By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
By Zachary D. Roberts
I'll start with a hot serving of social consciousness, thanks to Pray the Devil Back to Hell, the riveting documentary about the Liberian women's uprising against their tyrannical warmonger president. (God, this is so not like me.) At a special screening, the crowd was buzzed and host Gloria Steinem joined in the commotion, saying the film should be "shown on blimps above every conflict zone." I'll gladly volunteer my backside.
At the premiere of another illuminating documentary, Dominick Dunne: After the Party, Tina Brown read a note from Dunne saying, "Only a catheter in a private place and a kidney operation, with a heart operation to come, could keep me from being there." Pretty good excuses! One of the movie's juicier bits has Dunne revealing that Truman Capote ripped off his black-and-white-ball idea, then didn't even invite him. What black and white balls!
The year's most bizarre premise—a contestant on the Mumbai version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? flashes back to a series of childhood horrors that taught him the correct answers—is the basis for Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire, an underdog success story leaping into Oscar qualification. At a Tribeca Cinemas Q&A, screenwriter Simon Beaufoy explained his script's melodramatics by saying, "Mumbai is growing so fast into the future, it's leaving a lot of people behind. It's an operatic place of extremes. So the movie has scenes of torture, dancing, people jumping in poo . . ." And, of course, that old Boyle favorite: someone encountering a big bag of money. "There are usually scenes in the toilet, as well," admitted Boyle, about his wonderfully outré oeuvre. "But all British films have that!" I guess they'd much rather jump into the loo than into the poo.
Let's get out of there and onto the dance floor—I'm talking serious range here—with Cuckoo Club Sundays, which have moved indefinitely to the Park, apparently because Hiro hasn't had a cabaret license all these years. I wish someone had told me that while I was dancing!
As for stand-up bars, drag performer Mimi Imfurst no longer hosts the Thursday-night ass contests at XES, and the gossip is that they wanted someone cheaper, they were hoping for some new energy, and they didn't like her unveiling contestants' forbidden body parts. But Mimi says, "It was sorta mutual. Every show runs its course." And furthermore, she adds, she didn't pull anyone's pants completely down—it was one of the bartenders who ran up and did that. Reportedly, it was big enough to show a documentary about Liberia on it!
We toasted the fully clothed winners of the Paper nightlife awards at Mansion, a gala celebration of not sleeping, which was so kinetically fun it deserved one of its own trophies. Coverboy Mark Ronson was even cuter with his new British accent (and he's always had that bag of money), but as a presenter, I had to follow the audience's booing when his sister, Samantha, didn't materialize upon winning a DJing award. "Give her a break," I urged them. "She's busy inside Lindsay!"
The Meryl Streep of the evening (along with Santos' Party House) was multiple winner Mr. Black, though some have complained that its newest locale (Rebel) is just "too nice." With its lovely chandeliers and banquettes, the place comes off like an upscale bordello and not nearly dirty enough for such a saucy salon. But it's still a giant gay bucket of fun, especially when go-go boy Roly—who sort of looks like James Franco crossed with Penélope Cruz—is around to play with your poly.
Moving on to more family-style entertainment, the Radio City Christmas Spectacular is as fabulous as last year—in fact, it's the very same show—and I always love how it ebulliently follows the birth of the Christ child with a line of Rockettes high-kicking in silver spangles!
Another light-in-the-loafers extravaganza, Billy Elliot is the musical about minors striking poses and miners just striking, all uniting to send out the message that ballet dancing doesn't make you a poufter, even if you're a bit femmy and you dress in drag with your best friend—but if you are that way, that's OK, too. (And, by the way, Billy doesn't want to see a girl's "hoo-hoo," if that's any clue.) The show is a solid piece of feel-good, socko, hard-sell entertainment—its politics are so lefty-liberal that The Wall Street Journal hated it—and though some characters do go into the loo, it's generally only to change into tights and tutus.
American Buffalo is a potty-mouthed fucking marvel, but in the audience, I had a chaste chat with Pulitzer winner Doug Wright (Grey Gardens, I Am My Own Wife), who said he's finishing a screenplay about Gershwin's Porgy and Bess period. I pray it ends with a fast-forward to Diana Ross's swing version of "I Loves You Porgy."
A one-man folk opera, Ken Russell (Tommy, Women in Love) came to town to direct Mindgame, a talky, old-school little shocker about a very loony asylum, which he became part of by sitting in the front row. I met with the wildly accomplished Brit and his wife, Lisi Tribble, at the Cub Room, and we had a great time carrying on like Mormons on an off-night. Russell said that at one Mindgame performance, he sat next to a lady who told him, "I was particularly interested in this play because my son's a murderer." "She left smiling," added Russell.
Even more fascinatingly, Lisi told me that the nurse character's outfit—a vinyl dominatrix mini with a hot-pink wig—is from Ken's closet. He collects fashion items and uses them in movies he makes for the Internet, like one in which he played a transsexual surgeon named Dr. Lucy!
But he's hardly a poufter, just a kook—the man, after all, once took out a personal ad saying, "Unbankable film director seeks soulmate" and had no trouble finding one, partly thanks to his luxurious gift for storytelling. To wit: Russell told me that for Crimes of Passion, Kathleen Turner reluctantly agreed to swallow in the blowjob scene, but only once he assured her they could use vanilla yogurt instead of mussels. (For Tommy, of course, he immortalized chocolate sauce—but he's the only Brit auteur who eschews actual poo.)
Another foodie, Altered States star William Hurt, "liked to have dinner, but he only talked about himself. My then-wife said, 'You're nothing but a talkative preppie.' The word preppie turned him into a catatonic anger." But at least he shut up for a second.
And most memorably of all, Russell collaborated on a never-produced script about Maria Callas with Faye Dunaway, who said something so insulting at a meeting that Russell impulsively lunged for her neck. "I got in the way and stopped it," Lisi told me. "I didn't want to see headlines the next day." "Damn you!" I yelled at her, fuming.
Is that still not enough range for you? Well, last week, I judged a pet talent contest for Bideawee—hello—where another judge, Ivana Trump, told the crowd that she'd noticed how one cat contestant clearly wouldn't do his tricks unless there was a treat involved. "Ivana," I said into my mic, "don't you think a lot of people need a treat before they'll do tricks?" The crowd laughed uproariously—well, a couple of them giggled—but another judge, a supporting player from Gossip Girl, strangely gave me a "cut it" gesture with her hand. And suddenly, a representative from the show that's every parent's worst nightmare became the moral arbiter of America. Now that's range.