Culture: Year in Review 2010

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | jones@dallasvoice.com

Jonathan_Blalock_as_Lazaro_and_Wes_Mason_as_Reinaldo_Arenas3
WHAT’S OPERA, DOC? ‘Before Night Falls,’ above, was one of two acclaimed operas (both by gay composers) to get their world premieres in North Texas in 2010.

While 2009 got a lot of the arts ink with the opening of the new performance spaces Downtown — which have turned out to be problematic behemoths with too many issues to name here — 2010 had its own highlights culturally (both high and low culture at that), especially those of relevance to the gay community.

While the Winspear Opera House itself continues to underwhelm with its limited restrooms, awkward configuration and confusing ergonomics, the world premiere of Jake Heggie’s opera Moby Dick turned out to be an artistic highlight of the year. Combining a massive set with video graphics, it may usher in a new technological advance to the venerable art form.

Over in Tarrant County, Fort Worth Opera general director Darren Woods helped cultivate his own world premiere, Jorge Martin’s Before Night Falls, based on queer poet Reinaldo Arenas’ memoir. It was shocking, frank and a promising addition to the canon.

As the Dallas Theater Center continues to toil in the cramped Chinese box that is the Wyly Theatre, Uptown Players held its first full season at the mostly vacated Kalita Humphreys Theater — making it truly an Uptown troupe now. The experiment proved so successful that not only was the entire season staged there, but 2011’s full season (with a few special events) will be there, too.

College student John Otte tried to put on an excerpted version of Terrence McNally’s controversial play Corpus Christi as part of a school project, but threats by others in the community led Otte to cancel his production. Threats were not able to derail several screenings — local and national — of Dallas filmmaker Israel Luna’s grindhouse revenge fantasy Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives, which caused a hoopla at the Tribeca Film Festival.

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X MARKS THE SPOT | Jorge Rivas’ Faces of Life photo exhibit seeks to raise money for AIDS Arms.

Jorge Rivas’ Faces of Life photographic venture took the concept of stylized photos that make a political and artistic statement — from PETA to NOH8 — and gave it a local angle, with dozens of Texans posing with oversized red ribbons to raise money and awareness for AIDS Arms.

Gay sports fans had a lot to cheer about this year, too. First, Uptown Vision’s TKO team took the top trophy at the gay softball World Series in Ohio this summer. Unrelatedly, but still impressively, the second annual NAGAAA Cup — a kind of prelim to the World Series — will be held in Dallas next spring. Major League World Series fans also got to see the Texas Rangers in their first bid ever, though they lost in the fifth game to San Francisco.

In the fall, the Dallas Diablos held the second HellFest rugby tourney and exceeded all expectations when teams from eight cities participated in an event everyone involved declared a success …. even the half-dozen escorted off the field in stretchers. Hey, it is rubgy.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Movie Monday: Heads will roll in ‘Machete’

‘Machete’ succeeds in B-movie glory

Some elitists used to think the ”B” in B-movie stood for bad.  Well, they weren’t out to win Oscars.  They were just lower-budgeted pictures without big stars and some of them were more fun than their more expensive brethren. Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez have made it their mission to bring back the Bs, bigger and better than ever.  The results have been mixed but still reach a pinnacle of sorts with Machete, expanded by Rodriguez and company from a fake trailer in the 2007 release of Grindhouse which featured a classic double-bill of Death Proof by Tarantino and Planet Terror by Rodriguez.

Like Russ Meyer’s films Machete works on two levels.  It has enough boobs and booms to please fans of cheap action movies, but others will see it as a hilarious spoof of that genre.  Like Avatar, it has a liberal political message that may go over conservative heads.

For the full review, click here.

DEETS: Machete starring Robert DeNiro, Jessica Alba, Danny Trejo. Rated R. 105 minutes. Now playing in wide release.

—  Rich Lopez

Peaches teaches

San Francisco drag diva and movie whore Josh Grannell aka Peaches Christ brings ‘4D’ movie experience to Dallas nightcrawlers

LAWRENCE FERBER  | Contributing Writer  lawrencewferber@hotmail.com

 Joshua Grannell as Peaches Christ
HORRORS! | Joshua Grannell (in Peaches Christ drag, above) gives scary-smart actress Natasha Lyonne, above right, a role to sink her teeth into.

ALL ABOUT EVIL
Inwood Theater,
5458 W. Lovers Lane.
Friday and Saturday at midnight. 214-764-9106

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Toss a wig and dress on a grindhouse cinema, add a large popcorn with plenty of camp and fake blood on top and you get Peaches Christ. The San Francisco drag star (alter ego of theater manager Joshua Grannell) is taking the world by storm with a 4D tour of her gory-campy feature debut, All About Evil.

Making a delectable comeback, Natasha Lyonne stars as Debbie Tennis, a mousy librarian who turns crazed, murderous exploitation filmmaker. Evil’s co-stars include established genre icons and young matinee idols alike: The Sarah Connor Chronicles’ hottie Thomas Dekker, Cassandra “Elvira” Peterson and Mink Stole.

Having gained notoriety at legendary S.F. clubs like Trannyshack and her own 12-year-old cult film series, Midnight Mass, Peaches Christ has now embarked on an old-school “William Castle-style” tour of the U.S. featuring live performances and appearances from the film’s stars and local celebs. To get the scoop on what to expect, plus the 411 on this soon-to-be cult-horror household name, we spoke with Peaches/Grannell.

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Dallas Voice: First, a couple of questions for Josh. For the uninitiated, who exactly is Peaches Christ? Grannell: Well, Peaches Christ is a deluded fan of all things cult movie and B-cinema, trashy old drive-in fare, and likens herself to being a cult leader: Silly, self-deprecating and a big dorky fan of movies and cult icons.

When was she created? I was at film school at Penn State University and making my senior thesis film, which was called ‘izzmopper: A Love Story, and there was a character in the movie who was a drag queen and ran a porn emporium. I loved drag — Divine, Elvira, Joan Crawford — and I wrote this character and the actor playing her was not really working out, so I was shoved into the wig and costume in order to save the movie. I make it sound like they held a gun to my head but I look back and wonder if I wanted to play this part all along.

Do people from outside of San Francisco get you confused with electroclash musician Peaches? Yes, people get confused. Right now in Germany she is doing a show called Peaches Christ Superstar. As if it was not bad enough! I’ve actually gotten to work with her and she’s awesome. I would love to do a duet someday and actually have a song to pitch to her when she’s ready.

OK, Peaches can come out now. You created and present the film event Midnight Mass in San Francisco, and of course Natasha’s character is movies-obsessed and runs a theater. So is All About Evil autobiographical? Peaches: Well, in a sense, yes. I really believe in doing whatever it takes to save neighborhood single screen movie theaters and this film is a way to describe what length we should be willing to go to save these cinemas — even if it involves criminal activity. You know, murder.

Is this a little like John Waters’ Cecil B. Demented? I think Cecil B. Demented was in line with Patty Hearst’s story, and ours is more like Female Trouble and Serial Mom. Because of the filmmaking aspect people think Cecil B. Demented, but it’s more about ego gone wild and a quest and desire for fame. Where sociopathic behavior seems completely appropriate. I love all of John Waters’ films. I grew up in Maryland, worshipping at the altar of Divine and Mink Stole. They were my heroes. The Dreamlanders and that group of renegade performers I really worshipped.

How did Natasha get involved? I’ve been a huge fan ever since I saw Slums of Beverly Hills. She was always at the top of my list and the film’s cinematographer, Tom Richmond, had shot Slums! The best way [to get an actor] is to go through the back door, especially when you’re a drag queen named after Jesus and a first time filmmaker. She read the screenplay and called me directly and we had a talk.

What was she like to work with? Awesome. She’s really smart. Almost scary-smart, like when someone’s so smart it makes you nervous a little bit? She’s definitely got that wisdom. I told her I was inspired to write this by this filmmaker named Doris Wishman, who was really the only woman making grindhouse movies when Herschell Gordon Lewis and Russ Meyer were. Doris said, Fuck it, I can do what these men are doing and make as much money and exploit women the same way. And Natasha said to me, “I knew her, before she passed away.” Like, who the fuck knew Doris Wishman? That was kismet! I had no idea she loved classic old movies and knew Doris personally. So it’s really a perfect fit. In releasing the film I’m discovering that she has a dedicated fan base and her fans are excited to see her in this movie because it’s the kind of role they love her to play, which is wicked and unhinged.

How about Nightmare on Elm Street hottie, Thomas Dekker? Well, Darren Stein, one of the producers and early champions of me making this movie, is a friend of Thomas. So when I was writing the movie and a part for a young man who loves horror movies and he’s kind of naïve and oblivious to what’s going on around him, but loves all the gore and violence, Thomas was on the Terminator TV show and played John Connor.I went to the set and during lunch in his trailer handed him the screenplay and one of the first things he asked was, “Is it true you know Mink Stole?” I said yeah, and he started quoting lines from John Waters movies and pulled out his DVD collection and it was every horror movie I loved from the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s. He had every David Lynch movie — he is that kid who loves great underground, transgressive art.

What exactly can we look forward to at this 4D experience? Midnight Mass and Trannyshack and the world I come from is about having fun and not taking yourself too seriously, and one of the things I wanted to do as part of this roll-out is to inject a real spirit of having fun and being ready to participate and dress-up in horror and monster costumes and what we’re calling ‘gore couture.’ We’re really there to have a good time and set the tone for enjoying this over-the-top dark comedy.

How gay are horror films? I think people underestimate how many queer people identify with horror movies. I used to think that was so unique — I’m gay and love horror movies. No. A lot of gay people do. It appeals to our sense of … justice? Darkness? Fantasy? People get to act out things they fantasize about but would never do in life. In general horror movies can be homophobic, misogynist, all the things I don’t like, but they can also be so over the top, something to not to be taken too seriously. I don’t understand humorless drag queens or horror movies.

What is your view on the state of horror films today? I think a lot of people are really negative because they’re down on the remakes or focused on what is making the most money but I would say just dig a little bit deeper because there are some incredible things going on in the world of indie horror. One of the things super exciting about the NYC engagement is I’m going to be introduced by Alan Rowe Kelly, who is this truly indie horror filmmaker working out of NYC. Look him up and you will see why I am so obsessed with what he is doing. For one, as far as I know, Alan appears as a woman but goes by the pronoun ‘he’ and makes these fabulous horror movies where the queerness and oddness is not the point. They’re just outrageous and wild and bizarre. He’s filming them in New Jersey for no budget and churning them out year after year.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 6, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens