Prodigal Sons is just another documentary by a transsexual lesbian from Helena, Montana, who’s working out delayed issues with her adopted brother, a bitter but sometimes appealing guy who flies into rages because of an old head injury but calms down on learning that his grandparents were movie legends Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth.
But that’s just the initial pitch. What emerges from Kimberly Reed‘s film is a powerful mass of conflicted-family emotion, as frustrations collide with hope and forgiveness to create a riveting picture of people on the edge desperately trying not to push each other off it. I recently paused in the middle of watching The Lady From Shanghai to chat with Reed about her achievement.
Me: Hi, Kimberly. Congrats on the film. Is it harder for you to come out as a transsexual or a lesbian?
Reed: The hardest of all is both because it totally messes with people’s heads. But I personally find it easier to come out as lesbian. It just raises so many more eyebrows when you’re trans.
Me: I know! But I was amazed when you and your brother, Marc, went to your high school reunion in the film and the eyebrows stayed put. Is Montana a fairly liberal place?
Reed: Montana defies a lot of expectations. It’s one of those purple states. In 2008, they voted in a Democratic House, Senate, and governor, but they voted for McCain. More than anything else, it’s a spot where people don’t want to be told what to do. Growing up, we didn’t even have a speed limit: “No government is gonna tell us how fast we can drive.” But the scary thing is, the rule was you had to drive in a “reasonable and prudent manner.” Whether they liked your haircut or bumper sticker might affect the decision-making process.
Me: Well, your hair’s great. But basically, Helena is a long way from Laramie, Wyoming, right?
Reed: Yes. There are a lot of independent thinkers. That’s one of the reasons the reception at the reunion was as smooth as it was.
Me: Were you hoping for a lot more conflict there, for the sake of the film?
Reed: We weren’t trying to trump anything up, but we were expecting a bit. The big surprise is that the other stuff—the family history—comes roaring back. Being in the context of a reunion where everyone’s comparing themselves to everyone else heightened a lot of those comparisons between Marc and me.
Me: If it was one of those BS reality shows, your old classmates would have surely been throwing yearbooks. It’s bad enough that your brother flares up with very real homophobic and transphobic rages. Is that his head injury talking?
Reed: When people have a frontal-lobe injury, they lose impulse control, and he certainly did. But while I think his head injury is taking a lid off his inhibitions, I don’t think it created any of that. There’s deep, complicated background information that’s going on in our story. You can’t make that stuff up!
Me: Since the film, has Marc’s Orson Welles connection meant much to him? I’d be working it!
Reed: It was more about his identity—not about finding Hollywood stars. He was most interested in finding if he was gonna lose his hair and go bald!
Me: Well, that’s in the female gene, so he might still not know. How about your intimate relations? Are you still with Claire, your girlfriend from the film?
Reed: It’s brought us closer. This film is the hardest thing I’ve ever done by far, and that includes transitioning. Putting this story out there put me through a lot of soul searching. The bulk of her support was all the times you don’t see—night after night of tossing and turning.
Me: Well, you, she, and Marc are all movie stars now. Get ready for more conflict!
The love child of Orson Welles and Carol Channing, Lady Bunny co-stars in the high-pitched Off-Broadway comedy When Joey Married Bobby, which has observations like, “Newt Gingrich understands the sanctity of marriage. He’s had three wives!” Bunny’s sparkly pantsuit alone is enough to get gay marriage approved in the purple states.
Bathed in not-so-mellow yellow, the Blonds‘ fashion show was a glittery success, starting with a creature in a gorilla suit ripping it off and turning out to be Phillipe Blond as the crowd went apeshit. In the front row, I ran into my favorite mammal, Patrick McDonald, who had a good sense of humor about Andrea Peyser‘s insane contention in the Post that he looks ready for a circus or a homeless shelter. “I’d like to treat her to a ticket to the Big Top,” cracked the oft-photographed dandy, “but she’ll have to pick it up at a homeless shelter!”
Some big tops—and bottoms, too—are lining up to see the revival of Mart Crowley‘s pivotal play The Boys in the Band, about a bunch of gays burying their angst in cracked crab, Hermès sweaters, and sadistic parlor games. The environmental production, which places you smack-dab in the lead character’s apartment, is uneven but bold and dark (literally, you can’t see faces a lot of the time), and this time around, you tend to notice the work’s extra haunting facets, like how it starts with a flippant discussion of someone with a virus!
A gay man with a wife also pops up in Mr. & Mrs. Fitch, the Douglas Carter Beane comedy in which married gossip columnists desperately invent a celebrity who then becomes wildly famous. This is patently absurd and insulting! That would never happen with journalists of my caliber—but let me simply say that future superstar Nelson Sussman is amazing in the show.
I’m not inventing the fact that skinny young gay hipsters and some ’90s survivors take the shortbus every month to the landmark gay bar Julius for John Cameron Mitchell‘s Mattachine parties, a must-attend for boys with a band, a one-man show, or some hormones. The event is crowded and buzzy—a heady collision of history and hotties—and last time around, Jake Shears and Fred Schneider added extra spice, the DJ treating the crowd to their newest aural projects as the post-pubescents listened and learned.
But back to documentaries with quick summaries: Burma VJ is the one about how “tenacious Burmese reporters face down death to expose the repressive regime controlling their country.” Since the tenacious ones shot all that footage, would director Anders Ostergaard share the Oscar with them? “I don’t guilt-trip on this,” Ostergaard sensibly told me at a lunch for the movie’s nomination. “It’s amazing news material, but we still had to shape it into a film. So I don’t have any modesty about that.” Still, he’ll surely give them a tenacious shout-out.
The Cove won the Writers Guild Awards for documentary screenplay on Saturday, and that’s about the end of my tenacious reporting on that event. It was all very worthy—especially since I hope to be a writer someday—but I was more entranced by MC Susie Essman holding up a trophy and deciding it looked like a flying vagina, which is perfect because, as she noted, “Every winner goes home with some pussy.” Essman also let her lips fly about why John Mayer wasn’t there (“Every time he opens his mouth, shit comes flying out”) and what Avatar‘s real achievement is. (“It’s the first movie that’s simultaneously three-dimensional and one-dimensional.”) But that’s just the initial pitch.