Violence Is Golden

And stunning, where Bardem and the Coens are concerned. Plus other dark visions, and peaceful chats with Mamet and Lauper.

The Oscar movies we're being treated to this year are so dark you can practically make truffles out of them. Fresh off surviving the Spanish Inquisition in Goya's Ghosts and septuagenarian sex in Love in the Time of Cholera, Javier Bardem endures a bad haircut in No Country for Old Men, giving a mesmerizing performance as the coldest-blooded killer since Linda Stein's assistant wielded Pilates equipment. The Coen brothers' flick—which is studded with long, silent sequences punctuated by bouts of desert violence—is original, virtuoso work, and you admire it tremendously while not necessarily wanting to see it 10 more times.

At a Four Seasons luncheon for the film, I smirkily told Bardem that I felt his character was actually sympathetic. "I think he's nice," he said, playing along, "but I don't know if I'd have dinner with him." (I would—if he promised not to choke me till after dessert.) Did Bardem draw on any mythic characters for his portrayal? "I wanted to pay attention to Robert Mitchum in The Night of the Hunter," he said, "but I ended up not doing that because I didn't want to copy it." He didn't need to. With those eerie bangs and that creepy coin-flipping routine, Javier's even scarier than Shelley Winters!

The Savages is a dark and penetrating trip to dysfunction land, but it's a bouncy soufflé compared to the Tribeca Cinema Series panel discussion that the cast had after a special screening last week. There was all the usual talk about the work process, but also a stunning revelation when Philip Bosco—the superb actor who plays the dad suffering from dementia—said that among his seven real-life kids are twin alcoholics. "Jennifer joined AA," Bosco explained, "but Chris had a more difficult time." Once, said the actor, Chris was so high and unresponsive that Bosco became violent with frustration. "I hit him across the face with a book," Bosco admitted. "He didn't budge. I started to pick him up and was going to physically harm him, but instead I called the police and explained what was happening." I guess they know how to throw the book at someone. (Update: Chris is "marvelous" now.)

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Dangerous work is headed to Broadway too, like David Mamet's comedy November, which had a meet-and-greet with the cast (if not the stagehands) last week before the strike was resolved. At the event, the freakin' iconic author told me that his play isn't ripped out of the headlines. "It anticipates the headlines," he said. "It deals with gay marriage and torture. . . " ("Same difference," I cracked, but he ignored me) ". . . and executive fiat and extraordinary rendition and pardons and corruption. Something for the whole family!"

Speaking of corruption, was the recent Broadway play Mauritius a welcome homage to Mamet or a complete rip-off? "What?" Mamet replied, apparently having never Googled himself. "You know, the play about effin' postage stamps," I explained. "I haven't seen it," he insisted with a stone face. I was nice enough not to tell him that November's Dylan Baker starred in it.

A few dark inches away, the wonderful Laurie Metcalf told me that she plays a lesbian speechwriter who Nathan Lane's presidential character relies on for his comeback. "In return," Metcalf said, "she wants to be able to marry her partner. No, I may have given away too much. Just say she wants something in return." Um, yeah, OK, but—on safer ground—is Metcalf happy to be on the stage again? "Yes!" she exclaimed. "Theater is the only worthwhile acting there is!" Huh? So all that TV didn't count? "Wait, that doesn't sound right," she said, laughingly adding, "Erase that!" The woman's a natural for the White House.

By the way, November's promo image bravely has Lane looking squarely at a turkey—but I'm assured its true meaning becomes clear once you see the show.

A high-minded dud, The Farnsworth Invention—a/k/a Amadeus with cathode tubes—is weighted down by narration like "Harlan had bumped into the image dissector while he was working on the triangle."

I worked on the Trinity—those charming promoters I've nicknamed Drewpsie Misdemeanor Elliott, Cock-a-tail Dundee, and Aimee Semple McFagHag—when they hosted a Mr. Black reunion bash last Friday at the Pussycat Lounge, which is near Ground Zero and, more significantly, right next to Thunder Lingerie. Hundreds of gays packed into the strip joint for an unexpected mix of male cruising and female oozing. Josh Wood's weekly gay event the same night at the Chelsea Hotel's Starlounge is like a better-groomed version of the old Mr. Black. But it's even darker than a Coen brothers movie: You have to light matches in everyone's face and explain that away with weird excuses. ("Sorry. Somebody farted.")

