Smith LOVES fags

Gay-friendly filmmaker Kevin Smith Phelps-bashes with his  satiric horror film ‘Red State’

THE HORROR | In ‘Red State,’ a family of homophobic, kidnapping maniacs get their comeuppance.

RED STATE
Texas Theatre, 231 W. Jefferson Ave. Sept. 25, 6 p.m. $20.
TheTexasTheatre.com

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Kevin Smith threw fans and critics a curveball with Red State, his horror satire about three teenagers kidnapped by a murderous Fred Phelps-esque religious fundamentalist and his virulently homophobic clan (Melissa Leo plays its matriarch). It represents a major stylistic and genre departure from Smith’s largely comic repertoire including Clerks and Zack and Miri Make a Porno.

Smith confounded the film industry with Red State’s distribution scheme, choosing to take it on a national roadshow tour (with premium ticket prices); it plays, with Smith participating in a live online Q&A, at the Texas Theater on Sunday.

The dependable ally of the LGBT community — “I’ve got a brother who’s been married to the same dude for 20 years, I work in Hollywood so I’m surrounded by the gay community and I’ve always said I’m one cock in the mouth shy of being gay myself,” the bearish Smith has noted — executive produced queer-themed documentaries, Small Town Gay Bar and Bear Nation, and currently spends time interacting with fans of all sexualities via SModcast.com.

— Lawrence Ferber

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Dallas Voice: Why such a dark film, Kevin? What was its genesis?  Kevin Smith: It was a bunch of factors. I saw Michael Parks in From Dusk Till Dawn in 1995 and the dude blew me away. He was onscreen the first five or ten minutes and he’s making choices I’ve never seen any other actor make. He’s the truth. I said, “My God, I’ve got to work with that dude one day.” It took me 15 years to figure out what that would be because I didn’t want to get in touch with him and say, “Hey, man, you want to play Silent Bob’s grandfather?”

Cut to years later, my friend Malcolm Ingram makes Small Town Gay Bar. It’s about a gay bar in Mississippi and how tough it can be in a community where nobody really wants you there. In the midst of it, Malcolm speaks with Fred Phelps. Malcolm sat with the beast, had an hour interview with him and sent me the footage, and he came across as terrifying to me. This dude is a fucking villain. He looks like a grandpa or uncle and speaks with all the homespun gee-shucks-isms, and then the content of what he says … that’s what’s bracing. It’s all hate, divisive, God-hates-this-and- that, and very anti-gay. I don’t think you have to be gay to be offended by that sort of thing, to find someone like Phelps and his backwards fucking family deplorable. And you don’t have to be gay to want to do something about it. I can’t stop them from speaking but I can go out there and do to them what they do to Matthew Shepard’s family and soldiers coming home from Iraq. They essentially stand there holding a sign and make them feel like shit. So this is my version of standing there holding a sign and making the Phelpses feel like shit.

Is there any concern this would inspire the Phelps family to get a cache of weapons together? Oh God, no! I mean, I don’t think those people are violent in the very least. This movie isn’t them. We tee off on them. It’s a satirical take on them. One of their kids told me they pray for the deaths of others, but they would never do that kind of thing.

You had a pretty great counter-protest at Sundance. I saw that one of your group’s signs said Dick Tastes Yummy. That was fun, watching people’s creativity sparked by these animals. A bunch of kids who go to high school there in Park City, Utah, heard about the Phelpses coming to protest us and came out to counter-protest. These kids were holding up signs like God Hates Homework. One dude had a sign that said Why Did They Cancel Pushing Daisies? That one fucking blew my mind. That’s how you shatter a monster’s brain: You hold up a mirror. What they’re doing is ridiculous, dude, so when you show up and counter them with ridiculous shit like Thor Hates Straights and God Hates Rainy Days and Mondays, you defang them. That’s what Red State is. I can’t stop them from saying what they’re gonna say, “Believe” — I can’t and don’t want to; that’s freedom in this country. But if they’re going to make other people’s lives miserable, that’s what Red State is. And whenever they talk about the movie you can tell it bugs them. They stopped digging the fucking attention because we held up a mirror.

