UNFETTERED AND ALIVE
David Geffen and Joni Mitchell at Studio 54 in 1978. Photograph by Russell C. Turiak.
“I have been saying to everyone who will listen that I want to get an Academy Award nomination for this documentary,” Ian Schrager, ever the promoter, recently told vulture.com. Director Matt Tyrnauer’s new film Studio 54 deserves one. It digs deeper than the era’s disco beats and bare chested bartenders and celebrity culture cutting its capped teeth on cocaine and a kind of louche self-love that could curdle rather quickly to self-loathing when just the right light dawned on it. Loathing or love, there was a self-regard to it all that Tyrnauer, who has a way of shining just the right light on his subjects from designer Valentino Clemente Ludovico Garavani to architect Jean Nouvel to Hollywood pimp Scotty Bowers, explores brilliantly. Indeed, Tyrnauer had no interest in making this film unless Schrager agreed to appear in it. It is the first time the hotelier and design maven Schrager has talked on-the-record about the famed disco’s rise and infamous fall that resulted in his imprisonment along with his partner, the late Steve Rubell. It is a fascinating film deeply informed with empathy and yet also with a keen self-regard itself for the art of documentary filmmaking. I talked to Tyrnauer about all of this and more, including the odd innocence of this time in the last throes of a hedonism that did not think it needed to heed any of its consequences, a time when a new social order was pushing the old WASP one aside and Michael Jackson had nostrils.
HE WAS A CAMERA
Or Was Bill Really a
Cunning Little Vixen?
After New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham died in 2016, Mark Bozek was moved to go foraging in his basement to find the four hours of footage of his interview with Bill in the early 1990s when the filmmaker was a producer for Fox Style News. Bozek felt guided by the guileless ghost of the guileless man - an ascetic who incongruously worshipped the well-heeled well heeled - to make the documentary "The Times of Bill Cunningham," which explores those incongruities with a generosity of spirit that the photographer himself had. But Bozek, like Cunningham, is man of contradictions and it is the mining of those in himself as he mined Bill's that gives the film its frisson of deeper discovery. I talked to Bozek about his corporate background and how Bill brought him in touch with his own artistic impulses as he documented them in someone else, much as Bill himself did with his own camera.
("I saw Bill out and about doing his thing for the first time when I was seven. I didn’t know who he was, but I knew he made everyone important stop and adjust. It was the exact same vibe when I saw him in the months before he died: fancy people suddenly unsure in the presence of this special eccentric. He was powerful, but he was gentle and kind." - Lena Dunham)
The dashing Bill Cunningham
Jerry Hall and Antonio Lopez in the 1970s.
HIS MORE-IS-MORE LIFE,
AND HIS LURCH iNTO DEATH FROM AIDS
I talked to art historian and filmmaker James Crump about his own graceful, joyous, knowing, and finally heartrending lurch into the life of Lopez, an illustrator whose talent lined up more with those considered finer artists and whose allure caused others to line up for his attention. Lopez's gaze affirmed those it came to rest upon. Crump has an artist's gaze himself. He not only remembers Lopez in this film - affirms him - but also a specific time in our culture before its collective gaze, which Lopez saw as his mission to free from its constricted notions of beauty, became more guarded with grief for those who had dared to set it free.
THE POLAROIDS OF ANTONIO LOPEZ: JERRY HALL, JESSICA LANGE, KARL LAGERFELD, PAT CLEVELAND, DONNA JORDAN, AND OTHER FOLKS WHOSE FAME WAS FORMED BY HIS GAZE
When I thought of Polaroids I thought of Andy Warhol’s frank way with them, how they freed his queerness even as they captured it, or David Hockney’s fractured Polaroid portraits which resulted in a cubist-like array which made seeing something we had to develop anew. Click on the title above to see a selection of Polaroids by Lopez whose gaze needed the instant gratification that Polaroids could document, a gaze filled with desire just as these Polaroids are filled with it: direct and just a little dirty. They are both a dare and daring – much like Lopez’s short brilliant life itself was. Read the interview above about him. Click on this title to gaze upon his gaze.