At Beige, Randy Jones, the original Village People cowboy, was remembering Rick and Kathy Hilton's family-style behavior back in Studio 54's downstairs celebrity rec room. One night, Jones swore, the Hiltons spotted a bump on the floor and proceeded to jump on it in tandem and crush it right there, then gorgeously suck it up with their nostrils, all without getting up. Judges?

Amanda Lepore's birthday party at Lotus last Tuesday was tremendous vertical fun—if you got in. The security guy at the door—one of those power-mad, not-loved-enough-as-a-child types—actually gave me a hard time because I don't have a driver's license or walk around with my passport taped to my forehead. Yes, the freak carded me and wouldn't accept the fact that I'm not only of legal age, I'm practically ready for AARP! I can understand that he was just doing his job, blah blah blah. The bigger problem was that when another doorperson with some sense came out to sweep me in, the brute sarcastically muttered, "You're welcome." "So you want to be thanked?" I said incredulously, "even though you tried every which way to keep me out?" With that, he angrily put his paws on me and demanded, "Get out!" and I complied, knowing that this is the kind of bully who has to win even when he loses. But just then, a higher-up ran out and swept me in again. I won!

I scored again at the Emery Awards benefiting the Hetrick-Martin Institute, where we got a plate of carbs, a free rugby shirt, and a disco violinist jazzing up the national anthem. I thanked guest performer Cyndi Lauper for being so good to the gays and she said, "I'm part of your extended family!" I also thanked Auntie Cyndi's assistant for being French because, let's not forget, the Froggies were nailed to the cross just for being ahead of the curve about the war. "I still bought the wine and ate the cheese— with gusto!" announced Cyndi, delightfully. And American free trade is still intact anyway. The next day, Entourage's Rex Lee, who MC'd the event, was seen at the Rugby store, exchanging his gift-bag shirt for something else! It's OK—a note in the bag encouraged you to do just that.

But back to gay marriage and torture: On the last page of David Gest's British auction booklet, he offers a batch of "Liza and David wedding memorabilia" (at least he got the billing right). The pervy package includes "invitation, wedding-shower boxes, heart-shaped candy box, a Bible with 'Liza and David, March 16, 2002' in gilt lettering on the leather covers, money signed by Liza," and so on, all thanks to the gay icon who supposedly threw a lamp, if not a book, at him. But wait a bearded minute. Money signed by Liza? Did she think it was an eight by 10? And why didn't Gest pocket it as per usual? In any case, if the dough isn't of the Monopoly variety, this sick bunch of shit might be worth the asking price: 400 to 600 pounds! Which is what I weigh thanks to all these dinners with cold-blooded killers.

WEB EXTRA

Speaking of cold blooded killers, the theater queen invite of the year was last week's screening of Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd for the Broadway community, held at the Regal E-Walk on naughty, bawdy Forty Second Street. Composer Stephen Sondheim entered to introduce the flick and the entire room stood and cheered, as if to thank him for "personable/coercin'-a-bull" and so many other moments that have elevated our nights out for decades. "For those of you who know the show," he urged us, "forget it." He said there'd been changes, expansions, omissions, and compressions, and that "it's its own animal, or as Monty Python would say, something completely different." Once you understand that, said Sondheim, you're in for a spectacular ride. Then Burton came out with star Johnny Depp, who was in a gaucho hat, checkered scarf, green jacket, and so many other layers he looked like he wore all his favorite outfits at once. Somehow in his don't-notice-me disguise, Johnny's the most noticeable one for miles. "If you don't like it," said Burton, "blame us," and they scooted off, no doubt to the chocolate factory. DID I like it? I can't say because they've warned press they'll literally slit your throats if you don't hold your tongue until the release date.

musto@villagevoice.com

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