I read that you actually provided tickets to some members of the Phelps clan for one of the roadshow’s screenings and they walked out. Yeah, in Kansas City. I’m sitting there watching [the movie with the audience] and seven minutes in I get tapped on my fucking shoulder. I turn around and it’s Megan Phelps [Fred’s 26-year-old granddaughter] and I’m startled because you never want to see a Phelps that close. And she goes, “Oh, Kevin, this is filthy… but we just wanted to give you a gift before we get out of here.” At that moment for a brief second I was waiting for the gun to come flashing out like, “The gift is God’s mighty bullets!” But they handed me two protest posters. One said God Hates Fag Enablers — that’s what they’ve called me many times. The other was a bit more abstract, very fucking strange. They took our title treatment from the Red State poster and put it on a sign and it said simply, Red State Fags, and they all signed it, like they were members of a baseball team or cast in a movie. Megan wrote, “See you in hell… not really because I’m not going there and you are.”

How kind of them! What did you do with it? My wife goes, “You’re throwing that out;” I said, “You’re out of your fucking mind! I worked hard for this, I fought these fucking monsters for a year! This is a trophy, like Batman’s giant penny in the Batcave!” She’s like, “Well, you can’t let the kid see it.” My kid don’t know nothing from hate. We live in L.A. and there’s a hell of a lot of liberalism and tolerance out here. There is no difference between gay and straight, there’s no negativity to her. So we unloaded the bus after we got home from the tour and there it is staring at us in the face, Red State Fags. My kid stares at this poster and my wife is looking at me like, “You fucking idiot, I knew something like this would happen.” And our daughter turns to us and goes, “What is this? The sequel?”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 23, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Queen lantern

tube-1Texas native Zimmer Barnes is a real-life crime-fighter, bringing gay bashers to justice in the HBO doc ‘Superheroes’

Last year’s film Kick-Ass saw a high school comic book nerd don an improvised superhero outfit and take to the streets to fight crime (albeit, as the title indicates, getting his ass kicked plenty in the process). This year’s satirical movie comedy Super also saw an ordinary schlub take matters (and a wrench) into his own home-made costumed hands, playing heroic vigilante Crimson Bolt, with a psychotic Ellen Page as sidekick to boot.

However, director Michael Barnett and openly gay producer Theodore James learned that the concept of everyday folk taking to the streets as real-life crime fighters and altruistic guardians of justice isn’t altogether fictitious: There are several hundred real-life superheroes registered in online communities, almost a dozen of whom are profiled in the documentary, Superheroes, which debuts on HBO Monday.

One of the crime-fighters profiled is openly gay Zimmer Barnes, aka Zimmer, a member of the Brooklyn-based “fantastic foursome” New York Initiative (NYI), which is seen in the documentary attempting to bait and get righteous on local homophobes, helping patch up accident victims (Zimmer’s day job is as an EMT) and stop a would-be drunk— and we’re talking seriously wasted —  driver from getting behind the wheel.

Born in Victoria, Texas, in 1988, and having attended high school in Austin between 2003–06, Zimmer moved to Brooklyn in 2009 to form the NYI with roommates T.S.A.F, Z, and Lucid.

Zimmer spoke by phone about being part of the documentary, how this real-life superhero movement started (it was a group of LGBTs!), and whether “it gets better” when you fight back with a costumed alter-ego.

— Lawrence Ferber

tube-2
FETISH FOR JUSTICE | Zimmer, left, teams with other members of New York Initiative, though he refuses to wear a mask — he’s out of the closet, he says, why go back in by pretending to be someone else?

Dallas Voice: When did you first get inspired to become Zimmer the superhero? What triggered the epiphany? Zimmer: I read a news article in 2003 or so about another crime fighter, Terrifica. She’d been date-raped and didn’t want any woman to suffer that ordeal, so she would go into bars and interfere with guys trying to pick up drunk girls. She would get in the way and tell the guy, “This girl isn’t going home with you,” and she would do this in a gold sequined mask and red cape. She’d give that woman every chance she could to get away and in one interview, she said a lot of times girls would say, “I’m not being taken advantage of, I want to do this,” and then she would give them a condom and say, “At least make a bad decision not be a worse decision,” and leave them alone. That was amazing to me. In her spare time she was doing this incredible thing and that really resonated with me, and there were a lot of people doing their own thing in every corner of the world and it was something I wanted to be a part of.

