NY Mirror

Anyone with a camera and some balls can be a star at the MIX Festival's Video Gong Show, where aspiring auteurs bring in short films that are alternately entertaining and (gong) indulgent. One of the big winners this year was a likable lesbian spoof of 'Chinatown,' which was deemed more clever than the video whose credits were written out in a toilet bowl or the filmed portrait of a cantankerous go-go boy who only calms down when listening to the Carpenters. That last one drove judge Shelley Mars into a rage, ranting, "It was too faggy! Where's the lesbian representation in this festival?" I feel the fucking dyke should have been a little more sensitive.

Supermodel Shalom Harlow is bravely trying acting in an off-putting Off-Broadway production of a play called La Chunga, though she needn't flush that credit down a toilet bowl. Harlow preens her way through lines like, "I've never met a real lesbian before. . . . I always thought they were butch and ugly," but though I left in the middle, I do admire any model who wants to do more than wordlessly sashay toward a big paycheck.

The femme and lovely Jodie Foster became the subject du jour at the National Convention, a nostalgia and comic book hootenanny at the Metropolitan Pavilion, which I expected to be deeply dispiriting, but actually was reassuringly filled with tarnished troopers who are still breathing and promoting themselves. The recovering household names sit behind tables hawking old photos of themselves, their pleading eyes saying "Please remember me enough to spend $10 on an autograph!" Some patrons gawk at them as if they were Ripley's museum exhibits, but most gleefully react as if Nick at Nite had exploded right out of their TV screens. Foster's name came up when I spoke to Johnny Whitaker, who was Jody in Family Affair and acted with that other Jodie in a couple of cutesy kiddie flicks. "When we did Tom Sawyer, we played spin the bottle," he admitted. "Jodie was cute, but I wanted an older girl named Gina because she had bigger breasts. All the boys wanted to kiss Gina, not Jodie." I was starting to understand so much.

Johnny's still bitter that Jodie never personally thanked him for a floral arrangement he sent her, but before things became too pathos-specific, I moved over to other fallen idols with their own long- simmering axes to grind. Robert Vaughn (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) was reading a newspaper and looking like he'd rather be anywhere else. Jack Wild said his H.R. Puffinstuff experience was marred when the magic flute was stolen, but on the bright side, "One of the actors was a Russian Jehovah's Witness midget who'd sit on my knee and tell me about the Bible." And Jon Provost, who once was the little boy on Lassie, said he was wild for the main dog who played the title bitch ("We bonded. You couldn't fake that"), though he—yes, he—eventually croaked.

That very night, LasseHallström, that is—was alive again, and even speaking coherent sentences. (Lasse, come home!) At the premiere of his The Cider House Rules, the esteemed director admitted he'd told author John Irving, "I lost Dorothy's uterus" (meaning he cut a scene involving that character's hollow muscular organ, not that he'd misplaced someone's actual thingie). Uterine or not, The Cider House doesn't necessarily rule, but I do love Michael Caine, who told me, "My career's on a different swing now. I always got the girl. Now I have to wait to get the part. I've changed myself from a movie star to a movie actor. Now I don't say, 'How can I change the script to suit me?' I say, 'How can I change me to suit the script?' " A humble movie icon? Note to self: Check the weather pages to see if hell's frozen over.

Helping me melt like a paisley popsicle, Oz hunk Christopher Meloni popped up at the same event and gave me his take on the Papa Lewinsky scandal. (You remember—Monica's dad blew a gasket when Meloni's other series, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, used Lewinsky as a verb to connote oral sex.) "I think he's the one who pulled out the gasoline and threw it on the fire," said Meloni. "He fucked up, not me." Or, in NBC lingo, he Beatty-ed up.

No one gets a Lewinsky—or any sex act—except for the straights, in Flawless, a fruity fantasy that exists in that weird Hollywood universe where doctors come to your house, Daphne Rubin-Vega craves Robert De Niro, and drag queens do poppers and lip-synch to their own voices (on Cher songs, of course). The plot has homophobic stroke victim De Niro taking vocal lessons from neighboring trannie Philip Seymour Hoffman, a constantly "on," now-he's-hectoring-you-now-he's-having-a-breakdown crea- ture who's more like a drag queen playing a drag queen than anyone I've ever met. "Don't say it," you mutter to yourself as this too-too diva declares stuff like, "I'm a woman trapped in a man's body!"; "I'm lonely, I'm ugly, and I'm a drag queen!"; and—no, don't say it—"It's too expensive to look this cheap!" Beyond the clichés and the pre-Stonewall touches (a bitch-fight homage to The Queen) lies the contradiction of a cross-dresser who insists on being called a real man, but is planning to get an operation because he's really a woman! But hey, the comp audience liked it, and Hoffman is the new Victor Buono (the compelling freakazoid from Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?—though now I'm revealing my own clichéd tastes).

At the Interview-hosted party at Hush, Flawless's writer-director Joel Schumacher—whom I'll always love for having done St. Elmo's Fire—told me he's never personally attempted drag because "I'd make a really ugly girl." That never stopped . . . well, let me not name names. As a fine man, does the out Schumacher have love in his life these days? "I have sex," he said. "I don't know if it's love." I have neither—except for the Russian Jehovah's Witness midget on my knee right now—but that's OK because, as Schumacher related, "An old man told me, 'Put your dick in your work.' " Wow—Joel Schumacher knows President Clinton?

Finally, a trio of male suitors on their knees singing "Dick, Dick, Dick, Dick"—as in the name—was put in the work called Kiss Me, Kate by Cole Porter himself, a shtick that's faithfully preserved in the new Broadway production. Of course, if this were Cabaret or Annie Get Your Gun, they'd be fellating each other and winking at the audience, but for all of its naughty bawdiness (there's lots of leg-spreading and the gangsters wiggle their tushes on the word "Coriolanus"), this is a revival, folks, not a revisal. Though that means there's not much reinvention or revelation going on, at least they trust the material enough to serve it up with a professional sparkle. Far from just another op'nin' of another show, Kate '99 is a buoyant retro romp that released the whorish tension of this Hortensio, wink wink. And that's coming from a lonely, ugly drag queen!

musto@villagevoice.com

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