NY Mirror

All hail nebbishy genius DUSTIN HOFFMAN. With methody élan, he's long shown his skill at playing graduates, 121-year-old men, drag queens, idiots savants, and most recently, the voice of a Shetland pony in Racing Stripes. Well, last week he played humble at his Film Society of Lincoln Center tribute—a ceremony that began with four cowboy-hatted trumpeters blaring entrance music as the multi-Oscar winner galumphed into his box, the wife having assured him that this honor doesn't mean he'll die soon!

The parade of guest stars who offered adulatory tales of Hoffman wasn't quite as comprehensive as the evening's clips (which went so far as to include WMDs like Ishtar and Hook, if stopping short at Racing Stripes). Instead of MERYL STREEP, there was their Kramer vs. Kramer kid, JUSTIN HENRY, all grown up and still looking gooey-eyed. Instead of Runaway Jury co-star GENE HACKMAN, there was JENNIFER BEALS (she played a juror), who choked herself up with a really long story about Dustin's generosity on the set. Of course KEVIN "Six Degrees" BACON was there, though he admitted he and Dustin didn't do a scene together in Sleepers. ("But I did do a scene with a guy who did a scene with Dustin.") And Huckabees director DAVID O. RUSSELL showed up to swear that he pushed for Dustin to be in Three Kings, but the studio insisted on a younger actor (no, not ICE CUBE).

At the climax, the normally nonverbal ROBERT DE NIRO emerged to actually utter some cute sentences, like how "Dustin is one hell of a Focker." The nebbishy genius himself gave a florid speech that referenced e.e. cummings and Rilke and crescendoed into a statement about how "we're all in this room together in this mystery." We felt supremely bonded, until viciously fighting each other for cabs home.

Living large: Tommy the Clown
photo: Theo Wargo/Lions Gate Films
Living large: Tommy the Clown


NOT THE POPE OF GREENWICH VILLAGE

Once there, we returned to the nattering TV talking heads covering the pope selection process as if it were a more exalted version of the Miss America Pageant. (You know, "Will they choose the European guy or the third-world finalist? And will they show navel in the swimsuit competition?") The tiara, of course, went to the old ex-Nazi contestant JOSEPH RATZINGER, who's so rabidly homophobic that I'm thinking of reworking my recent diatribe against the late John Paul II into a more reasonable "Yeah, he was a lemon, but he was a three-day pass at Euro Disney compared to his mortifying successor. Come back, John Paul! You were gorgeous!" (Sidebar: I love how, when the cable pundits finally started questioning the late pope's legacy, it was only because they didn't like one of the things he did right—disagreeing with the war!)

My only hope is that Ratzinger's bizarre we're-OK-you're-not-OK views—you know, gays are insidious, but the perv factor in the priesthood is wildly exaggerated—will cause even more people to stand back and question the way the church uses its power to persecute unpopular groups. If not, we can at least get a kick out of revisiting a certain 1998 press release put out by the gay watchdog group OutRage, which begged folks for info on Ratzinger's private life. "What do you know about his sexuality?" the release asked pantingly. "Is there someone you know who might have inside knowledge? We need details that can be corroborated. If he's gay, he deserves to be outed because he is arguably the most homophobic of all Vatican leaders." Unfortunately, I never heard of any follow-up, and I have to admit Ratzinger never sucked my dick. But you know what? If he wants to, he can't. I'm that mad!


'HOS AND 'MOS?

At the big H&M show in Central Park, downtown notables tossed off their opinions on the pope's sex life the way they usually dole out nouveau-vaudeville show invites. Is he gay? "Once a priest, always a priest," offered promoter ERICH CONRAD. "Yes, we slept together. He's my boy-friend!" insisted AMANDA LEPORE. Wait, so that would make him straight, wouldn't it? Thoughtful pause. "Yes, he's completely straight! He satisfies me so much I feel like a real woman!"

More somberly, Lotus co-owner MARK BAKER told me, "Monogamy's a wonderful ideal, but it's not ideal—and millions are dying of AIDS." He added that "the human element tends to corrupt religions" and the church needs to face reality and put a lid on the corrosive effects of "un-intelligent people." Not bad for a self-professed "Jewish Buddhist atheist."