LOST IN SPACEY:
Kevin Spacey conflated his finally coming out as a gay man with his being accused of sexual misconduct in the first wave of the #metoo movement. It was the wrong way to come out of the closet. I had, in fact, offered to hold the door open for him a few years earlier during an interview I did with him for The Daily Beast, but he declined my offer. In this excerpt from that interview tape, you can listen to our challenging each other about what it means to be a gay man. I say it is about identity. He conflated it with his sex life only. Conflation was as much his problem as the closet as that later conflation proved.
Photo by Matt Edge
WELCOME TO SESSUMSMAGAZINE. COM. THE DOCUMENTARY ISSUE
Welcome to The Documentary Issue of sessumsMagazine.com. As a writer who has published two memoirs and before that was known for my interviews with celebrities, I have a propensity toward the documentary and its exacting form of storytelling, especially when the filmmaker is one with an artistic impulse not just a journalistic one. I know that instinctive friction that Truman Capote captured in his book In Cold Blood which he described as a non-fiction novel. It is a friction I felt in my first memoir Mississippi Sissy. It is friction fraught with peril when reportage is relegated to the service of art. But when a balance is struck the result can be thrilling. To me, the best documentaries are novelistic and employ the early seductive building of a story before the heart of it is revealed. There is then the slow resolve-as-dissolve. The person being told the story partners the story to its final bow for there is that visceral connection that develops between the storyteller and the person being told the story as the story progresses in our told-to presence. We as viewers – or readers – have watched or read a director or writer’s solo dance up until the point the work’s denouement surprises us (if it has worked as a piece of art) and becomes a pas de deux.
I danced a bit of a conversant pas de deux myself with the directors of three thrilling recent documentaries. Talking to the press is itself a further denouement – a rather de rigueur one – of the whole filmmaking process. Matt Tyrnauer, who was a colleague of mine at Vanity Fair, has directed a film about the rise and fall of Studio 54 that limns the libertinism with an eye that remains keen and focused – but neither jaundiced nor gullible – by his nonjudgmental, observant school of balanced journalism. It is cinéma vérité of the highest order. James Crump is more alluring and provocative in his approach to the subject of his documentary, Antonio Lopez. Crump is a scholar and art historian and he brings a curator’s appreciation and curiosity to his framing of this story, which could have been a bit lurid but is instead rather loving in its deep appreciation of a sybaritic artist’s singular life. Mark Bozek is a former CEO of HSN/IAC who cut his corporate teeth at QVC, among other media companies. He is a marketing genius. Bozek’s film about Bill Cunningham carves out a space for the man’s purity in an impure world and, in so doing, makes a case that purity itself can be marketed if it is given the correct platform. Mark’s film is not platitudinous at all. No pronouncements are made. No talking heads other than Cunningham are asked to hold forth in any fawning or fashionable way. Because this is Bozek’s first film, there is a purity about his filmmaking itself that mirrors Cunningham’s own. Bill Cunningham always seemed to be astonished by himself and his achievements. This film feels as if it too is astonished by itself and what it has achieved by capturing Bill’s own astonishment. Can that be marketed? That’s a whole other sort of denouement.
There are also small documents in the issue this month of my time interviewing celebrities. Each comes out of closet in different ways. You can hear them doing it in their own voices. Mary Tyler Moore came out to me as a right-wing, Fox News-loving Republican. Ellen DeGeneres spoke for the first time on the record with me about being sexually abused by her stepfather long before there was a #metoo movement and her bravery doing so still moves me. And Kevin Spacey, who has had his own problems with accusations in the gay corners of the #metoo movement, stuck a foot in the door of his closet when we began to open it at my insistence.
There is much more in this issue. I hope you enjoy it. I do look on each month’s issue as opening my own closet door editorially and documenting what’s inside.
