The people’s diva

2 years after her Vegas show ended, Bette still proves that ‘The Showgirl Must Go On’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Bette Midler got her start working in New York City’s Continental Baths, the premier gay bathhouse in America at the time. Since then, she’s gotten two Oscar nominations, won four Grammys, three Emmys and a Tony, headlines huge films and audience-grabbing TV specials. But in reality, she’s still just the queen among the queens, camping it up with puns, sexual double entendres and swinging her rack around like a mink stole at a debutante ball. She may be on the Vegas stage with a 13-piece orchestra and throngs of adoring middle-ages couples, but the act is pure late-night drag club.

That’s probably what has attracted the gays to Bette since her earliest days.

We love Liza, care for Cher, bow to Barbra and go gaga for Gaga, but Bette?

She’s still one of us. Fabulous … well, as fabulous as we imagine ourselves to be.

For two years, Bette played the Palace — Caesar’s Palace on the Vegas Strip — with The Showgirl Must Go On, her paean to corny glamour. It’s been nearly two years since the show closed, but you can finally see it with the DVD release. And it’s exactly what you think it will be.

La Bette has always known her base, so she gives shoutouts to “the gays,” who have always appreciated that  she proudly pioneered the “trashy singers with big tits” trend — drag queens with real-girl parts. She’s not letting go of the honor easily. Vegas is a good fit for that, trafficking as it does in that sheen of tinsel and cheap glam — headdresses, scanty costumes (frequently changed), garish lighting and plenty of dazzle alongside the razzle.

Slickly filmed and fast-paced (aside from a quirky intro involving a twister that makes no sense), it’s a dazzling document of the Divine Miss M’s great gifts as a comedian and performer.

Her voice is still in fine shape, from “Friends” (the song that launched her to her first Grammy) through the inescapable tearjerker “From a Distance” (her fourth Grammy), with new arrangements of classics like “Do You Want to Dance” and “The Rose” that are true to the originals without being carbon copies. That almost makes up for the one-liners she does as her alter-ego “Sophie” — Bette admits she’s been telling them for 40 years, but we’ve laughed just as long.

True enough. That’s probably why we like her so much. We both get each other.

Available on DVD and Blu-ray Tuesday.

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QUEER CLIPS: ‘RESTLESS,’ ‘LOVE CRIME’

7Restless is, at heart, a comedy, but it’s from director Gus Van Sant, so don’t expect an easy comedy. Enoch (Henry Hopper) is an orphan who crashes funerals; at one, he meets Annabel (Mia Wasikowska), a quirky naturalist who seems as curious as he seems withdrawn. But while Enoch is haunted by the ghost of a Japanese Kamikaze pilot, Annabel has her own demons.

Any other director would almost certainly have turned Restless into a maudlin tearjerker (even the disrespectfully crass Judd Apatow made the mawkish disaster Funny People). But Van Sant operates on about two settings: Crazy genius (Milk, To Die For, Drugstore Cowboy) and disastrous boondoggle (his misguided Psycho remake) …. though he throws some impenetrable art films in as well (Gerry, Elephant, Last Days). Restless is really none of those, though it is very good — a lighthearted look at death that never seems off-beat for its own sake. Wasikowska and Hopper, below, make a charming couple, cool but authentic, and its disarming undermining of the cliches of a doomed romance elevate it. It’s overstating to call it a feel-good movie, but you walk away refreshed, as much by the moviemaking as by the story.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Three and a half stars.
Now playing at the Angelika Film Center Mockingbird Station.

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Still1Love Crime opens with Christine (Kristin Scott Thomas, right) and her assistant, Isabelle (Ludivine Sagnier). But this work session isn’t at the office; it’s at Christine’s home with the boss being flirtatious, giving her wine and gifts.

In an American movie there’d be a sexual harassment suit in the offing, but Love Crime is French so this will lead to more  — or less.  We learn that neither woman is exclusively lesbian because both sleep with men — the same man Philippe (Patrick Mille) in one instance — though not at the same time.  Isabelle even asks Philippe what Christine’s like in bed.

The women work in the Paris office of an American company.  What begins as a tale of corporate and romantic intrigue takes a deadly turn.  The less you know going in the better.  Just let the story unfold deliciously, because you’re in the capable hands of the late writer-director Alain Corneau.

Corneau admitted he didn’t know if the women have a physical relationship, but Christine is obviously using sex to manipulate Isabelle.  When she gets the younger woman to say “I love you,” the impact is like a vampire biting its victim’s neck.

Love Crime is a mystery Hitchcock would have been proud of.  Sagnier even looks like a Hitchcock blonde as she gives what must be the widest-ranging female performance of the year, and possibly the best.