The H&M event itself was a religious experience for fashion folks who shop at the low-priced retail store on the down low, only to bump into each other at the extra-discount racks and pretend to be doing research. It's the world's most fabulous guilty pleasure—in fact, almost everyone I know has snuck in and bought a certain tiered LAGERFELD dress that's currently down to $19.99. (Alas, they don't seem to have it in my size.)

The show—held in a surreal, orchid-laden mid-park structure—brought all the closet clients together to pretty much scream, "My name is fashionista and I shop at H&M!" Before you could get too upset by the paucity of celebrities (maybe to big names, cheap still equals stigma), the show started and no fewer than 150 models of both sexes stormed the runway in groups of five, all wearing appealingly onge-potchket layers of Berber/Victorian/masquerade/Swiss Miss/Olsens/punk chic. After that we were served a surf-and-turf dinner, a performance by rapper KANYE WEST, and a swell gift bag. There hasn't been so much spent to promote something that costs so little since the Blair Witch Project premiere, which was also in—ooh, creepy—Central Park.

But our cute adventure in slumming felt silly by the time the Tribeca Film Festival screening of DAVID LACHAPELLE's Rize—which centers on the truly pocketbook-challenged—rolled around. A far cry from LaChapelle's glossy celeb-related stuff, this is a heartfelt documentary about put-upon kids in South Central L.A., who indulge in "clownin' "—speedy, aggressive dance moves done with clown/ warrior makeup on—as a way of filtering their frustrations. I was so engrossed by the flick, I forgot to even feel uncomfortable that they're all in whiteface!

After the movie, the cast sat onstage without their racing stripes as a co-producer told the crowd that when they came across this long-percolating dance craze, "We just embraced it, man. We just understood it right away." Laying on the ick factor, he boasted that the movie fell into place so fortuitously that after one girl got shot and a guy's house was looted, they were able to move right in with the cameras. Whoopee! Anyway, is the film's star, TOMMY THE CLOWN, getting rich and famous off all this hoopla? "Yeah, I have a 38-story mansion," Tommy deadpanned, then added, "Nah, I'm still in the ghetto."

But his life is a complete joyride now. In fact, at the after-party, Tommy was dragged over to meet me and barely managed to say hello before leaving me in the dust to jump on BILLY DEE WILLIAMS. What a clown! But he was dragged right back and exuded so much charm I'm currently clownin' on street corners and waiting for my Lincoln Center tribute.


LITTER BOX
MORE USELESS INFORMATION . . . NO, REALLY

A venging madam HEIDI FLEISS recently questioned the sexuality of her ex, TOM SIZEMORE, in a tabloid interview. Well, Sizemore did once intimate to me that in the '80s, he was, shall we say, experimental . . . Spoiler alert: A certain socialite services her black boyfriend in the car as they're driving in the new House of Wax . . . In other waxworks news, the pre-Broadway tribute musical Lennon reportedly has an actor doing drag in two roles—the queen and J. Edgar Hoover—plus an African American performer as a Klansman. Alas, there's no clownin' . . . Speaking of old songs, moments before the aforementioned Dustin Hoffman tribute started, the music being piped into the room consisted of comfy old STEVIE WONDER and ARETHA FRANKLIN chestnuts. "They're playing BUSH's iPod," murmured Celebrity Service's BILL MURRAY . . . And while we're on politicians' tastes, AL GORE's upcoming Current TV channel will offer bite-size nuggets for the nimble-minded and/or deeply impatient. They just interviewed me for a breathless eight minutes and said they'll cut it down to five! That's still more time than I usually get. ("BRITNEY is a real . . . ") Finally, an A.D.D. theater review: Is it open season on Tennessee Williams? I thought so for the artificially played first hour of A Streetcar Named Desire. But then NATASHA RICHARDSON clicks and goes to magical places—though JOHN C. REILLY ends up screaming a lot, as if to prove he wouldn't have been better as Mitch! Who screams too!


musto@villagevoice.com

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