingly uninterested in girls, agrees to reconcile with his old...boyfriend?  

Beefcake: Griffin, the boorish dolt who keeps hitting on Leighton's sister (Olympic swimming hopeful Adam Kastigar), takes his shirt off.

Heterosexism: None.

Abusive Parents:  All of them.

Gay Characters:  None specified.  I doubt that Leighton is canonically gay, but there's a definite subtext.

My Grade: B

Enough about "Birdy," Already! Who Cares about Matthew Modine's Butt?



I'm getting tired of the pressure to "See Birdy!  Watch it!  Watch it!  Watch it now!  DO IT!"   

The exhortations are anonymous, so I don't know if it's one True Believer or a whole army of Birdy-philes trying to bully me,  a complete stranger, into seeing a movie that I don't want to see.

 Does it have secret signals that will brainwash me, so I will do the bidding of the Galactic Overlords?  Or does it contain the key to cosmic enlightenment?   If not, what's with the pressure?  Movies are a form of entertainment; no one's life is diminished significantly by failing to see one, even a greeat one.  


And Birdy may not be objectively great. It does not appear on the AFI's list of top 100 American movies (of which I've seen 59). 
Premiering in 1984, it's about two boys growing up in the 1960s (Nicholas Cage, top photo, Matthew Modine, left), one of whom thinks he's a bird.  Or maybe the trauma of Vietnam has convinced him that he's a bird.  The premise is disquieting.  I don't like my movies to be disquieting. 

I typically don't watch dramas at all.  I prefer comedy, science fiction, fantasy, animation, and horror.  If the choice is between a guy in a mental hospital jumping off a ledge and a star cruiser blasting through the galaxy, who would choose the mental patient?

De gustibus non est disputandum.  Maybe a movie had a profound impact on you in childhood; it pointed the way to gay community, giving you hope for the future.  It won't necessarily do the same thing for every viewer.  Birdy premiered on December 21, 1984, during my year in Hell-fer-Sartain, Texas, just after getting my M.A., but I would have been home in Rock Island for Christmas.  That month I saw The Cotton Club, Johnny Dangerously, Starman, and Beverly Hills Cop.  That's enough.


Or maybe you find Matthew Modine or Nicolas Cage the epitome of masculine perfection, so seeing their naked butts in Birdy was a soul-changing experience.  I don't find them particularly attractive. How about Jeff Bridges' butt in Starman?   De gustibus non est disputandum

And, as anyone who knows me can attest, if you try to force me to do something, I'm definitely not going to do it.

Nov 15, 2021

"Home Economics": Gay and Straight Siblings Obsess over Money.


 That 70s Show ended 15 years ago.  The cast is now in their 40s.  Are you as shocked as I am?   Ashton Kutcher, who played prettyboy Kelso, has retained his youthful vitality and hunkiness, but Topher Grace, who played central character Eric Forman, looks surprisingly craggy and...well, old, and not in a good way (don't get excited, this is a parody CGI.).

His character narrates the story of Home Economics, with the conceit that it's part of a novel he's writing.  It would be a very hackneyed novel; it begins with "This is the story of...."

This is the story of three siblings.  Although they grew up with the same life chances, and they all live in San Francisco and have wives and children, they differ tremendously in economics.


1. Connor (Jimmy Tatro, left), the youngest, is also the richest, having invented a world-famous app.  He moved into Matt Damon's old house with his daughter and housekeeper.  Divorced, he's rich, muscular, and insecure, always looking for love in the wrong places.






2. Matt (Topher Grace), the oldest, is middle-class.  Formerly a best selling author, he has fallen on hard times.  He is forced to accept ghost-writing gigs and to ask his little brother for a loan.  His wife gave up her law practice to be a stay at home mom. Wait -- why doesn't she just go back to work?  Matt can struggle with writer's block while being a stay-at-home dad.




3. Sarah (Caitlin McGee), the middle child, is poor (tv poor, which means living in a huge, elegant apartment).  She is struggling to find work as a child therapist.  Her wife Denise is a teacher, but doesn't make enough money to support them. They obsess over coupons and thrift stores.  Really?  Teachers on other sitcoms make enough to live in the mansions that pass for middle-class on tv.



Let's take another look at Jimmy, since he provides the only beefcake in the regular cast: Matt, Connor, three ladies, and their kids, who are preteens or babies, no surly teen hunks wandering around. 

The title of each episode is a consumer product with price:

Wedding Dress, $1,999

Bounce House, $250

Opus 1 Cabernet, 4500

The Season 2 Episode "Bottle Service, $800" caught my eye.  Is that the price of a bottle of booze?



Connor wants to find a girlfriend, so he invites all the siblings along to an "East Side" club called Noice (ok, San Francisco doesn't really have an East Side.  Its neighborhoods are Mission, The Presidio,  Noe Valley, the Castro, and so on).   Matt complains about the music being too loud, his wife finds someone (Matthew Law) to help in her feud with another mom, and Denise complains that "this is the densest concentration of heterosexuals I've ever seen" (apparently she's never lived on the Plains), so she and Sarah set out to find some gay people.  They latch onto a butch-femme lesbian couple, but they are way young and way too into partying for the 30-something oldsters.

Meanwhile Tom and Matt are cruised by a group of about 30 girls.  Tom keeps insulting Matt so he will look better and get laid.  Finally he orders them an $800 bottle of booze.  But they are turned off by his bragaddoccio, and leave.  


