Richard Linklater’s ‘Waking Life’—that animated epic in which people rant about the merits of sleepwalking through life versus wakewalking through sleep—is like being trapped at a book party, but way more fun, and you must believe me on that. At an Evelyn Lounge celebration for the film, its object of blather, Wiley Wiggins, told me he didn’t get bored listening to all the spewing, “but what was frustrating was not being able to talk back!” I guess the audience is allowed to do so, though; Linklater told me it’s OK to roll your eyes at some of the vivacious viewpoints. “It’s a lot of contradictions,” he said. “I don’t mind people laughing at people. The whole thing’s a joke. These people are animated and taking themselves seriously.” A self-effacing director? I must have been dreaming.
On waking, I learned that another American auteur, John Waters, has good reason to feel pleased with himself. His riotously ahead-of-their-time Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble have come out in a double-disc DVD set, and everything’s alright with my sick little world again. The director told me by phone that in the flicks’ new versions, “They look better than they ever looked. But don’t worry—they still look bad!”
What really looks rotten is the current anthrax situation, which Waters and I—and everyone else—were suitably fixated about, with gloves and snorkels on. I feel that whoever the demented spreaders are, they certainly have an accurate view of the hierarchy of American media—they went after the Enquirer first and NBC second. Waters wondered if it’s “beyond possibility that the Enquirer would have bought that anthrax. If they wanted to get the top story, they could have actually stopped Bin Laden from spreading anthrax by intercepting it.” But there are other (equally kooky) theories as to how the tabs were touched. As Patricia Hearst told Waters, “Who wouldn’t have done it? Every celebrity would have done it.” Corey Haim?
By the way, don’t doubt Waters on wartime issues; his movie Pecker predated all those Times editorials by ending with the title character’s father saying, “To the end of irony!” (I’m not sure it’s really over, though, with newspaper headlines like, “U.S. Drops Bombs, Food.”) But back to the anthrax—can you believe the hilarious advice we’re getting from all those “experts” who emit wisdom on a myriad of cable channels? For example, what do we do if anthrax is wafted into our atmosphere? “Close your windows,” one dweeb advised with a straight face. And what if some terrorists drive up and start randomly shooting? “Duck for cover,” offered another Einstein. I’m ducking from Fox News.
I also loved the tabloid rep who went on TV and reassured everyone that you can’t get anthrax from reading his rag, adding, “Some people will believe anything!” Yeah, like the fact that Hillary Clinton is dating a space alien.
More credibly, my sources say that GE, which owns NBC, hires news workers as independent contractors—a common practice—which means those folks don’t get sick time or health insurance. So if you work in the newsroom and test positive for anthrax, you’re probably on your own, baby!
Meanwhile, am I alone in doubting the trillions who are suddenly claiming they know someone who was told by a dark-skinned person, “I can’t explain why, but don’t go to work at the World Trade Center on September 11”? Please—a few years ago, these same know-it-alls were close friends with the nurse who had those gerbil X-rays.
And don’t you love the way everyone’s frantically packing up their butt rodents and fleeing to the suburbs? Honey, I’d rather die here than live there! Even more scarily, can you believe that the original Bin Laden, Hitler, has been outed in some crackpot book? The author must have seen The Producers one too many times. What’s most irritating is that all the media outlets who won’t allow outing as a form of celebrating living gay artists are chomping at the bit for this one.
While I’m at it, let me counter the folks who are urging us to stop whining about gay rights because everything but the war must go on the back burner at a time like this (as if gay rights got top priority before). Well, sorry, but I feel that now, more than ever, we must assert what makes our great country different from the tyrannies we’re fighting against. There’s no “right time” to shut up about freedom—and now that gays have been deemed integral to the heroic forefront of recent events, it’s all the more appropriate, especially since some of the rights we’ve been fighting for (giving blood and joining the armed forces) would help the war effort!
My divine right (if we can get superficial again) was to catch the très faithful revival of A Chorus Line at the Paper Mill in New Jersey and realize that the show, about people competing for Broadway roles by submitting to a sadistic psychodrama, was the original Survivor. What’s more, it’s the polar opposite of 42nd Street, since it centers on a star begging for a part in the chorus! How different—I loved it!
A new ’70s musical, Mamma Mia!, has tourists dancing in the aisles, though discerning critics are dancing down the aisles in search of an exit. The show creates a plot around a bunch of old ABBA hits, which is a little like making burgers out of Jell-O, though it’s mainly an excuse for giddy straight camp and tawdry soap opera to be Björn again. In this lowbrow affair—which makes Aida look like Sunday in the Park With George—the dialogue rarely gets more sophisticated than a Here’s Lucy, the acting seems geared to the sightless (except for the three lead ladies, who are smart enough to poke fun at the material), and there’s so much cheese on display that the Playbill should come with crackers.
But there is a distinct popular appeal in the dopey, flashy treatment of the Scandinavian disco legend by way of a plot borrowed from Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell. And there’s gay context galore, both intended (“I hope to get my tongue around a little Greek,” leers a male character) and unintended (“Does your mother know that you’re out?” a woman sings to her young suitor). By the time the groom appears in the wedding gown, you might be willing to give in to the awfulness, but even if you don’t, this thing is such a franchise that Bloomingdale’s already has a Mamma Mia! shop, filled with peasant blouses that show off your nipples. ABBA-dabba-do wear a bra.
While we’re on the Very White Way, I hear that the ever slinky Morgan Fairchild tried out for a role in The Women (in which Jennifer Tilly goes naked, except for her Jungle Red nails) and confided to other auditioners that her manager had to pull every string imaginable just to get her there. Unfortunately, she went home jobless. I’m upset—and again, you must believe me!
And kindly trust me that, though Amélie is even more popular in France than Jerry Lewis, the inventively gimmicked-up movie unfortunately caves in to an overabundance of precious whimsy, tra la. At the premiere, the director-cowriter, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, was surprisingly straightforward, saying, “The Paris we show in the movie is a little bit fake. We actually have the traffic jam, it rains, and we have dog shit on the street.” Ooh la yuck—John Waters would love it!
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 23, 2001