At a Pop dinner for Poz editor Walter Armstrong, I queried queer movement poppa Larry Kramer, but not about anything gay, perversely enough. Pantingly, I grilled Kramer about the straight-to-the-cult-bin 1973 movie version of Lost Horizon, which he—you must believe me—cowrote for the screen back in the days when anything remotely literary or spiritual automatically became a splashy, tacky musical.
The flick, which I’ve seen 87 times, was a ’70s update of the James Hilton classic, with Sesame Street-like songs by Burt Bacharach/Hal David; a bizarro cast that spanned Liv Ullmann, John Gielgud, and Bobby Van; and art direction that made Shangri-la look like an unfinished Marriott lobby. Friends and I have become entranced by the compelling weirdness of it all, particularly the klutzy grace of Sally Kellerman as a suicidal, pill-popping photojournalist who dances the frug in between crooning preachy nonsense lyrics at the likes of Olivia Hussey and George Kennedy!
Our hero Kramer told me he only agreed to write the thing because Carol Reed (Oliver!) was directing, but then Reed backed out and was replaced by Franklin Schaffner (Patton), who also reneged and was replaced by some twit whose name Kramer couldn’t remember. According to Kramer—who also quit, midway—producer Ross Hunter “was the queen of queens, but he and his lover honestly believed all of Hollywood thought they were straight half-brothers!” But the activist-writer spares the cast from any criticism because “Who could act that shit?” In fact, he’s not blaming anybody since he still gets royalty checks, making him wonder, “Who’s singing these songs?” Hopefully not Liv Ullmann, John Gielgud, and Bobby Van.
Another 1973 cult item, that queen of queens Diana Ross, dazzled with her “Return to Love” concert at Madison Square Garden—again, you must believe me—and with my eyes half-cocked, that was Mary and Cindy and even Flo up there. Things started unpromisingly with an overture consisting mostly of Miss Ross’s solo hits, but then Diana and her two “best friends” emerged, singing “Reflections” in silver sequins, and we were all thrown back to “the way life used to be-uh” in the flash of an upswept arm gesture. It was a gorgeous opener, and though Ross seemed to be on autopilot for some of the night—maybe she’d just found out the tour was going to be canceled—she sounded record-perfect and at least minimized her usual order-giving and needy “I love you” displays. A vessel of pure showbiz enchantment, Diana glittered through her trademark contradictions, performing her ghetto song, “Love Child,” in pink bugle beads and blithely ignoring the reunion-debacle irony as she rollicked through “Money, that’s what I want.”
The backup girls were more than serviceable, though they could just as well have been Vandellas or even Pips, and seemed to have their own backup girls helping out in the wings. But critics were wrong to complain that there was no interaction between Diana and the Supremes—there never was! For added authenticity, Diana brought up Luther Vandross for an impromptu duet on one of her recent releases—he didn’t know it—after which her little son came up to moonwalk (oh, no, has Jacko been to visit?). By the end of his routine—I swear—Mommy was in a whole new outfit!
The evening even came with a sideshow. In the crowd, drag performer Princess Diandra was spilling booze all over me and yelling at the stage, “You hideous has-been woman!” Security had to drag her down from dancing on a box, where she was trying to upstage the diva who gave us all birth. I worship you, Diandra, but the extra dr in your name is starting to stand for drama queen.
In more contempo diva news, come see about Tony winner Kristin Chenoweth‘s upcoming TV series, adventurously called Kristin. According to the casting breakdown for the show, the musical-comedy cutie plays “the chipper and very short Kristin Yancey, who’s in no danger of making Broadway sit up and take notice.” In lieu of taking bows, Kristin takes a job as a personal assistant to a “legendary developer/womanizer” and somehow Christopher Durang figures into things as the local reverend. I’ll watch—though I still think Kristin was born to play somebody’s kooky neighbor-best friend.
Is our own local reverend, Giuliani, also our kooky neighbor-best friend? I guess not, because he clearly feels that while covert, adulterous dalliances can be fun, open, swingle ones are a flagrant no-no. Rudy’s goons looked into Foxy Saturdays at the lovely Avenue A boîte called the Cock and found that there was just too much of, well, the cock there. (I guess people were getting it on with their straight half-brothers.) At the newly tamed bash on a subsequent week, performer Dean Johnson told the crowd, “I can’t believe there was sexual misconduct here. Everyone I had sex with was very well-behaved!”
In even less arousing news, it was weird to read that the cast of Survivor—that nonmusical Lost Horizon, where you cook a rat on camera before, no doubt, returning to your trailer for some braised quail—is blatantly negotiating to do TV commercials. So not only are they scavengers and all-around obnoxos, but—in the wake of the union strike on commercial work—they’re scabs, too! If they ever get to this island, let’s vote to throw them the fuck off.
Speaking of unnatural disasters, here’s my capsule review of The Perfect Storm: Corny-corny-corny, water-water-water, corny-corny-corny. But I liked it! Meanwhile, I hear that Mickey Rourke might ride a comeback wave as a prison drag queen in something called Animal Factory. I’m scared of that.
My minutiae-factory mind has just acquired a new tidbit: Seth Green, that Austin Powers cutie, will portray Michael Alig’s friend turned denouncer James St. James in the movie version of the club kid horror. Perhaps Mini-Me can play clubland’s conscience.
Finally, X-Men premiered on Ellis Island—the real locale of Survivor—and though I prefer Archie and Veronica, the film was made with a certain stylishly grim persuasion that provides hope for mutants everywhere. After the schlepp, the arrivals, the party, the screening, and a fireworks display, it’s a wonder we were still standing, let alone grabbing for gift bags, but we did so and even managed to track down Marvel Comics honcho Stan Lee on the quease-making boat ride back. Lee told me that X-Men is the most successful adaptation of his stuff to date, and he hasn’t always been so thrilled. “We had a Captain America and a Punisher that weren’t anything to write home about,” he lamented. “And of course you know about Howard the Duck.” Yes, I do; that duck was even more of a turkey than Lost Horizon.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 18, 2000