Saturday, June 19, 2010

Big Hopes, Big Hair

From Rapunzel's long golden tresses to Cher's silky black curls, from Elvis Presley's proud pompadour to Marge Simpson's blue beehive, big hair has always made a fashion statement. Whether one looks at the powdered wigs worn by the aristocracy or the teased and frozen wonders atop the teenage hair hoppers in John Waters' various versions of Hairspray, big hair is a sign of power and virility in many cultures. Why else would the male lion be referred to as "The King of the Jungle"?

Just one look at how a friend's prowess with Photoshop transformed my bald head into a towering inferno of tantalizing twists can leave little doubt as to how much hair can do to help a person make an entrance and leave an impression.

While it's easy to snicker at teenagers who can't stop combing their hair, the truth is that hair can effect remarkable transformations. Whether used to create an exaggerated beauty effect or to scare off competitors, big hair can also be a formidable accessory on stage and screen.

A series of short films from the Frameline 34 San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival (as well as a recent world premiere at the Brava Center) all featured characters whose costumes gave new meaning to "big wig." Consider the following:

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While the creators of The Dynamite Show! like to promote their "neo-vaudeville" musical revue (devised and performed by members of Fou Fou Ha!) as "Fame Meets The Muppets," at the preview I attended it felt a whole lot more like "Graduating Class of Clown College Tackles Bertolt Brecht."

The program notes quote Toni Cade Bambara, who once claimed that "the job of the artist is to make revolution irresistible." And as the show's creator, Maya Culbertson-Lane, explains in her artistic statement:
"Hollywood reality shows are about shaming people who are different and taking away one's power to forge their identity according to their own rules, fashion, and beliefs. This show is about thinking outside the box and challenging the dominant paradigm, as every fool or jester does so well.

A Fou is our San Francisco 2010 version of the fool: one who has lived outside of the status quo and thus owns a freedom to think on their own, forge their own identity, and not be limited by social normalcy. The fool celebrates their awkwardness rather than hiding behind false pretenses of perfection and can therefore take risks. The fool can challenge foundations for they are not taken 'seriously' and does not look to society to accept them and potentially shame them."
The cast of The Dynamite Show! (Photo by: Eric Gillet)

Unfortunately, there were some severe problems with Jocelyn Thompson's sound design (in which the brass constantly overwhelmed the performers). To make matters worse, Maya Culbertson-Lane's concept is too frail to sustain a two-act, nearly two-hour revue. As supportive as an audience might be, her writing is extremely weak and often painfully didactic. Most of her transitions are, at best, clumsy.

Although the show contains a rollicking send-up of Susan Boyle belting out "I Dreamed A Dream" (while looking like one of the Killer Klowns From Outer Space), by the end of the uncomfortably long evening I had to agree with the Simon Cowell-like judge who snarled "I would rather eat dirt than have to watch that act again."

Gerri Lawlor as Piffi Fou (Photo by: Eric Gillet)

Don't get me wrong. There is a lot of very good and professional work on display in The Dynamite Show! Choreographed and directed by Culbertson-Lane (and accompanied by The Gomorrans Social Aide and Pleasure Club), the plot is little more than an excuse for vaudeville-style shtick as the members of Fou Fou Ha! prepare to travel to Hollywood to audition for a reality TV show.

I was particularly impressed by CaSon Macbride, who has apparently been accepted into Cirque Du Soleil's ranks of potential performers and awaits placement in a new Cirque production. Ryan Beebe's multidisciplinary contributions as composer, vocalist, and banjo player show great potential (he is also a charming performer). A number involving an audience volunteer gives Erik Cruze a chance to shine on drums.

The cast of The Dynamite Show! (Photo by: Eric Gillet)

Susan Bryan's elaborate costume designs (especially her crazy, towering wigs) are a highlight of the production. But, in addition to cutting about 35 minutes, what the show really needs is an audience of (a) children who can totally buy into its nonsensical spirit, and/or (b) a well-lubricated crowd of adults who will laugh at just about any kind of stage business. People's hearts are certainly in the right place, as evidenced by this statement from trumpet player Jaromy Russo's bio:
"In 2001, he moved to San Francisco and befriended a man who promised to help him develop his embouchure and learn proper tonguing techniques. However, this promise never materialized due to basic ideological differences and the fact that the man did not, in fact, play trumpet."
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Scheduled to receive its world premiere at the Frameline Festival is Chico's Angels: 24ish, the latest installment in Chico's Angels: The Web Series (a delightfully cheezy spoof of the Charlie's Angels franchise). Starring Danny Casillas as Freida Laye, Ray Garcia as Chita Parol, and Oscar Quintero as Kay Sedia, this five-part romp sets the girls in motion with a mission to defuse a bomb.

Chita Parol, Freida Laye, and Kay Sedia

The following video clip is taken from an earlier episode but should give you a pretty good idea of the hilarity in store for audiences (note the presence of Alejandro Patino as Juan Bossman).

The new episode (which will debut during the Frameline festival) features the hunky Steven Hill as a bare-chested, gun-toting young man whose father got cheated out of his chance to become President of a local business networking club. A stylish spoof of the 24 television series, it includes statements like "The following events happened between 2:00 o'clock and my thighs."

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When it was first released in 1969, Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex (But Were Afraid To Ask) quickly became a best seller. However, its author, David Reuben, M.D., was severely criticized for much of its content (many people suggested the good doctor might still be a virgin). It was subsequently translated into 54 languages, selling nearly 150 million copies.

In 1972, Woody Allen made a film based on some of the short stories in Reuben's book. Although the film became an early hit for Allen, the birth of the gay rights movement led to continued criticism of Dr. Reuben's remarks about gay men.

In a classic piece of giving someone what he has long had coming to him, Marc Huestis's new film, Justin Bond is Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex, has Justin Bond reading Dr. Reuben's chapter on male homosexuality verbatim accompanied by the kind of imagery the good doctor never imagined.

Justin Bond

You can watch a brief clip from the eight-minute film here. Let's just say that revenge is finally served!

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Sometimes big hair is all that's needed to add the right amount of authority and dramatic power. Consider the motto of a Chicago-based band named The Joans: "Come for the gimmick, stay for the music." Their music video "Mad At The Dirt" never fails to impress:

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Finally, with the San Francisco Silent Film Festival about to celebrate its 15th anniversary from July 15-18 at the Castro Theatre, mention should be made of a new silent short that will have its world premiere during the Frameline Festival. Written by Noel Robichaux and directed by Jason Jaworski (who have obviously studied many of the tricks and trademarks of silent film), Loup-da-Loup and Giuseppe is a delight from start to finish.

Set in Brooklyn's Prospect Park in 1907, this 16-minute silent film shows how Police Captain Giuseppe Baldi (Jason Jaworski) helps to free the vivacious Victorian prostitute Loop-da-Loop (Noel Robichaux) from the clutches of her domineering pimp, Big Earl (Carlos de la Rosa).

Noel Robichaux as Loup da Loup

What gives this short added interest is that:
  • The character was based on a real man who bribed police in order to continue working as a prostitute in drag.
  • The film's entire piano score was recorded in a single take.
  • The character of Loup-da-Loup was named after a popular ride that debuted at Coney Island in 1901.
Edwin Prescott's Loop-the-Loop in Coney Island

Loup-da-Loup and Giuseppe is an absolute charmer with a shocking surprise. Robichaux's performance occasionally reminds one of Jo Anne Worley's comic genius. Enjoy the trailer:

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