How did you and the NYI become part of Superheroes? We were getting some media requests and turned down a lot of them. But I agreed to sit down with [the producers, Theodore James and Mike Barnett] and they convinced me they had good intentions. We met at a coffee shop in Brooklyn and at one point I left Mike and T.J. to talk amongst themselves, but what they didn’t know was that my NYI colleagues were sitting behind them listening to what they were saying. We learned that even when they had the opportunity to talk behind my back they didn’t say anything negative. So that’s the reason we decided to do the documentary.

What was the actual shooting process like, and what sort of accommodations did you have to make to let them bring cameras along on patrols and fag basher-baiting operations? We weren’t always patient with that process, but Mike was really innovative. His approach and how he was going to shoot these un-shootable scenes, it worked out for the best. There’s something actually called a HeroCam — it’s a waterproof HD cam — I had that on a chest strap for a lot of missions. It’s just about the size of a pager or cell phone. It was a unique experience.

What sorts of things didn’t make it into the documentary and what else is NYI up to these days? A lot of stuff ended up on the editing room floor. We do a lot of outreach to homeless organizations — there’s a tunnel people live underneath in the Bronx and we brought supplies to them, but that didn’t make it in. Because in New York it gets freezing during winter, we try to collect and hoard blankets and medical supplies throughout spring and fall and when it gets cold we try to hand out all that stuff. Today the NYI is undergoing several missions protecting the West Village from muggers and providing self-defense information and outreach to sex workers. We’ve got exciting stuff in the works but I can’t talk about it yet.

How does your being gay fit in to your being a superhero? In the documentary you say something to the tune of you choose not to wear a mask because you don’t want to be closeted.  I don’t think it fits in a huge way. It’s never been a secret. I came out in high school. I didn’t necessarily want to be an embodiment or speak for an entire community but it’s something I’ve never made a secret of.

How would you feel about a gay teen who takes on school bullies and fag bashers a la Kick-Ass instead of just the pacifistic ‘It Gets Better’ approach? While everyone’s situation is different, I strongly recommend to anyone who might be a victim of violence to have a strong education in self-defense. I’ve broken up dozens of fights and defended myself from blows without ever having to throw a punch — so far, anyway. But that doesn’t mean I don’t practice. Speak respectfully and pack a knock-out punch.

Which comic book superhero do you feel is the most inspiring for LGBTs? Chris Claremont’s 1970–80s run on X-Men is a great read for anyone feeling different or an outcast. There’s a lot to be said for geek culture being ahead of the curve, and Claremont really nails it on diversity as a strength, not a weakness. If you want to read greatly written LGBT characters, I highly recommend Ed Brubaker’s and Will Pfeifer’s run on Catwoman as well as Gail Simone’s Secret Six.

Are other LGBT people doing what you’re doing? Yeah, there are. The earliest [superhero group] we know of was actually a gay and lesbian group in San Francisco, the Lavender Panthers. There was a lot of gay bashing going on, and [a gay Pentecostal Evangelist named] Rev. Ray Broshears was being harassed. The police didn’t do anything so they formed their own group and looked around for gay-bashings and handled it. It’s not something I would believe, it sounds like a comic book, but Time Magazine did an article on these guys in 1973. They were around before the Guardian Angels. As far as I know they were the original group.

Do your friends and family know about your alter-ego? I don’t have an alter-ego: Zimmer is my real first name. I don’t have a lot of secrets with friends. My friends are pretty weird. My mother is an attorney and her mother was a police officer, so criminal justice as a career is part of the family. I think my mom was supportive of it.

And boyfriends? I was dating during the course of making the documentary. We broke up and [my work as a ­superhero] was one of the reasons why. They were really worried about what I was doing and the more dangerous aspects.

And what do you want people who watch Superheroes to come away from the experience with? I want people to realize that even a single person’s effort and passion can make a huge impact. There’s something exciting about using your time and energy to help other people.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

A fuel-injected ‘Drag Race’

START YOUR ENGINES | Ru says being an ‘introverted extrovert’ is part of the secret weapon to a fabulous career.

