NY Mirror

Fred Phelps Sr., the ultra-sensitive minister who picketed Matthew Shepard's funeral, just rode his broomstick into Gotham and was met with bitter jeers from angry queers. With splinters in his ass, Phelps showed up at Anthology Film Archives, the home of the New York Underground Film Festival, to squawk about the fest's omission of a documentary about him called Fred the Movie. You'd think the happy harpy would protest the inclusionof a movie that scrutinizes him, but this one, amazingly enough, is fairly sympathetic. Alas, the festival organizers didn't think it was any good, and that somehow rang the shit out of Freddie's gaydar chimes.

"It's nothing but a gaggle of tired old fudgepackers and muffdivers trying to shock each other with their jaded filth," Phelps elegantly said about the fest, no doubt while savoring a big old fudge muffin. The guy's so ludicrous you have to laugh and let him carry on; as he goes to more and more demented extremes, he's making even the bitterest homophobes start rooting for the gays. Still, screaming back seemed irresistible, so Phelps's 16-person posse was met with three times as many anti-protesters, and honey, they were much better dressed.

From across the street, the freaks—his freaks, not our freaks—held up expectedly bonkers signs ("Thank God for Sept. 11," "Got AIDS Yet?") and an upside-down fag, I mean flag. "Your movie's terrible," yelled Ed Halter, the fest's director. "We got a lot of submissions this year. We're sorry! It needs a complete re-edit." It seemed like more explanation than they deserved, but Halter hit the mark later when he boomed, "Thanks for the publicity. We're sold out!" As the Phelps contingent finally crept away, one of our team declared, "You're not in Kansas anymore!" Well, hopefully they're not in New York anymore.

But what the fuck, they should definitely come back here for some perennial perv-watches. I mean, they didn't even get around to protesting the theater season's bestiality romp d'estime, Edward Albee's The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? (though at least it's about a guy and a femalegoat). I found the ruminant rumination hilarious, though when the play wrapped, I thought of a few endings that would have made it even more nuttily funny. (Don't read this if you bravely plan to see it.) It would have been great if the wife (Mercedes Ruehl) dropped her revenge plan when she realized shefound the creature alluring too. Even better, the murdered goat could turn out not to be Sylvia at all, which the hubby (Bill Pullman) would discover after giving it a test run in the sack. The result would be the ultimate bittersweet ending—good for hubby (Sylvia's still alive), but rotten for wifey (hubby not only does it with goats, he does it with dead ones). Or maybe Patti LuPoneshould just come out and solicit donations for the ASPCA.

Broomstick cowboy: the reverend Fred Phelps (in hat) pickets the New York Underground Film Festival.
photo: Jay Kinney
Broomstick cowboy: the reverend Fred Phelps (in hat) pickets the New York Underground Film Festival.

In any case—the son's named Billy, by the way—I tracked down Mercedes Ruehl at the premiere of her Court TV movie, Guilt by Association, where she told me that stories about an actual goat being used in previews were the result of b-a-a-a-d reporting. "It was never a live goat," said Ruehl. "It was an effigy of a totally synthetic dead goat, suitable to the PETA people. After a while, it looked like a bison." And that would be a whole otherbestiality romp.

And now, a turkey? No, despite the reviews, Sweet Smell of Successis mediocre-to-watchable, hampered mainly by so-so songs, bland ingenues, and a Greek chorus hammering home the grisly themes. But the leads—John Lithgowand Brian d'Arcy James—are compelling in their amorality; the show outs Adlai Stevenson; and it's refreshing to return to a time when gossip columnists had the power and publicists were crawling for a piece of it, not vice versa. In fact, the musical's such an homage to the impact of dirt that I practically orgasmed on lyrics like "Got to get in the column." The main problem? The non-watered-down, non-spelled-out old movie version sings by itself, especially since Darva Conger's mother's in it. (I hope the play's publicist isn't mad I said that!)

Also set in 1952, Mr. Goldwyntries to make a bold-faced name—studio head Samuel Goldwyn—leap off the page, but instead he just limps. It's another of those one-person-plus-secretary shows in which a legend, on the verge of some late-life crisis, tells us his story, with lots of cute anecdotes and insider name-dropping. ("Mr. Goldwyn, Lucille Ball's on the phone.") Include me out.

Meanwhile, the future Hollywood Babylonchapter known as Liza Minnelli's wedding—got to get into the columns—should have been stopped and everyone there arrested for enabling it. This was dysfunctional overkill at its tawdriest, and I'm furious that I wasn't invited. I stood outside and threw things, then choo-chooed up to the Helen Hayes Theater in Nyack to see another tabloid star, Kathie Lee Gifford, appear in Rupert Holmes's mystery comedy Thumbs (which aims to be a Vermont cabin thriller spoof-meets-Fargo). Halter-clad Kathie Lee plays a shrewish TV star who puts sawed-off fingers into a jar of Vienna sausages before being handcuffed to the sofa. Hubby Franksat behind me, chortling throughout, pausing during intermission to tell a friend that his grandchildren are way older than some of his children!

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