Lesbian or not, it would be a crime to miss this one.

— Steve Warren

Three stars.
Now playing at Landmark’s Magnolia Theatre.

 

—  Kevin Thomas

Gay filmmakers need help funding films

Ash Christian, the Texas-bred filmmaker who recently debuted his latest underground comedy, Mangus!, at the Dallas International Film Festival, could use your help. His third film as a director is already in the can, but he has one as a producer that still needs help getting off the ground. Continental is a documentary about New York’s Continental Baths, the gay bathhouse where Better Midler and Barry Manilow got their starts. (You can see a video of Bette performing there in 1971 by clicking here.) The film is being directed by documentarian Malcolm Ingram, whom we have also written about.

“We are raising our modest production budget for the documentary via Kickstarter and private equity and I genuinely believe this is an important story to be told while the players are still alive and wanting to talk.” Christian says. “It is very important that we reach our goal in a timely fashion or we don’t get any of the funds already donated.” He’d also accept a bigger private equity investment from someone with the bucks, but even a $10 donation would be appreciated.

You can donate by clicking here.

Ash isn’t the only filmmaker trying to raise money this way for a documentary. Quentin Lee, whose charming romantic comedy The People I’ve Slept With played at the Asian Film Festival of Dallas last year, is trying to raise $3,800 to complete his documentary short,  A Woman Called Canyon Sam, about America’s first Asian American lesbian activist. He’s also using Kickstart to get the money flowing.

You can see the trailer below, or donate by going here.

A Woman Named Canyon Sam Kickstarter Campaign from People Pictures on Vimeo.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

DA Craig Watkins says Club Dallas charges were dismissed based on U.S. Constitution

On Wednesday we reported that charges have now been dismissed or rejected against all 11 men arrested in the Dallas Police Department’s October raid of The Club Dallas, a gay bathhouse in Deep Ellum.

Today, Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins for the first time publicly addressed the reasons behind his office’s dismissal of the charges, issuing a one-sentence statement.

“Based upon the U. S. Constitution and the applicable Texas statute, the elements of the offense were unprovable,” Watkins said.

Watkins didn’t specify which portion of the Constitution he was referring to, but undoubtedly it’s the right to privacy.

Seven of the men were charged with public lewdness, which is defined as sexual intercourse or sexual contact in a public place. However, defense attorneys have raised questions about whether the confines of the Club Dallas are considered a public place under the law.

Three of the men were charged with indecent exposure, which is defined as exposing one’s genitals with the intent to arouse or gratify and in a manner that is “reckless about whether another is present who will be offended or alarmed …” But defense attorneys say it’s difficult to argue that sex in a bathhouse is recklessly offensive when all members typically sign waivers saying they acknowledge it takes place.

—  John Wright

DA’s office confirms that charges have been dismissed or rejected in all 11 Club Dallas cases

The Dallas County District Attorney’s Office has now dismissed or rejected charges against all 11 of the men arrested in a controversial police raid at a gay bathhouse in October.

Jamille Bradfield, a spokeswoman for the DA’s office, confirmed today that 10 of the cases have been dismissed, while one was rejected and therefore will not be filed.

Bradfield said District Attorney Craig Watkins was out of the office and unavailable for comment. Bradfield said it’s possible that Watkins will be available for comment Thursday about why the DA’s office chose not to prosecute the cases.

Watkins previously has declined to discuss the matter because some of the cases were still pending.

Defense attorneys have said they believe the cases were dismissed over questions about whether the bathhouse, Club Dallas on Swiss Avenue in Deep Ellum, is considered a public place. Court documents say only that the cases were dismissed “in the interest of justice.”

Ten of the 11 men were charged with public lewdness or indecent exposure after undercover officers observed them engaging in various sex acts inside the business. An employee was charged with interfering with police after he refused to allow uniformed officers into the club to execute the arrests.

Dallas police have said they conducted the raid, the first of its kind in recent memory, in response to a citizen complaint. But police officials have declined to comment on whether they’ll conduct vice operations at Club Dallas or other gay bathhouses in the future, given that the DA’s office dismissed the cases.

“The Dallas Police Department recently learned that many of the charges involving activities at The Club Dallas in October 2010 were dismissed,” DPD said in a statement last month. “The department plans to meet with the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office as soon as possible regarding these cases. The purpose of the meeting is to determine the cause of the dismissals, and to determine what, if any, procedural changes may be needed. An update will be provided following the meeting.”

—  John Wright

WATCH: David Kunkle at Stonewall Democrats

Former Dallas police chief and current mayoral candidate David Kunkle spoke briefly during a Stonewall Democrats of Dallas meeting at Ojeda’s on Tuesday night.

The most interesting thing Kunkle said during his two-and-a-half minute remarks, in my estimation, is that he’d be the city’s first mayor “probably since the ’70s who lives in a real Dallas neighborhood.”

“I live a block and half off Greenville Avenue, right off an entertainment district, in homes that were built in the mid-1920s generally, so I understand city services and some of the problems with them,” Kunkle said.

I’ve posted video of Kunkle’s speech in its entirety above, and as you can see he didn’t specifically address LGBT issues. But I did manage to hit Kunkle up for a few questions both before and after. (He didn’t take questions from the audience after speaking.)

—  John Wright

Charges dismissed in raid of gay bathhouse

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Online Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

Charges have been dismissed against most of the 11 men arrested for engaging in sex acts during a Dallas Police Department raid of The Club Dallas in October.

The Dallas County District Attorney’s Office confirmed this week that it dismissed charges against at least six of the men earlier this month. Defense attorneys for the men said they expected charges to be dismissed against the others soon.

DA  Craig Watkins didn’t elaborate on why his office chose not to prosecute the cases, citing the fact that charges against at least one of the men had not yet been dismissed.

“Due to the fact that these cases are so closely related, commenting on the dismissed cases would affect the prosecution of the pending case,” Watkins said in a statement.

David Hill, a defense attorney who represents nine of the 11 men, said charges were dismissed over questions about whether The Club Dallas is defined as a public place under Texas law. Seven of the men were charged with public lewdness, three were charged with indecent exposure, and one was charged with interfering with police.

“The issue relates to whether it’s a public versus private location, so you can imagine that the decisions and the conversations I had with them [prosecutors] hinged on that element,” Hill said Wednesday, Jan. 19. “After reviewing the cases, the District Attorney’s Office made a determination that it was in the best interest of justice to dismiss the cases.”

Hill commended the District Attorney’s Office for its decision. “They were willing to take the time to look at these cases with an open mind and make a determination after having done that,” he said.

Asked whether it’s safe for people to go to the gay bathhouses, Hill said he was reluctant to offer broad legal advice. “I think everyone has to make their own decision about their own personal conduct, but I would think that the decision regarding these cases would give people some comfort about that,” Hill said. “I don’t begin to assume what DPD is going to do in the future, but I would think the fact that the cases were filed, and the result that’s come about in this case, I’m sure they have other things they’d rather spend their resources on than purusing cases that may or may not get prosecuted.”

Neither DPD Chief David Brown nor LGBT liaison officer Laura Martin responded to requests for comment.

DPD’s vice unit has said it conducted the raid in response to a citizen complaint.

A co-owner of The Club Dallas declined to comment on the dismissal of the charges.

—  John Wright

Attorney: Charges dismissed over questions about whether gay bathhouse is a public place

The District Attorney’s Office is dismissing charges against 11 men arrested in an October raid of The Club Dallas over questions about whether the gay bathhouse in Deep Ellum is defined as a public place under Texas law, according to an attorney who represents nine of the defendants.

Seven of the defendants were charged with public lewdness, three were charged with indecent exposure, and one was charged with interfering with police after the Dallas Police Department’s vice unit raided the Swiss Avenue establishment on Oct. 8.

Public lewdness is defined as sexual intercourse or sexual contact in a public place. Indecent exposure is defined as exposing one’s genitals with the intent to arouse or gratify and in a manner that is “reckless about whether another is present who will be offended or alarmed …”

The defense attorney, David Hill, said he didn’t want to discuss the cases in great detail because charges against at least two of the men have not yet been dismissed. However, he said The Club Dallas has a certificate of occupancy from the city indicating that it’s a private facility.

“The issue relates to whether it’s a public versus private location, so you can imagine that the decisions and the conversations I had with them [prosecutors] hinged on that element,” Hill told Instant Tea on Wednesday. “After reviewing the cases, the District Attorney’s Office made a determination that it was in the best interest of justice to dismiss the cases.”

The District Attorney’s Office confirmed that charges have been dismissed against at least six of the men but declined to comment further.

“Due to the fact that these cases are so closely related, commenting on the dismissed cases would affect the prosecution of the pending case,” Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins said in a statement.

Hill commended the DA’s Office for its decision.

“They were willing to take the time to look at these cases with an open mind and make a determination after having done that,” he said.

Asked whether it’s safe for people to go to the bathhouses, Hill said he was reluctant to offer broad legal advice.

“I think everyone has to make their own decision about their own personal conduct, but I would think that the decision regarding these cases would give people some comfort about that,” Hill said. “I don’t begin to assume what DPD is going to do in the future, but I would think the fact that the cases were filed, and the result that’s come about in this case, I’m sure they have other things they’d rather spend their resources on than purusing cases that may or may not get prosecuted.”

—  John Wright

More on Club Dallas

We’re still trying to get in touch with someone at the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office to explain why prosecutors have chosen to dismiss charges against several of the men who were arrested in the Dallas Police Department’s raid of a gay bathhouse in October. However, it appears we are running into the same roadblock as the Dallas Morning News. The DMN reports that District Attorney Craig Watkins has designated one person to handle all media inquiries, and prosecutors in the DA’s office have been instructed not to talk to the media at all, and some fear getting fired if they do.

Anyhow, we’ve requested an interview with Watkins himself about the decision to dismiss the charges. The DA’s office’s media representative informs us that she’s passing along our request. It seems as though when the Dallas Police Department goes out of its way to raid a gay bathhouse and arrest 11 people — then the DA’s office declines to prosecute — there ought to be some sort of public explanation. The raid was hugely controversial in the gay community and made national news. We could speculate, as others have, that the DA’s Office believes these cases would be difficult to prove and doesn’t view them as a priority. Again, though, that’s speculation and hearsay — something prosecutors don’t typically like.

We also haven’t received any response from DPD as to what the department thinks about this decision by the DA’s office. We’ve spoken with both LGBT liaison officer Laura Martin and Chief David Brown himself, and both have promised to get back to us. Specifically, we’d like to know whether DPD plans to continue conducting these types of raids in the future knowing that the DA’s office isn’t going to prosecute those arrested. Imagine all the resources it took to plan and conduct the raid, then complete all the paperwork and book the 11 men into jail. And all for nothing, apparently. In extremely tight budget times, that shouldn’t sit well with anyone.

—  John Wright

Top 10: Rare bathhouse raid sparked controversy

No. 10:

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When Dallas vice officers raided The Club Dallas on Oct. 8 for the first time in recent memory, it made national news and gave rise to some conspiracy theories. Some said the raid was part of a city effort to shut down the gay bathhouse to make way for redevelopment around a new DART rail station, which sits directly adjacent to the 34-year-old establishment at 2616 Swiss Ave. in Deep Ellum. Others said the raid was politically motivated since it came just before a major election, as such crackdowns have historically tended to do. Still others, of course, felt it was an example of law enforcement targeting the gay community.

But the Dallas Police Department, in a rare statement issued by the vice unit several days later, said the raid was conducted in response to a complaint from a citizen. “The Dallas Police Department is charged with the duty of investigating, enforcing, and responding to citizen complaints regarding sexually oriented businesses throughout the city,” the statement read in part. “The Vice Unit is committed to being responsive to community concerns and thus, conducts its investigations in an equitable and just manner.”

Indeed, records obtained by Dallas Voice through a Freedom of Information request confirm that an unidentified person made a complaint to police about the club on Oct. 5. Three days later, on a Friday night, plainclothes vice officers purchased day memberships, rented private rooms and changed into towels. Then they went into the common areas of the business and observed patrons engaged in sex acts, according to police reports.

After uniformed officers were called in, police arrested seven patrons on charges of public lewdness and three on charges of indecent exposure. They also arrested a manager for interfering with police after he refused to let in the uniformed officers, who eventually forced open a door.

Club members and others accused the Police Department of harassment and intimidation. They also argued that raiding the gay bathhouse would only drive men looking for sex into parks and public restrooms.

The Club Dallas bailed its members out of jail and said it would provide attorneys.

Meanwhile, according to police records, the person who made the complaint called back on Oct. 13 and asked authorities to raid the business again. Despite the second complaint, vice officers haven’t returned to Club Dallas.

— John Wright

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 31, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

City asks AG’s office whether records related to raid of The Club-Dallas should be released

The city of Dallas has requested an opinion from the Office of the Attorney General of Texas as to whether the city must release records related to the Police Department’s Oct. 8 raid on The Club-Dallas, a gay bathhouse in Deep Ellum.

Dallas Voice has requested, under the Texas Public Information Act, all records related to the 11 arrests that occurred during the raid, as well as all documents related to a complaint DPD says was filed against The Club-Dallas by a citizen that led to the raid.

In a Nov. 2 letter to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott responding to the Voice’s request, Assistant City Attorney J. Middlebrooks wrote that parts of the requested information are protected from public disclosure. A full copy of the letter is below. The AG’s office has 45 days to issue a decision.

—  John Wright