RuPaul says sleep deprivation may be key to bitchy success as a Racer

RELATED STORY: Dallas’ Shangela is 1st returning contestant

LAWRENCE FERBER  | Contributing Writer
lawrencewferber@hotmail.com

On Monday, the third season of Logo’s hit RuPaul’s Drag Race exits the gate at full speed with a 90-minute premiere, and it’s running on some seriously premium fuel this year: Fiercer contestants, more elaborate challenges, higher profile guest judges (including Lily Tomlin, Margaret Cho and Chloe Sevigny) and the return of a Texas fave from last season.

Yet again ruling the proceedings, both in and out of drag, is superstar drag persona RuPaul. Ru, who has a new album due later this spring, sat down to dish about contestants old and new, the effects of sleep deprivation on drag queens (hint: emotional breakdowns) and what else is in the works for him.

Dallas Voice: What do you make of season three’s group of contestants and how do they differ from their predecessors? RuPaul: The honest to God truth, they’re so much more skilled, and also on an even-keeled level. These kids came with their A-game like I’ve never seen before. I don’t know if it’s our casting or what’s happening with the girls out there since the show debuted, but these kids are skilled. And the bonds they forged early on with each other is probably the most amazing element.

Yet again the first challenge is a photo shoot with Mike Ruiz. Do you forgive Mike Ruiz for his ridiculous hair on The A-List New York? It looked like a bowl of lubed squid ink pasta.  Ha! I’ve heard people talk about it. But I don’t know because I’ve never seen it. That’s funny!

Tell us some dishy behind-the-scenes factoid about season 3. Well, we’re working on so little sleep, the schedule is so fast because we’re basically shooting every day. It’s tough, grueling. So these kids come on the show and think, “I’m fierce and bad,” but can you do it day-in, day-out, for 15-hours per day? It may look like everyone’s relaxed, but nobody’s getting any sleep at all.

One typically isn’t very detail-oriented when sleep deprived. No, they’re not, and they’re drawing on a lifetime of experience because this show’s challenges are based on things I had to do on a daily basis in my own career. Anyone in the business has to be multi-tasking and wear a lot of hats. You can’t just be good at one thing. We do something, Queens in Space, where the kids shoot competing trailers for a sci-fi movie and it is hilarious. Most people think, “I can do this,” but you have to come with some acting skills, the ability to take direction. Our challenges put them through it, they really do.

Did the selection process change this season, or was there a shift in emphasis as far as the kinds of queens you looked for? Aside from the surprise 13th contestant, no one from Texas this year — last year there were three! It doesn’t change. The truth is we’re looking for showgirls. We want girls who work at doing drag for money, for a career. The things we ask them to do, a novice wouldn’t be able to. We’re looking for them to be marketing execs, managers, designers, strategists, performers, models, you name it. And the novice wouldn’t be able to do that. They’d buckle. And throw in the sleep deprivation and schedule, and you have to be in it to win it. This can’t be something you do on the side.

One contestant buckles under the pressure and breaks down in the first episode. Did that happen a lot, and how do you typically respond to it? They definitely break down because of sleep deprivation. Emotions are very fragile because they’re in a new environment, we’re putting them through the paces, and I have to give them pep talks from time to time: This is your opportunity, the world is watching. You can’t say, oh, I feel like I didn’t get my chance. Well kiddo, you are on now. You are on. There are no second chances — you have to bring it. Maybe you’ll get another chance somewhere else, but it’s time now.

How much do you miss saying Pan-dor-a Boxx? I miss [all the former contestants], actually, because even before they’re on the show, we’re living with audition tapes. We’re moving around who will work with whom. It’s a lot like casting a play: We have to have the sassy one, the ingénue, the sweet one, and sometimes the person in the role of the sweet one gets swapped out for someone else who works better in the ensemble, so we are actually living and loving and feeling these girls way before they even get to Hollywood, and then when they’re dismissed it’s heartbreaking to me. But I also know that they will come back. In some other form or show that we do, on the club circuit. I will see them again.

How has this show changed your life since its premiere? Well, I pretty much have to stay in L.A. For almost 30 years I’ve had a nightclub act I performed around the world constantly. Now the last gig I did was October 2009. With both shows it’s really kept me here in L.A. working, though I love L.A. I’m also an introvert masquerading as an extrovert, so I’ve had to spend a lot more time with people than I normally do!

