Network Encore? I'm Glad as Hell.

We interrupt regular programming to take you back to 1976's darkly comic masterpiece.

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.

The World FamousBOB*, the local diva who could portray Anna Nicole
photo: Tricia Romano
The World FamousBOB*, the local diva who could portray Anna Nicole

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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 good—special props go to his Hello Kitty backpack worn as a halter top—but 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 blondeness—should 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 understudy—the 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 true—an Oscar surely awaits some unsuspecting skinny bitch out there.

Speaking of boobs, there's no more Roxy—the just-closed haven for big-titted drag queens and even-larger-breasted Chelsea guys—and 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 door—from European aristocracy to my latest husband—plus meals at every restaurant with a good menu." Honey, I got a lot of access from that door too—I 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.

I fixed my bike and headed to the Expo's after-party at Rebel NYC, where a Japanese woman was frantically signing—not doing air guitar—over the music. Was it RINKO KIKUCHI fromBabel? Nope—this babe had a dick.

Ballsily, TERRENCE MCNALLY's Some Men spans the modern history of gay relationships with an unconventional structure applied to some conventional topics, resulting in a very mixed clutch bag. The play manages to be both heavy handed and filled with insight, dotted with the clichéd (a hustler with brains), the unlikely (two guys falling in love at a bathhouse), and the utterly lovely (two pre-Stonewall types defend their unmilitant lives to dismissive young interviewers). The play deals with various roadblocks to gay commitment, leading up to our more accepting time—and though the gay husband-to-be character recently cheated, at least he left the trick tied to the bed.

On an even more delightful note, did you find 9/11 a bit of a nuisance? Well, it's not anymore! That hateful day has finally found its purpose! It's been completely depoliticized and mined for a gross Academy Award–type wallow—namely Reign Over Me, which has ADAM SANDLER as an emotional shut-down who's gone so crazy over the loss of his family that he thinks BOB SEGER is a genius. Meanwhile, DON CHEADLE's sexually harassed dentist character admires Sandler's total freedom, which involves sitting in a theater all day and watching MEL BROOKS marathons! For the most part, the film manages to be both indulgent and dull—except for the moment when the otherwise upstanding dentist tosses out the word "faggoty." Any potential compassion for these sad freaks blew up at that moment.

Real-life homophobes are still out there too, I swear. KEVIN SESSUMS has been banned from promoting his personal remembrance, Mississippi Sissy, in Tupelo, Mississippi, the town where DONALD WILDMON's American Family Association is based. Hit too close to homo? Well, they didn't care for Kevin's revelation that he had a gay affair with one of the town's football heroes. Then again, I have a feeling all books are banned down there—except, of course, for the holy one that's conveniently picked up whenever it's hate time again.

Finally, seeing as I'm a big reader—of Inches magazine—I recognized two guys in the large photo displays in Loehmann's windows. They're large-penised porn stars BEN ANDREWS and ERIK RHODES, though in this case they're fully clothed and striking fashiony poses. Top that, Filene's.

Web extra:

The Miss USA pageant was as riveting as usual, with its bizarre procession of girls tarted up to look like Hooters waitresses, knowing full well they're expected to behave like nuns if they win (minus the same-sex action, of course). This year, the interest was up because of the final presence of almost dethroned alkie TARA CONNER, and they played it up for drama all night. She started and ended the show, and her scandal was milked throughout, Tara sweeping out to thank DONALD TRUMP for his incredible generosity as Trump sat there beaming as if he didn't write that whole speech. All the while, cohost Nancy O'Dell stood there looking quite preggers, almost as if to warn the girls: "Don't do this!" The winner, Miss Tennessee, is clearly not going to cause any problems. She's a grinning replicant who surely hasn't even guzzled a Shirley Temple. She was eerily smooth in her speaking, hit all the right notes (like "underprivileged children"), and gave great swimsuit action. She couldn't lose—especially after Miss Kansas said she wouldn't give certain criminals a second chance (yeah, but how about Tara Conner?) and boasted that she volunteers with a Catholic group at abortion centers, no doubt meaning she stands outside screaming at the satanic baby killers. Anyway, the winner is off to a year of soberly, smilingly cutting the ribbon at pet food store openings and such around the country. She's driving ME to drink.

Speaking of beauty queens and substances, can I please go back to ANNA NICOLE one more exploitive time? Her death has just been officially deemed an accidental overdose, but there’s more to it than that, subtext-wise. It wasn’t suicide in the strict sense, but there was definitely an element of her wanting to self destruct à la Marilyn, too afraid to seek help for fear of bad publicity. Her sad end might also not have been murder in the literal sense—unless that Mickey thing was true, of course—but at the very least it was clearly egged on by her enablers standing around not only watching her self sabotage, but videotaping it and laughing. None of this could have happened without the bizarre, dark construct of stardom. But I don't care, I still want to be famous!


musto@villagevoice.com

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