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A heady mix of goths, cineastes, and suburbanites filed into the Walter Reade Theater for a special screening of Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, the stop-action puppet parade that shows what happens when you propose to a stick and it turns out to be the severed finger of a horny cadaver. The movie only has about 30 minutes' worth of plot, but it fills it out beautifully with shticky worms right out of a Friars roast and more dancing skeletons than an OLSEN TWINS video. In an onstage Q&A afterward, Burton said he tossed some Disney touches into the flick, but "instead of birds dressing the girl like in Cinderella, we had spiders, and instead of Jiminy Cricket, we had a maggot." (Hey, who you callin' maggot?)

Burton—who's always seemed to mix Edward Scissorhands's brooding with Ed Wood's endearingly half tanked flights of lunacy and Willy Wonka's chocolaty mischief—came off refreshingly direct and self-deprecating. "I was a terrible student," he admitted with terrible humility, "and a terrible busboy and a terrible waiter and a terrible pretty much everything, so just follow your passion." Speaking of his terrible passions, Tim was asked why he always seems to cast the same actors, and he responded, "Well, I'm boffing Helena . . ." (Kidding, she's actually fine. He only answered that JOHNNY DEPP is a fun-loving, risk-taking guy. I'm such a total maggot.)

Yet more non-Disney creatures of the forest—and of F.I.T.—came together for some puppet-like Fashion Week high jinks catering to the creatively scissor-handed. The first stop was the denim show by ASFOUR, who are now just three but are determined to hold on to their name just like JENNIFER ANISTON probably still runs around saying, "Come visit us!" Even as a trio, they brought swarms of gussied-up trendies to a bakery-hot warehouse-type space in Soho, where bird screams—if not maggots'—cried out as if sent by the former fourth member. (It turned out to be ambient music, not any kind of horrid infestation or revenge plan.) As we gasped for air, the models started sashaying onto the stage in their baroque finery—the fanciest use of denim I've ever seen—backed by SEAN LENNON banging a piano like an even more intense and scruffy version of Schroeder from Peanuts. "That's my son!" said YOKO ONO, beaming in the front row, in case we didn't know. Just then, amid recorded coyote yelps, MICHAEL PORTNOY—the "SOY BOMB" guy from the Grammys a few years ago—started wailing along in some unknown language (Huffalump?) while striking affected artiste poses reminiscent of the phrase "Now's the time on Sprockets when we dance." As Yoko seemed to muffle her own shrieks of "Aye! Aye! Aye!" Portnoy emitted more of his own guttural sounds, then dramatically ripped off his shirt for a final primal flourish, as I applauded while running for some oxygen. Don't you love Fashion Week? ( I do.)

Tim Burton: Death becomes him.
photo: Warner Bros.
Tim Burton: Death becomes him.

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Animal noises were coming from the excited crowd at BOY GEORGE's B-Rude fashion show, especially when the last lippy model flipped everyone the finger. "She's fierce, that drag queen," innocently gushed porn mogul MICHAEL LUCAS near me. It was JANICE DICKINSON.

Another altered icon was the focus when people held " LIL' KIM, Shut Up Bitch" signs outside the MARC JACOBS after-party, which was featuring the li'l demon as a charity-promoting co-host and performer. A vehement protest against celebrating a convicted perjurer in a drive-by shooting case? "No, it's her new single," one of the sign carriers told me, beaming.

More hilarity: We were told to stop bowling, bitch, at the fun Bowlmor Lanes party for Lacoste, where male models were assigned to make sure our full names were entered on the computer scorecard; otherwise we wouldn't be eligible for some mysterious cash prize. Unfortunately, they couldn't figure out how to do so.


TALES OF HOFFMAN

Let's sashay the heck out of Fashion Week while continuing to examine the line between genius and mental illness. That's the focus of the filmed play Proof—which is potent but mopey—but in the premiere's audience, DUSTIN HOFFMAN was strictly genius. I heard two-time Oscar-nominated Sylvia Miles ask Hoffman how a certain project of his is going, saying the script looked terrific to her. "I think it's good," said the actor, grinning. "But I thought Ishtar was gonna be good!"

On Broadway, turning Tourette's and OCD into singing and dancing is the uphill challenge of the upcoming In My Life, the rare show with lemons in its logo. At a press rehearsal, we learned that even if the ailments don't sing, there are other offbeat plot points to drive things along. "God has decided to create the first reality opera in heaven," an assistant director said to the riveted crowd, explaining the unorthodox framing device. And if that's not enough, well, there are some other ailments thrown into the aggressively kooky stew. "Later in the story," our tour guide informed us, "we learn that J.T. has a brain tumor and is losing his vision." Honey, if you think I'm missing this one, you've never seen my Playbill collection.


I'M U.K., YOU'RE U.K.

