Del Shores revisits the residents of Winters, Texas, in his timely — and hilarious — ‘A Very Sordid Wedding’
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Executive Editor
Del Shores hops into his rental car, pops in a CD of Brandy Clark, and rushes from the Design District to Oak Cliff for a meeting with a potential investor. He’s leveraging the meeting by doing a little location scouting at the same time for a film that, it will turn out, won’t even start shooting in Dallas for another 11 months. The meeting seems to go well and the investor acts interested, but he never signs a check (the equivalent of a real estate “looky-loo”) — something that will eventually irk Shores, but he will get over it quickly because that’s the game. At least he checked out the locale, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time. When you’re in the business of show, holding grudges or obsessing about slights has limited value. It’s about the work, and getting the work done.
In the realm of indie film, though, that work is often more than mere artistic creativity. Just as often, a scrappy sensibility and ability to roll with the punches is just as valuable. For instance, Shores was always gonna be the writer-director of this project, but he became a producer on it because, well, that’s sometimes what it takes to close the deal.
“We truly didn’t think this was ever going to happen,” Shores will tell me nearly a year later. “But the universe opened up when I decided to be a producer. It attracted all the right people, cuz it took a big, sordid village to make this movie.”
The movie, indeed, is A Very Sordid Wedding, the umpteenth time Shores has gone to the bottomless well of Lone Star kookiness in telling about the white trash inhabitants of Winters, Texas, a backwater of religious hypocrisy and homophobia. Winters also happens to be the actual hometown of Shores himself, so read all you want into that. And the village that came together includes not just Sordid veterans like Leslie Jordan, Bonnie Bedelia, Caroline Rhea, Dale Dickey, Ann Walker and the late Sarah Hunley, but also locals like Cassie Nova, Krystal Summers, Ron Corning and Edna Jean Robinson, and cameos by nationally-known celebs like Whoopi Goldberg, Mitchell Gold, Alec Mapa and Andrew Christian. That’s some powerhouse villagers all focused on one thing: Bringing the Sordid gang back in front of audiences.
The Sordid history is a case study in building a cult following. It got its first incarnation in Sordid Lives, a play Shores wrote in 1996 that got its start in Los Angeles, as well as in a memorable run in Dallas in 2000, just as the film adaptation was being released. Without ever breaking the Top 10 in weekend receipts nationwide, Sordid Lives the movie ran for months in Dallas (and other cities), especially at late-night showings that gave The Rocky Horror Picture Show a run for its money. (It ran for a full year in the same Highland Park Village theater.) And why wouldn’t it score, with its hilarious peek at sexual intrigue in a sleepy Bible Belt town? Cross-dressing, infidelity, wooden legs, psychiatry, alcoholism, black-sheep shame? Why, it was a family reunion in microcosm.
Fans craved more, however, and Shores was able to sell a prequel TV series to Logo, which aired in 2008. But a falling out with the network meant no second se
ason, despite newly-whetted appetites. Then the 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide gave Shores not only a hook on which to hang a freshly-minted sequel but the momentum to get it done.
A Very Sordid Wedding was shot in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in Central Canada as well as Dallas during the summer of 2016 on a micro-budget… although you’d never be able to tell with the sharp editing and all-star cast. The world premiere was in Palm Springs last month, with many Dallasites attending. But there’s something special about the homecoming screenings, which will pre-launch the USA Film Festival. The April 21 Dallas premiere at the historic Texas Theatre is already sold out, but there will be additional screenings on April 23 and 25.
Set in the weeks following the Obergefell decision, the story deals with Ty (Kirk Geiger), the gay son of uptight faux-society mom Latrelle (Bonnie Bedelia), who is traveling the country with his new husband Kyle (T. Ashanti Mozelle) on a mission to marry in every state of the union — culminating with a ceremony in Shittown, Texas … aka Winters. That’s something the new pastor can’t abide, as he hosts an Anti-Equality Revival. Meanwhile, drag queen and Tammy Wynette devotee Brother Boy (Leslie Jordan) decides to pack up and move to Dallas, with the chance to finally conquer the mecca of drag: The Rose Room.
