A Welcome and a Definition

Culture Vulture: "A person with a strong, sometimes obsessive, interest in the arts." Culture Vultures spend a lot of time observing the world. This is where those observations come out.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Cary and Randolph
I have to admit I've been on a bit of a Cary Grant kick lately. It started when I watched My Favorite Wife on TV about a week ago. That led me to want to reread Marc Eliot's Cary Grant: A Biography and watch a few of his movies courtesy of Netflix.

Now I have loved Grant for several years. I have a picture of him hanging in my bedroom (the only celeb I ever had hanging on a wall in my life.) I think part of me has always wanted to absorb a bit of Grant into my personality. I think many gay men are drawn to Grant because he was the sexy, urbane wit onscreen many hope to be. Also, his romantic movies often reversed the usual sexual roles: he was often the object of desire and was pursued by the female lead. On top of that, gay rumors followed him for decades.

The biography paints a different person than the sexy onscreen persona. Abandoned at a young age by his mother, Grant is plagued by massive insecurities for most of his life. Preferring the company of men to women for at least the first half of his life, Grant seemed unable to make a relationship work with anyone. He was given to fits of loneliness and would often hole himself in his house for days after a serious break-up. Unlike his persona, he was a man of simply tastes. His favorite hobby was going to the horse races.

Ironically, the relationship Grant had that seemed to last the longest was not with one of his wives (he had 5), but with fellow actor Randolph Scott. Scott is mostly known as a B actor who did westerns in the 1950s. He also appeared with Grant in My Favorite Wife. I have always been fascinated by the relationship between Grant and Scott. The book portrays their relationship as multi-layered: more than friends, but not quite committed lovers, they obviously shared a deep connection to one another. Many people think too much was made of the Grant/Scott relationship, that they simply lived together as was customary to many movies stars. However, Grant and Scott lived together for a total of 11 years, and would often be photographed together at events. This happened so often, the studios became supplying them with female "escorts," young actresses to go on the town with them so it looked like a double date.

During his relationship and subsequent marriage to first wife Virginia Cherrill, there was almost a rivalry for Grant's affections between Cherrill and Scott. After Cherrill and Grant divorced, Grant moved back in with Scott and lived with him until just before his 2nd marriage to Barbara Hutton. Scott, meanwhile, had married Marion Somerville, who preferred life at her ranch in Virginia, allowing Scott to continue life in California with Grant. Scott and Grant had a falling out, on top of pressure by the studios about their unusual relationship, and "broke up" around 1940.

Some random facts about Cary Grant:

*Prior to becoming famous, Grant worked as stilt walker with a traveling stage troupe.
* In the 1930s, he had a dog named Archie Leach, his name prior to becoming a movie star.
* His 2nd wife Barbara Hutton was the heiress to the Woolworth fortune. The press dubbed them "Cash and Cary." Hutton was married a total of 7 times, and died penniless in 1979.
*His famous experimentation with LSD therapy was actually a way for him to deal with the emotional detachment issues he had his entire life.
*Grant never won an Oscar for any of his films. In 1970, he was finally honored by the academy with a Honorary Oscar for his body of work.
*There was a 47 year age difference between Grant and fifth wife, Barbara Harris.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Jane Austen's Fight Club

I don't know who did this but I love them for it...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Fortunate Ones

As a rule, I don't usually read contemporary novels, outside of a few authors I consistently enjoy. However, I am often drawn to novels about people coming into their own within the context of a very certain time, a very certain place. (I may have mentioned I love movies and books with a strong sense of place.)

In my rereading kick, I recently picked up A Fortunate Age by Joanna Smith Rakoff, a novel that came out about a year ago. The book follows the lives of Lil Roth, Sadie Peregrine, Beth Bernstein, Tal Morgenthal, Dave Kohane, and Emily Kaplan, a group of friends living in New York City and takes place mostly between 1998 and 2002. They all met when they attended and graduated from Oberlin College. Each is born to a prosperous family, and each tries to get away from their own affluence to become musicians, actors, artists, or English professors. The novel captures the jaded prosperity of the late 90s, leading into the sobering up of America with 9/11.