Almost as obscurely, I went to a staged concert of Silk Stockings—God, my range is amazing—the vodka-tinged musical version of Ninotchka, presented by Lost Musicals, which certainly finds 'em. Stockings is an American work about Russians in Paris, but this time it was presented with a twist of limey; before the show, IAN MARSHALL FISHER came out and grinningly said, "Yes, I'm one of those British directors here to help you with your material." To help himself, he then brought out George S. Kaufman's daughter Anne and asked her what one of her dad's collaborators contributed to the script. "I would say any of the lines that don't work," she laughed.

I suddenly can't think of a segue that would work, so let's just randomly move on to Hung: A Meditation on the Measure of Black Men in America, SCOTT POULSON-BRYANT's upcoming book about the intelligentsia's favorite perennial topic—black dick. (Shut up, bitch.) Poulson-Bryant—a co-founder of Vibe and senior editor of America—has been pondering this fertile subject since he wrote a piece in college called "The Big Phallacy." Years later, at a party, a white guy was telling him that he's noticed in football locker rooms what giant equipment blacks have, after which he proceeded to pull out his own lusty lamppost. (Why can't I get invited to parties like those instead of the same old "pass-along hors d'oeuvres will be served" crap?) "It was pretty big," the author told me, laughing, last week. "I thought, 'If this young white guy is thinking about these things, other people might be thinking about them too.'" (Well, no one wants to propose to a stick.)

Poulson-Bryant says his title references both the big-schlong thing "and the fact that the stereotype led to black men being hanged. Between slavery and Jim Crow, the black beast became a sexual scapegoat." Hung even delves into Hollywood's version of the stereotypes, but Poulson-Bryant was amazed to find that the 1975 plantation potboiler Mandingo, while admittedly trashy, is not necessarily as vile about racial issues as people think. Well, y'all should check out the female version, Mandinga—a practically softcore dub job that is even filthier and more outrageous. Not that I've seen it. Or care. Or think Hung should have been called Willy Wankers and the Chocolate Factory.



Homo on the range: Ledger, Gyllenhaal
photo: Focus Features
Litter Box
Lavender blue, Diller Diller

The New York magazine profile of ANDERSON COOPER hinted around at some sexuality stuff (Cooper again skirted the issue), but offered some weird bits of evidence in the process. "He lives what looks to some to be a gay social life," author JONATHAN VAN METER wrote about Cooper. "He's often seen at parties with BARRY DILLER." Excuse me? Barry's straight, remember? He's married to DIANE VON FURSTENBERG! How in hell did he become a signifier for a gay social life?

Moving on, the openly gay Bareback Mountain, I mean Brokeback Mountain, is apparently heading right toward the homo hall of fame. One spy who saw the flick tells me, " JAKE GYLLENHAAL gets it up the ass and loves it!" (PS: When the movie strikes box office and Oscar gold, I bet OLIVER STONE frantically puts the humping right back in Alexander.)

A commentator top—er, top commentator—MICHELANGELO SIGNORILE was told by Harvey Fierstein that someone stole Harvey's copy of Signorile's new essay compilation book Hard Hitting from his Fiddler on the Roof dressing room. If it was ROSIE O'DONNELL, she's in for a hell of a read!

Meanwhile, over in straightsville, spies say BILL CLINTON was hangin' in Beijing with rich publisher LOUISE McBAIN. China fun indeed?


WEB EXTRA

KRISTIN CHENOWETH's website reveals that the Tony winning actor/singer was asked to withdraw from a November Women of Faith concert in Oklahoma City due—as her site puts it—"to her publicized and heartfelt beliefs that God is accepting of all people on earth." Last week, Out.com reported that apparently Kristin's gays-are-OK remarks—made, among other places, in an Out magazine interview with me—were what put the women's knickers in a twist. Well, funny, the Women of Faith's own website comfortingly says, "We're here to encourage women, not to condemn anyone . . . You can check your mask at the door. You're welcome just as you are." (Hypocrisy in faith? Shocking!) It also interestingly states, "At a Women of Faith conference you'll have the chance to connect with other women—even if you go there alone!" I think Kristin is lucky she's not going there at all.


EMMY QUESTIONS

Were you beside yourself when the telecast started with a rousing number by EARTH, WIND, AND FIRE? Didn't you love it when HUGH JACKMAN thanked his wife JOHN PALMERO—I mean DEBORRA-LEE FURNESS? Do you find it fascinating that BLYTHE DANNER is now bigger than her daughter again? Do you wonder what else may be missing down in S. EPATHA MERKERSON's cleavage? Should they maybe start shooting Lost down there? (And how cute is she, anyway?) How could the "Emmy Idol" competition have left out the themes from Maude, Golden Girls, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show? How fun was FELICITY HUFFMAN ad-libbing "Clunk!" after TERI HATCHER's failed joke? Do you think that made Hatcher even more thrilled when Huffman beat her for the award? Shouldn't the tribute to the great news anchors have acknowledged that millions have defected to cable channels and even the fake news? Couldn't the show have been 90 minutes shorter? But didn't I watch the whole friggin' thing anyway?


musto@villagevoice.com

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