By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
'I'm lactose-intolerant, but I loved Milk," crowed Carson Kressley at the film's premiere party at the Bowery Hotel, where celebs floated around exulting in their gay friendliness (or just gayness) as the bartenders served everything but dairy. The film—with Sean Penn as murdered gay politico Harvey Milk—couldn't be more fresh out of the pan, since it has Milk battling a proposition designed to repeal gay rights. (Interestingly, it didn't go through, but just a few weeks ago, Proposition 8 heartily did! Shoot me!) Even more poetically, screenwriter Dustin Lance Black happens to be an ex-Mormon. When I met Black last week, I asked him if that is indeed true, and he swiveled around and said, "Yeah, can't you see all my baggage?"
At the premiere bash, Vuitton baggage maker Marc Jacobs told me he cried and shook his leg emotionally through the whole movie. "I'm for anything gay," the designer said, unsurprisingly. "The world would be a better place if everyone was gay." "Look, around," I urged. "They are!"
But not everyone is necessarily happy. Over by another food station, talk-show legend Dick Cavett told me he'd just gone up to Jon Voight and recited a line from his Times blog—"McCain aimed low and missed"—and Voight looked sick and replied, "I'm a big supporter of McCain." Whoopsy!
At a whole other Milk reception the other day, I learned some background about the killer, Dan White, who, unfortunately, didn't miss. White was rumored to be gay himself and was having troubles with his wife and, as a result, was sleeping on the couch during the time he snapped. Do the math? Nah, said Josh Brolin, who plays him. That wasn't a factor—"It had more to do with his need to connect. He resented his need to connect, especially with Harvey." Pissed that my facile insecure-closet-case theory wasn't panning out, I needed to connect with director Gus Van Sant to ask why singer/hatemonger Anita Bryant was shown in the film, but not the immortal image of her being hit with a pie by an activist. "We had the clip," Van Sant admitted, "but it was so violent, I took it out." Too violent for a movie about twin assassinations? "But she was a beauty queen!" he said. "What you're seeing is a woman in shock." I knew what he meant—you almost felt for the beautiful monster for the first time, and that's not a welcome feeling.
The inevitable Oscar talk came up, jinxily enough, and Van Sant remembered that when he was up for Good Will Hunting, the awards stage was done up like a big boat, an unfair nod to the favorite, Titanic. "And they had smoke blowing in the air all night," he said. "It was like breathing in nitrous oxide for three hours!" A nonstop barrage of Poppers? Milk would have loved it.
A big dose of laughing gas, Baz Luhr-mann's Australia is a beautiful-looking epic with top-notch cinematography, editing, and scoring. Alas, what starts as a spoofy romp tries to develop into a real movie about oppression, and it ends up becoming something of an overblown bore. Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman's kisses are uncomfortable-looking, but Nicole's ditzy version of "Over the Rainbow" is intentionally funny and beautifully pulled off. Still, for a movie with so many people trying to be straight, is the continual inclusion of the gay anthem a good idea?
On Broadway, nostalgia tunes are the whole menu in White Christmas, a splashy retread of the old let's-put-on-a-show movie that massaged the hapless '50s. There's some great dancing on tap, but this thing really should be done on ice and served with dinner.
Meanwhile, Horton Foote's Dividing the Estate is an efficient comedy about a family of money-grubbing barracudas who sing "Rock of Ages" while knifing each other in the groin. The timing involved here is very good—the play is set during the last real estate crash—but it would be way better if we hadn't just seen the far more poetic dysfunctions of August: Osage County.
Similarly, the revival of David Mamet's American Buffalo was greeted by critics as a gigantic fuckin' letdown compared to their beloved Speed-the-Plow, so producers were pondering closing it just days after the opening-night party on a Fifth Avenue rooftop. But what a party. I got to shmooze with Cedric the Entertainer, who told me he'd love to do a musical—and it looks like now he can—and Haley Joel Osment, who said he didn't have to shoot up to research his junkie role. (I asked, ha ha.) "A lot of stuff I've read about heroin was written by intelligent authors," likable Osment told me. "In Naked Lunch, Burroughs wrote the expression 'cancelled eyes.' I got a feeling from that." The virtually cancelled Osment said he wished he'd gotten to meet Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, and he was nice enough to laugh when I told him Ginsberg would have liked him when he was a few years younger.
But there are plenty of intelligent authors who are alive and not cancelled. In fact, IFC Media Project gathered some of them for a stimulating panel at Michael's on the state of news media, including Christopher Buckley, who was introduced as the guy "whose endorsement of Obama got more media attention than the initial invasion of Iraq." Moderator Arianna Huffington moaned that journalism was better in the old days, but even the old-timers vehemently disagreed on that, so she graciously backed down. Even Buckley had to shout out his approval to new media, endorsing the Internet along with Obama. "Blogging is still an unfamiliar thing to me," he said. "It sounds like a disease—like you're about to throw up." But Buckley admitted that his barf has a refreshing immediacy and gets instant results, so more power to it.