The grave of designer Patrick Kelly in Père Lachaise Cemetery.
STARS IN BLACK TURTLENECKS
The little black dress as star. Kelly knew his way around the little black dress.
Kelly with Iman and Grace and Naomi.
IN THE COMING WEEKS ...
Willem Dafoe. Laura Linney. Judith Light. Cara Buono. Ellen Barkin. Jane Fonda. Parker Posey. Style icon and photographer Lisa Eisner. Writers Armistead Maupin, Julia Reed, George Hodgman, Jesse Kornbluth, Joyce Maynard, Sheila Weller, Mark Childress, Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni, Jennifer Raiser, Benoit Denizet-Lewis and William Norwich. And the next chapter of of the new fictional serial, "Porterhouse."
Director Barbara Kopple
Actress Barbara Stanwyck
THIS MONTH'S THEATRE ROUNDUP: AMERICA ABORNING
Actors taking centerstage this month: Edie Falco, Ali Stroker, Khris Davis, Stockard Channing, Hugh Dancy, and Alexandra Billings
“I have to tell you now that the thing I remember most about you is your absence.” – a troubled son to his mother, an ex-pat American art historian and political activist, in playwright Alexi Kaye Campbell’s Apologia
PORTERHOUSE: A SERIAL
In this new year-long monthly serial – a novel told in 12 chapters – meet a cast of characters in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Last month we met Porter and his Aunt Buster and her friends, Maurice Richelieu and Kay Sera Sera. This month learn of the harrowing Detroit childhood backstory of the girl he meets in New Orleans and befriends. Her name is Venetia. Meet her in this chapter, her heroin addict ex-Homecoming Queen mother, and her Uncle Badassmotherfucker.
My monthly thoughts regarding the passing political scene. This month’s memo is titled PTSD: Post-Traumatic Sissy Disorder. I really do feel as if I am suffering from it for I feel as I did as a child back in the Mississippi of my childhood during the early 1960s when I looked around me at the frightening world of rabid right-wingers and the those who stood so bravely in opposition to them. Mississippi seemed like a war zone back then. So does America now.
The Kavanaugh hearing and Dr. Blasey Ford’s courageous testimony reminded me of my own sexual molestation at the age of 13 by a Methodist minister back in Mississippi. This month in The Shadow Self, I write about that and how we learn to live with such a hidden self in our lives. The way Dr. Blasey Ford was treated reminded us why we do and why we hide it.
World traveler, TheWrap.com’s theatre critic Robert Hofler this month writes about New Zealand: Off-Season and On Point. He went for the waterfalls and stayed for the other mnemonic natural wonders that reminded him of his other travels in California’s Big Sur and England’s Bristol Channel. He rode a little railway train. And instinctively trusted New Zealanders with their lovely, incongruous laid-back zest for politeness. How welcome these days to feel welcomed.
DENEUVE: PART DEUX
The image of Catherine Deneuve on the left was taken by photographer Jeanloup Sieff in Paris in 1969 for Vogue. In 1986, Part Two of this month's archival Digital Dialogue with Catherine Deneuve was recorded in a hotel room at the Hôtel Plaza Athénée in New York when she was 43. The now 74-year-old actress talks about being 43 back then as if it were a milestone, especially to have admitted it earlier that day on television. She also talks to me about what it is like to commodify her celebrity, her loss of innocence (or lack of such a loss), the film "Scene of the Crime" she had just then made with the director André Téchiné, the quite touching memories she has of her father caring for her and her three young sisters when their mother was away in the mountains taking a year-long cure for tuberculosis, and why, after producing one film, she had no desire ever to produce another one and take on that specific sort of responsibility. Francois Truffaut, however, has said he cast Deneuve in "The Last Metro" in 1980 because he wanted to give her the role of a responsible woman, for up until that point she had been thought of as only a madonna or whore in her career. Truffaut has also claimed that “in love, women are professionals, men are amateurs.” Click on the link below to hear Deneuve being utterly professional in her charm.
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