Let’s get this out of the way: Wedding is hilarious and touching and angry and super-gay in the way only Shores can accomplish. Fans will love it.
“What’s the next line?” Leslie Jordan asks as he’s doing his run-through inside the Rose Room on a sweltering July day last year. The club buzzes with actors, grip, caterers, assistants, even a journalist. Someone asks Jordan a question. “I’m not the director,” he responds, then moves back to his mark to do the shot again.
Jordan — the iconic, Emmy Award-winning pixie with a Tennessee drawl and a deskful of stories — only has one day to get all his scenes shot. And he’s sharing the screen opposite actual local legends of drag — James Love (aka Cassie Nova), Richard D. Curtin (aka Edna Jean Robinson) and Krystal Summers. In the background, various backers, investors and
supporters (including underwear designer Andrew Christian) serve as extras. That’s how indie filmmaking goes: Everyone pulls together to make it come off.
“Great work everybody,” Shores says. “Let’s do it again.”
A Very Sordid Wedding may be a comedy, but being on set is serious business. There’s very little time to waste or money to spend. And everyone is giving his (or her) all.
“That was the single most intense day of my professional life,” says Emerson Collins, producer of the film and one of the stars as a rough trade criminal on the run who falls for Brother Boy. “There were so many set-ups, it really was a two-day shoot [reduced to one day].” But it was worth it.
“There was not a lot of money, just a shared passion for the project,” Shores says. That includes their luck in getting Whoopi Goldberg to make a cameo — she was available for, literally, five hours … and that included hair and makeup.
“I’m agnostic, but I do believe there is a movie god,” Shores says. “We scheduled all the scenes based on Whoopi arriving. She was camera-ready in no time at all and completely prepared. She was gracious and you saw the performance — truly magical. One of the things that touched my heart was when she said, ‘Thank you for including me in this story because we must continue to fight together.’”
That’s also how they were able to get Mitchell Gold, whose Faith in America nonprofit seeks to reconcile the community of believers with the community of queers.
“Nearly 50 percent of LGBT people identify as people of faith,” Collins says. “I think it’s really important that the film speaks [to that segment]. For people of faith [who are gay], there continue to be more and more faith organizations that are welcoming. Not all religions are hypocrites when it comes to LGBT people. We wanted to recognize that.”
Wedding ended up being the conclusion of Latrelle’s journey, from disapproving zealot to accepting, even defiantly protective mother hen. Latrelle “became the thump-thump of the tone for me, as well as her sidekick Sissy,” Shores says. “People tell me [after getting to know me], they started questioning those [anti-gay religious doctrines] they were brought up with, so I put that in Latrelle’s journey. I really wanted to honor those people.”
Still, Shores insists, the purpose of the movie is first and foremost to entertain. And it’s hard not to have fun when you have assembled such a dedicated company as Shores has over the decades.
“Leslie and I have been working together 30 years now. This is my 15th time to work with Dale Dickey,” Shores explains of the actress, perhaps one of the most unappreciated treasures in Hollywood.
But the sweetest part may have been shooting in Dallas to add “some real Texas flavor. Emerson and I share a deep love for the Rose Room.”
Collins, in fact, has often spoken of how “the very first time I ever entered a gay bar as a closeted Baylor student, Krystal Summers was the special guest, and Cassie, the Grand Mouth of the South, was there. I love being about to recognize them” by including them in the film.
“It’s so special to have Cassie and Krystal and Edna in the movie,” Shores adds. “I had no idea how special Sordid Lives was for Cassie
and the journey with her mom, until I read her column in the Voice. So it was full-circle for her. Everything was flawless in Dallas. It truly was the cherry on this wedding cake that we were baking to finish the movie.”