What other projects are in the works? I’m writing a sequel to [my 2007 film] Starrbooty. The challenge is I want to do it G-rated but nastier, more subversive. In the immortal words of Elvira, there’s nothing wrong with G-rated movies as long as there’s lots of gratuitous sex and violence.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 21, 2011.

—  John Wright

Two spirits

Trans singer Antony Hegarty talks up gloom in his essays and on his band’s latest CD

LAWRENCE FERBER  | Contributing Writer lawrencewferber@hotmail.com

Antony Hegarty
STARE OFF | Antony Hegarty is quite comfortable discussing his own death in his book ‘Swanlights,’ also the name of the latest CD from his band of Antony and the Johnsons.

Antony Hegarty wants you to gut him with sticks.

In “Wild Life,” the essay that closes his art book, Swanlights (a companion to his new album of the same name), the transgender-identified musician with Antony and the Johnsons reveals a deep connection to the earth, nature and environment and detachment from the industrialized, Judeo-Christian society at large. That includes a description of the way he wishes to go.

“I don’t want your future,” the U.K.-born, NYC-based Hegarty writes. “I hope when I die, that I never return to your world. I will go where the trees go, where the wind goes… I will leave you all to enjoy the world that you are creating for your children. I want then to be a dead body at the bottom of the lake. Gut me with sticks and stuff my body with lavender crystals.”

Brave, vulnerable and profound, Swanlights features collages, illustrations, poetry and manipulated found items, while the album boasts 11 tracks of beauteously moving, haunting vocals and arrangements, including a duet with Bjork, “Flétta.”
Hegarty discussed the book/album, just how eccentric Bjork is and the process of writing about your own death.

Dallas Voice: Where does the word “swanlights” come from? Hegarty: I kind of made it up. To me it’s a suggestion of a reflection of a spirit on the surface of water at night. Almost like the reflection of a ghost on a lake. The spirit or energy jumping out of a body, you know? I know it’s kind of high-falutin’.

You released an EP in late August, Thank You For Your Love. What are the biggest differences between the EP and Swanlights? The EP is like a little sorbet or something. It’s not that thematically connected to the album, except I did this one cover of [John Lennon’s] “Imagine.” Really the album wrestles a lot with a sense of hopelessness but also carrying a sense of joy as well.

How does Swanlights differ most from your previous efforts like 2005’s I Am a Bird Now? What sort of evolution does it represent?  I feel like the work is the most volatile and expressive to date. I’ve always sort of threaded my own stories through creative imaginative narratives. When you’re making work it’s always a combination of personal and imaginative things and just dreams. The album is actually the most broad, sonically. Usually I edit things down within an inch of their life, tightly composed, and this one is more open, a little bit rougher, organic. A collage of ideas. It was almost put together like a collage and the visual part of the work and album are of equal weight to me.

Swanlights’ lyrics talk about surreal, ethereal things like the “salt mother” and ghosts. There’s a spirit glow to everything. I’ve been spending so much time researching indigenous cultures, especially for instance the “two spirit” tradition in Native American culture, which affords a privileged seat for the transgender members of their community — a creative, shamanistic seat. I was really inspired by that. Generally speaking, the last few years I’ve separated myself completely from Judeo-Christian models of thinking, although I do still use some of that imagery in the songs. But I’m more interested in spiritual, theological systems and those emerge more from indigenous cultures. The Native Americans are so beautiful. I love this Cherokee thing called The Seven Generation Principle. You don’t employ any technology or development that you can’t promise will positively affect seven generations of people. Can you imagine such a principle governing our developmental affairs in this world today? It’s such a good healthy tenet for creating a sustainable world and it’s something we’ve gotten so far away from.

How sincere are you in the essay about not wanting to be part of our world and just be found dead in the lake? It’s totally sincere. I think the essay is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever put forward and it makes me feel quite vulnerable. There’s something witchy about that essay that made me uncomfortable because it expresses a kind of hopelessness, but I think a lot of people in their hearts of hearts are feeling a bit hopeless right now. So it was in service to that I decided to go forward and express myself quite vividly. It’s not an endpoint. It’s another point in surrender to figure out what I can in fact impact and what is the source of my life and of my joy. This constantly changing thing, which is the experience of living.