Tom thnks he took Ecstasy, and freaks out, then becomes the life of the party.  He also has a run-in with the bouncer (Jenson Cheng)

Connor manages to find a girl, in spite of his insecurities (well, being muscular and rich probably helped).

Yawn.

There was really nothing wrong with the episode: some gay representation, a couple of cute guys, nothing offensive.  It was just very predictable.  All of the plot points were obvious from the start: insecure guy tries too hard; uptight guy loses his inhibitions; old people can't return to their youth. I think I'd rather watch Difficult People.

 




Nov 14, 2021

"Difficult People": Gay and Straight Stand-Up Partners Insult Celebrities and Look for Love

 


I feel like I've reviewed Difficult People, on Hulu, before: an amoral straight woman- gay man couple (Julie Klausner, Billy Eichner) try various scams and manipulations.  It's probably just a common formula; American tv doesn't like gay men unless there's a woman on their arm to emulate heterosexual romance. But I feel an obligation to review it anyway.  I watched Season 1, Episode 3: "Pledge Week"

Scene 1: Billy has a gig as the bartender on a tv show, with Julie doing his makeup, but the star, Chelsea Handler, rejects him because he insulted her. 

Scene 2:  They go home.  Billy wonders if being mean is limiting their job prospects (apparently they're a comedy duo), but Julie says that being mean is their raison d'etre.  Meanwhile, Julie's boyfriend Arthur (James Urbaniak) is upset because it's pledge week at PBS, and his rival Chad Arrow (Robert Cuthill) is bringing in more money. I thought that the rivalry would be the B plot, but it's never mentioned again.


Scene 3: 
Gay bar.  They tried to be nice in their comedy act, and bombed.  Of course, they were subbing for an insult comedian at Drag Queen Bingo Night, so perhaps the audience was expecting mean.  They meet a comedian whose act involves joking about her alcoholism while performing magic tricks.  Julie excuses herself so Billy can cruise Fred (John Benjamin Hickey), a patron at the bar.  

Fred: Can I buy you a beer?

Billy: I'm going to fuck you, yes.

Scene 4: The Cutting Room, on their date.  Fred is a dentist, so unfamiliar with Billy's world of celebrity trivia: "The greatest injustice in show business today is that Martin Short doesn't have an EGOT."  The performer asks everyone with a vagina to yell out "I love my pussy!"  To Billy's surprise, Fred yells it out.  Then she asks for a volunteer to come on stage, and Fred volunteers!


Scene 5:
Over coffee the next day, Billy tells Julie that Fred is...ugh...a participator: "His hand shot up faster than Kevin Spacey's fly at the opening of Newsies!"  Who participates?  When they say "Everybody sing," who actually sings?  Nobody.  It's like voting.  Regulars Nate (Derrick Baskin) and Matthew (Cole Escola, left) chime in with their own stories of the horror of audience participation.

Billy plans to break up with him over this trivial flaw, but his friends suggest taking him somewhere other than a show, so participation won't be an issue.  

Scene 6: Julie's boyfriend Arthur is so stressed over the PBS drive that he hasn't done any of the cooking or cleaning.  They argue; Julie moves out, and goes to stay with her mother.

Scene 7:  Mom pressures Julie to quit show business, break up with Arthur, and find a nice Jewish boy.  Julie can't stand it.  

Scene 8: Billy and Fred at lunch.  The waiter brings cake to another table and sings "Happy birthday."  Fred joins in!  Billy confronts him on being a participator.  This is like an episode of Seinfeld.  She's a slow talker...a fast talker...she wears the same outfit every day...she talks to her food.  "I want to be ok with it, but I'm not."

Scene 9: B Plot: Julie goes to the PBS Station to mend her relationship with Arthur.  She tells the boss that they could increase pledges by being mean: "A PBS Roast!"  The boss is not impressed.  

Scene 10: Julie, Billy, and Julie's Mom watching The Big Bang Theory.  (Not a good idea to reveal the existence of tv series better than this one.)  They switch to the Pledge Drive, where Arthur is hosting a segment featuring a song from Hairspray, with composer Marc Shaiman on the piano.

"He's gonna get fired!" Julie exclaims.  They rush to the tv studio, where they run into Marc Shaiman, whom they insulted on their blog,   He leaves in a huff, so there is no act. Julie and Billy do their PBS Roast instead.  

Scene 11: They got fined by the FCC, but otherwise the Pledge Drive was a success.  Arthur took Julie back.  Billy tried to reconcile with Fred, but got no response to his emails.


Scene 12:
Julie and Billy at a performance by  the magician from Scene 2.  Uh-oh, Fred comes in.  With a date (maybe Matt Talese?) When the magician asks for a volunteer, Billy raises his hand, hoping that Fred will see that he's ok with participating and take him back. His bit involves sitting in a red wagon and getting squirted on.

After the show, Fred approaches.  Seeing Billy up there embarrassing himself has turned him off to participation.  Moral: Never do the right thing.

Scene 13: They run into Martin Short at a party.  He insults them.

Beefcake: None.  The male cast is surprisingly unattractive, except for Fred's date at the magic show, who is not listed in the credits.

Heterosexism: None.  Julie has zero chemistry with her boyfriend.  He might as well be her housekeeper.

Meanness:  They don't strike me as mean -- their act just involves insulting celebrities, sort of like Kathy Griffith.  They're rather petty, though, like the Seinfeld gang. 

My Grade: C.

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