The book opens with the marriage of Lil Roth to Tuck Hayes, a man relatively unknown to the rest of the group. Lil is the first to get married or even embrace any real notion of commitment among the group. While I cannot say Lil is the main character in the book, her disastrous marriage to egotistical slacker Tuck coupled with her strange behavior, often makes her a topic of conversation among the others. The novel also opens and closes with events around Lil. My favorite quote about Lil:

She was a perfect, devoted obsessively attentive friend who could spend hours dissecting Emily's or Sadie's or Dave's problems; who always remembered birthdays and bought too many perfectly chosen gifts; who would meet for coffee at the drop of a hat- and yet over the years somehow those virtues had hardened into something akin to flaws. The light of her affection shined too brightly for any one friend to bear...

Besides Lil, each friend "grows up," moving beyond their own hang-ups and neuroses to finally embrace a more adult life. This seems perfectly set up with pre-9/11 New York City, when people were rather jaded in their own affluence. September 11, 2001 becomes a subtle turning point for all the characters. Sadie says about her life before when she finds herself unexpectedly pregnant: "Everything just feels so pointless. . . . It’s all, like, where are we going to eat for dinner? What movie are we going to see? . . . There’s no urgency to anything. No reason for anything.”

My only criticism for the book that when each character makes the leap into adulthood, it all looks the same: urban NYC parents with spouse, kids and a co-op. It would have been more interesting if one or two of them had grown into something slightly different, yet still resembling a more responsible life. 2 1/2 stars

Friday, July 16, 2010

Gay Boys and Broken Hearts

The first time I saw The Broken Hearts Club, I was on the cusp of coming out of the closet. It was a movie that always stuck in my mind a) some of it I could really relate to and b) I found it a little depressing. I tended to avoid it for a long time but finally decided to watch it again.

The movie follows the various storylines of a group of gay men. Each has had his own issues with love and commitment and wanting more from life than simply partying and being gay. The movie was noteworty for a several reasons. First it portrayed gay men slightly different from the AIDS victims and style gurus that had overtaken Hollywood movies in the 90s. Also, the cast was many noteworthy actors, including John Mahoney, Timothy Olyphant, Dean Cain, and then-unknown Zach Braff. Because of all this, I really wanted to like the movie now. On some level, I kind of do. However, it falls short of being gay cinema magic.

There's a telling scene in the movie where Benji (Zach Braff as a bottle blond) is at "gay therapy" AKA the hairdresser, and he mentions this documentary he saw on TV about a tribe of monkeys who live together peacefully all year long until mating season comes, then they tear each to shreds trying to get the best mate. Benji basically equates his group of friends to these monkeys. This mentality is evident when Kevin gets introduced to the group. Kevin is a co-worker of Benji, who brings him around because Benji has a crush on Kevin. Kevin is a "newbie," or newly out. However, Kevin gets stolen away by Cole (Dean Cain), a slightly narcissistic pretty boy actor. Cole drops Kevin (as he does all his other dates) and Kevin ends up hooking up with Dennis (Timothy Olyphant).

In the movie, each of them seems to live life only at the surface, and not really getting invested in real relationships, even with each other. The only constant in everyone's life is Jack (John Mahoney), the older gay man who runs the Broken Hearts restaurant, where they all hang out and some of them also work. Towards the end, they are brought closer by tragedy, ultimately causing Dennis (the main focus of the movie) to reassess his life and make some changes.

I was always taught to give compliments first because it makes criticism easier to take. There are certain scenes and ideas that I liked and could relate. For instance in one scene, Dennis is walking with Kevin, discussing coming out and how his father died just before he came out. Dennis says: "My one regret is that he never knew me." Kevin says "Well, he knew you on some level, I mean..." and Dennis stops him, "No, he never knew me!" That scene hit me because it made me think about how much of my personality I suppressed in order to stay closeted. Even though being gay is not all I am, I would definitely feel the same way. Another sub storyline I enjoyed was Cole's relationship with closeted actor and leading man Kip Rogers (played by Michael Bergin, who I totally forgot about, him and his hotness). I like the jabs at the Hollywood closet.