There are a number of photos of dead animals in the book. What’s the story behind that? Yes, definitely images of animals that have been slain. There’s a whole series in the book called “Cut Away the Bad” which is about taking a picture of a circumstance or situation and the energy is out of balance or some crisis is unfolding and try to repair it visually, first by removing corrupted elements. There are pictures of animals that have been hunted or killed and the first thing I did was pick out the parts of the hunter and try and restore the integrity of the animal, give it space to die with some dignity. I know it seems almost futile, but it’s a catalyst for a feeling someone can influence things on a spirit level. Also I’ve been preoccupied with the idea we’re in the midst of a massive extinction event in the world today and some of the animals, especially the big mammals, are really disappearing. Sort of a good time to be aware of all these other species and be dreaming for them.

You’ve been very outspoken about being transgender in mainstream interviews around the world. Have you detected any sort of shift in your career or life as a result? I don’t know. I haven’t been measuring the response and I don’t think I ever didn’t use that way to describe myself. I feel a responsibility to be honest about it mostly for the sake of other transgender people. Also, especially in regards to this body of work I like the idea of a kind of feral, empathic connection with the world around you. It’s the nature of the transgender person just on account of their increased sensitivity to their environment.

How did the Bjork duet come about? We did [her song “Dull Flame of Desire”] at the same time we did the recording for her album Volta. I wrote it for her and we were doing a lot of vocal improvisation and she came up with her response to the piano track. It was very organic and I asked her if I could do this for my record and she was into it. It wasn’t even planned. It was just something we did.

Is Bjork as eccentric as she’s been parodied to be? She’s definitely a dreamer. I don’t really think of her as an eccentric, but then I may not be the best person to talk to about it. I like people who are interested in exploring themselves and their creative world. For me that feels normal.

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‘Swan’ songs: Antony & the Johnsons get (mostly) happy on latest album

Listening to Antony Hegarty can be an enlightening experience. The usual go-to with him is his unique voice, one not to be ignored: That haunting quality is like nothing else in music now. He works a trembling vibrato to no end against a texture of apropos songs that are dreamy and ethereal. Sometimes, there’s just too much of that. But Hegarty and his band straddle the line this time with Swanlights.

A & the J sway between despairing songs of death and uppish tunes celebrating love. That dichotomy is expressed completely, but boringly, in the opener “Everything is New.” Dancing lightly on the piano, it’s more of the expectedly moody tone, but the piano and strings get aggressive offering hope. The lyrics are simply a repeated title track with warbly moaning and ultimately nothing new, but it may be a harbinger of songs to come.

When the band ventures into familiar territory, it’s always beautiful, but their weepy slow songs are never ballads — they are dirges. Sometimes, no matter how mopey, emo, goth you may be, funerals aren’t always a musical go-to. But the band pulls it off sublimely in “The Great White Ocean” where Hegarty sings of death and asks his family to join him. He boldly whines in lyrics like Swim with me my mother / When I dive into the ocean of death / I will cry if I am not with my family. Total buzzkill.

The bleakness returns after several tracks with “The Spirit is Gone.” Hegarty wails us into despair, yet we can’t tell if he’s singing about a person who’s passed or a relationship. His dreariness is confounding, yet he can still make it undeniably fascinating.

Where the album succeeds is in the happier moments. Not for mere sake of tone, but because they thrive here more than expected. The opening piano of “Ghost” is optimistic and they are shedding anchors of pain and misery. Perhaps here is the “new” part hinted by track one. “I’m In Love” is pop music that all radio bands could strive for. Delicate lyrics and distinct layers of instruments offer a true gem.

They go back to the mellow with the much hyped duet with Bjork on Fletta. Maybe because of her, it’s easy to pardon their usual frigid disposition. She takes the lead vocally where Hegarty seems to follow like a hungry kitten with only a piano that begins lightly as if it is skimming on water and then shifts up to punctuate the song. Now this is a ballad.

— Rich Lopez

Three stars

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 29, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas