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.

…………………………………………….

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.

………………………………………………..

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

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

……………………

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.

…………………………..

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