I think what stops me from embracing this movie completely is how there seems to be no deeper connections among the characters until the end. Each of them seems trapped in their own neuroses and "stuff" and can not let even their friends in deeper than a surface relationship. An example of this is how Jack's partner never says very much, but is always at the baseball games Jack sponsors. The partner is usually dressed completely in purple, so he is referred by the group as Purple Guy. This seems evident of the surface relationships: if they really felt close to Jack, why do they only know his partner as Purple Guy? Also, the ending never comes across as the uplifting now things have changed feeling that I think the movie is trying to convey. I have to resent this portrayal of gay men slightly, showing the usual shallow side of sex and partying that permeated Queer as Folk and many gay movies. I think this movie will always make me feel conflicted. 2 1/2 stars.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Kissing Jessica and Hedwig

Inspired by a recent blog post from my friend Stephen, I got to thinking about soul mates, and why people love who they love. I really have always thought the idea of soul mates is way more complicated than people usually think. As a chronically single person, I can safely say I am not even close to understanding how that other fits or will ever fit into my life. However, the topic and pop culture that discusses it always fascinates me. The two movies that I feel best relate the complicated world love can create are Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Kissing Jessica Stein. I will admit both of these movies have a queer bent to them, but then again so do I.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch: The movie opens with Hedwig talking about her lifelong search for her other, as shown by her tattoo: two halves that went put together will form a whole, a complete circle. This idea is set up nicely in the "Origin of Love," that love is really a search for a loss all of us suffered some time ago. (Side note: the Origin of Love comes from the Plato's Symposium and was attributed to Aristophanes in the work. It's also one of the earliest mentions of homosexuality in Western culture.)

Hedwig thinks she has found her other twice in her life: once, with her ex-husband Luther Robinson, the American GI who marries her and gets her out of East Berlin. The second time is her lover and protege, Tommy Gnosis. However, the movie alludes to the fact that neither ever loves her completely. Luther makes it go through her botched surgery to create the "Angry Inch" and then promptly leaves her (for a man no less!) In a rather emotional scene, Tommy and Hedwig get intimate when Tommy suddenly pulls back when he realizes she is not completely a woman. Hedwig screams at him "Love the front of me!" Tommy and Hedwig eventually break up, only to cause Tommy to climb higher and cause Hedwig to fall even further. She is deep into her tour and her obsession with Tommy when the movie opens.

Behind the scenes (so to speak) is Hedwig's third love: her bandmate Yitzhak. The relationship's minor role in the movie indicates its minor role in Hedwig's life. It is obvious she is still hung up on Tommy. While she knows Yitzhak is not her other, she also can not stand the idea of him leaving her. She indicates this when he does try to leave and she tears up his passport. However, this never brings Hedwig peace. Only when she lets go of everything: her past, her relationship with Tommy, and finally Yitzhak does she find the peace in the fact that Hedwig is complete person all on her own. The movie drives this point home by recreating Hedwig's tattoo as a complete face in a complete circle. I have to admit the ending was slightly lost on me the first time I saw this movie. However, I was really moved by the ending more so the last time I watched it than on previous viewings.

Kissing Jessica Stein:
This indie movie tells about the many layers of a relationship that exists between two women. Jessica, a neurotic singleton, can never seem to make to find her perfect soul mate. However, she finds a deep connection with Helen, her polar opposite. Helen is a free-thinking, bicurious woman who is dating several men. Where Jessica is frozen in her decision-making, Helen jumps first and looks for the net later. A personal ad and a few meetings bring them together to create a quasi-lesbian relationship, despite misgivings from Jessica's side. However, Helen challenges Jessica's notions, yet loves her unconditionally (this echoes Jane Austen's idea of romance and is always a winning combo in rom coms).

Much of the movie follows Jessica through her journey of acceptance and change in her notions of who her true love will look like. However, what I love about this movie is that Jessica's eventual acceptance of Helen in her life completely is not the end of the story. Like Hedwig, there's another story going on in the background: her love/hate relationship with her boss and ex-boyfriend Josh. A comment Josh makes to her is what precipitates her push towards Helen. Jessica and Josh are affected by one another more than each wants to admit. In a very telling scene, Jessica and Helen have dinner with Jessica's parents only to find her mother has invited Josh and an eligible bachelor for Jessica to meet (Jessica's mother unaware her daughter is dating Helen.) When the rather charmless bachelor announces he works as a systems analyst for IBM, both Josh and Helen say in unison, "Jessica hates computers." This scene reveals that Josh and Jessica connection.

Finally, at the height of Helen and Jessica's relationship, Josh reveals his undying love for Jessica. Jessica is noticeably torn but stays with Helen. However, Jessica's relationship with Helen is never perfect and eventually falls apart. Jessica finds peace with herself and has Helen as her best friend. With her new found liberation, Josh magically reappears in her life. The movie's plot arc leaves you with a lot to chew on: so who is Jessica's soul mate? Someone might argue it's Josh, but without Helen, would Jessica ever be ready for Josh's love? The fact that both are in Jessica's life may indicate that indeed it is really both of them are Jessica's soul mates.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Princess Leia Tells All

In her memoir Wishful Drinking, Carrie Fisher writes about the rather sad story of Charles II of Spain. Charles was the last Habsburg King of Spain whose family had spent generations intermarrying in order to maintain the royal line. He was so inbred that his grandmother was also his aunt. Consequentially, Charles was born with several disabilities, including a tongue so large he could not speak or chew. He was severally mentally and physically disabled, and prone to frequent seizures. Carrie likens herself to Charles II, as the daughter, stepdaughter, and wife of celebrities, she is truly the product of Hollywood inbreeding. Or as Carrie tells her daughter Billie when she starts dating Elizabeth Taylor's grandson, "You two are related by scandal."

Such is the tone of Carrie's memoir, which is based on her one woman show of the same name. If you are looking for some deep insight of what life was like growing up the daughter of Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, then you need to find another book. Carrie doesn't take herself too seriously. The book is very frank and really no one is safe. Besides her famous parents, she talks about the exes: her ex-stepmother Liz Taylor, her ex-stepfather Harry Karl, and even her ex-husbands Paul Simon and Bryan Lourd. She also devotes a chapter to Star Wars (which one of friends cleverly points out should of been the title of the movie about her parents' marriage.)

Carrie's life has taken some surreal turns. She opens the book talking about her best friend for many years, R. Gregory Stevens, a Republican adviser who was openly gay. He died in 2005 after taking a large dose of Oxycontin and falling asleep. In her bed. While Carrie was sleeping next to him. Another example: when Carrie was in the throws of her drug and alcohol addiction, her mother calls a family friend with some experience with drugs issues to counsel her. That family friend was Cary Grant.

I'm an unusual fan of Carrie's; I saw Postcards from the Edge long before I saw Star Wars. She also did this weird interview show where she would do these Barbara Walters-style interviews (but much more frenetic than Barbara) which always engrossed me. Anyway, if you are even mildly curious what Princess Leia has to say, I would recommend picking it up. I'll end with my favorite quote from the book, "If my life wasn't funny it would just be true, and that is unacceptable."

Friday, July 2, 2010


I am truly sorry for the lack of updates these past two weeks. I had my computer crash on me and I was finishing some work for a class I was taking. Hopefully, I won't let the blog sit that long again.

Recently, I was trying to decide what I was going to read (I am almost always reading something) and I rediscovered Rue McClanahan's 2007 memoir My First Five Husbands... I know many people dislike reading any book twice. However, I find it comforting to read a book I enjoyed again, like watching a movie you love but seen 50 times or listening to a song on repeat. Often times, I pick up on things I missed the first time around. Sometimes, it also serves as a good distraction when I want to read something but not necessarily put my full resources into it.

It was very sad to me when Rue passed away a few months ago. I, of course, loved her as Golden Girl Blanche but I also loved her recent work with Del Shores in Sordid Lives: The Series. Strangely, rereading My First Five Husbands... it felt I was visiting an old friend.

As the title suggests, Rue did have five ex-husbands (actually she was married to husband #6 when she died). Her stories of marriage are almost worth the price of the book alone. Husbands #1, #3, and #4 come across very badly, while she seemed to still have genuine affection still for #2 and #5. Husbands 3 and 4 didn't even get names in the book! #3 is "The Italian" in the book and #4 is "The Greek." However, Husband #2 was a good friend of hers she felt pressured by her family after her 1st husband flew the coop and left her with a son to raise. She said she was never really in love with him, but they remained friends until he passed away (They even had an open marriage!). Husband #5 was actually her high school sweetheart who she married in haste only to realize it was a huge mistake a year later.

Besides talk of various husbands and boyfriends over the years, the book talks about her journey from a small town in Oklahoma to a respected actress of stage and television. She mentions the people who were important to her throughout her life, and how they impacted her life. She also dishes a little on her life on The Golden Girls set. With the GG stuff, she strikes a very interesting balance: she definitely tries very hard not to bad mouth any of her c0-stars. On the other hand, she also makes it very clear that the four ladies were not close friends off stage. For instance, she said the only party off set that she, Betty and Bea would attend together was Estelle's annual birthday party.

So if you love The Golden Girls and are looking for a little light summer reading, I would wholeheartedly recommend My First Five Husbands....