By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Legendary director SIDNEY LUMET once looked out the window of his Hamptons estate and saw me prancing about in one of his daughter's ponchos. He directed me right out of there. But behind a camera, he truly turns it out, most notably with Network, his darkly comic '76 peek into the mad ethical wasteland of TV. Watching the crazy classic at a "Monday night with Oscar" screening last week at the Academy Theater, I realized its crackling wit holds up as if it were made a half hour ago. The only difference is that, after years of working in TV, I felt that FAYE DUNAWAY's heartless programming monster character now seems perfectly sensible, with really good ideas!
In a discussion with TCM's charmer ROBERT OSBORNE after the movie, Lumet said he told Dunaway, "Your character has no vulnerability, and if you try to sneak any in, I'll cut it out." She didn't. As for the anchorman who melts down for the public's delectation, Lumet admits that Peter Finch almost didn't sneak in at all. Gregory Peck and Spencer Tracy were discussed first, but Finch went after the role with a Dunaway-like ferocity while proving he could do an American accent. He even got to add some vulnerability.
Did the resulting poisonous bonbon have TV-industry people scurrying around in horror? No, Lumet admitted, "some of them actually took credit, saying, 'That character's based on me!' " As the event wound down, a man slinked up to me and, with a mildly accusatory tone, said, "TV is at an all-time low with the Anna Nicole coverage." I left vowing to kill myself on the air, just like Peter Finch wants to do.
A contempo comedy, Air Guitar Nation is way more optimistic; in fact, the documentary contends that air-guitar contests were partly founded as an anti-war action, seeing as you can't possibly hold guns and bombs if your fingers are busy playing with thin air (even if you're playing along to Guns N' Roses). The Paris Is Burning of air licks, the flick captures its subject's surreal allure, especially when a contestant exults, "I'm gonna play the Roxy with no instruments!" (That sounds like something JOHN WAYNE BOBBITT would have said.) The world championship winner, C-DIDDY, is finger-licking goodspecial props go to his Hello Kitty backpack worn as a halter topbut it's a runner-up, BJÖRN TÜROQUE, who has his finger most firmly on the philosophical pulse. At the premiere, Björn exulted that after MICHAEL MOORE told him the film was a winner, he realized, "It's good to be part of something that doesn't suck!"
But back, as all things lead, to Anna Nicole Smith, and the life-threateningly absurd coverage I insist on contributing to on a weekly basis. First of all, did you know that chloral hydrate, which was found in her blood, used to be mixed with alcohol to create the knockout cocktail called a Mickey Finn? Did someone slip Anna Nicole a Mickey, perchance?
More pleasantly, I'd rather slip Anna Nicole a Bob. In fact, I feel with utter certainty that the World FamousBOB*the Downtown performer who's a mass of breasts and blondenessshould play the late diva in the inevitable WE channel flick (produced by Faye Dunaway). She's a natural for the woozy charisma the role requires and she looks great in both cleavagey gowns and clown makeup. "I have a huge amount of respect for Anna Nicole,"BOBtold me last week, when prompted. "When I was 13 and saw her Guess ad, it was the first time I ever thought I had a chance of getting in a magazine without starving myself. I always felt like her gay nightclub understudythe gay-bar version of Anna Nicole." And no, that's not necessarily redundant. But the biopic thatBOBwould really like to do is that of gun-moll-turned-JOHN-WATERS-star Liz Renay. For Anna Nicole, she feels, "they should get an anorexic actress and have her get an extreme makeover and big boobs. It should be a total transformation, like CHARLIZE THERON in Monster." It's so truean Oscar surely awaits some unsuspecting skinny bitch out there.
Speaking of boobs, there's no more Roxythe just-closed haven for big-titted drag queens and even-larger-breasted Chelsea guysand at Beige last week, unflappable DEREK NEEN reminisced with me about his days manning the ropes at that noisy nipple haven. "On my first day," he said, "I worked the upstairs VIP door in hot pants and combat boots. We used the wheelchair lift as a dumbwaiter for cocktails. We broke it on that first day and it never worked again!" That was bad news for both the disabled and alcoholics (not to mention disabled alcoholics).
"I'm so grateful to those queens for paying my rent for 17 years," Neen went on, sincerely. "I got so much access from that doorfrom European aristocracy to my latest husbandplus meals at every restaurant with a good menu." Honey, I got a lot of access from that door tooI got into the Roxy! Every single Saturday night of the '90s!
Nowadays, I get into the Thursday night bohemian soiree called Unisex Salon, which is at the Delancey, between Clinton and Attorney (or, if you prefer, between Bill and Hillary). I also gained entree to the GLBT Expo at the Javits Center, where everyone was promoting something with one hand while grabbing freebies with the other. Among the drag stars running around was EDIE, dressed as Blair from The Facts of Life, hawking a stage version of that sitcom along with three other tucked dumplings. But where was Jo? "Fixing a truck out back," deadpanned Edie.