Monday, June 25, 2012

Time For A Makeover

On October 18, 1966, when the opening night curtain came down on the third act of a new musical by Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick, and Jerome Coopersmith, the high point of the evening was obvious. The Apple Tree's first act had been inspired by Mark Twain's excerpts from The Diaries of Adam and Eve. The show's second act was based on Frank R. Stockton's 1882 short story entitled The Lady or the Tiger?

The third act, however, was based on Jules Feiffer's hilarious reworking of the Cinderella legend: Passionella. Directed by Mike Nichols (with costumes designed by Tony Walton), Passionella contained one of the quickest and greatest costume changes in Broadway history: the moment in which Barbara Harris transitioned from a soot-smeared chimney sweep into a glamorous, Marilyn Monroe type of sex symbol.

The song "Oh, To Be A Movie Star" gave Harris a chance to show off her amazing vocal range and great comedic skills. In the following clip from the 1967 Tony Awards show, she is seen performing with Larry Blyden.

Once upon a time, getting a makeover was a rarified dream for a plain Jane who was routinely ignored by family and friends. In today's rapidly trending fashion world, young people who idolize pop stars like Madonna and Lady Gaga constantly strive to reinvent themselves. Two new films put a refreshing spin on their reimaging efforts.

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In many families, the firstborn child (especially if it is a son) can do no wrong. Even if he grows up to be a selfish, spoiled brat who is used to having everyone clean up the wreckage left in his wake, he remains the apple of his parents' eyes. Written by Wendy Kout and directed by Brad LeongDorfman stars Sara Rue as Deb Dorfman, the awkward second child in a severely dysfuntional Jewish family living in the San Fernando Valley.

Sara Rue as Deb Dorfman

As the film opens, Deb's recently widowed father (Elliott Gould) is in a deep depression. Burt's only solace comes from watching the television shows his wife once loved. Otherwise, he is oblivious to his children's needs.

Burt's son, Daniel (Jonathan Chase), owns an accounting firm which employs Deb as its office administrator. The family has assumed that Dan would always take care of his little sister. The ugly truth is that Deb is always having to take care of her incompetent older brother.

Whenever Deb asks Dan for a raise, he tries to buy her off with gadgets like a new printer. Meanwhile, Dan's wife, Leann (Keri Lynn Pratt), can feel her biological clock ticking away and keeps her husband on a short leash for whenever her ovulation offers the couple "a window of opportunity." No matter how much Dan and Leanne try to use costumes and role playing to spice up their lovemaking, there ain't no bun in Leanne's oven.

One of Dan's clients is his best friend from high school, Jay Cleary (Johann Urb), a freelancing journalist with an ego to match the size of his trendy new downtown loft apartment. Deb (who snorts like a pig whenever she laughs) has always had a crush on Jay, who relies on her for long-distance pep talks when he is on assignment and to run his errands while he is out of town.

Deb is the perfect doormat for a handsome, straight freelancer.

When Jay lands a six-day assignment covering a story in Kabul, Deb seizes the opportunity to escape from her depressive father, her clueless brother, and housesit for Jay's cat, Elmer, while decorating the loft. Soon after picking up the key, she encounters a handsome gay artist who goes by the name of Cookie (Haaz Sleiman) and two dominatrix/models who work out of a nearby apartment.

Chelsea (Hayley Marie Norman) and Vronka (Sophie Monk)

Finding themselves in need of a new accountant, Chelsea (Hayley Marie Norman) and Vronka (Sophie Monk) volunteer to give Deb a much-needed makeover. Turning to Cookie for help moving Jay's furniture and hanging his artwork, Deb starts to realize that she's entitled to have more men in her life than just jet-setting Jay, her irresponsible brother. and her deeply depressed Dad.

Poster art for Dorfman

As Deb starts to find a new image for herself, her new friends keep urging her to spread her wings and take risks. In many ways, Dorfman becomes a modern take on Hans Christian Andersen's tale of The Ugly Duckling in which an overlooked, underappreciated girl from the San Fernando Valley discovers that she has a chance to bloom in the new, revitalized downtown area of Los Angeles.

Just as Mary Tyler Moore bravely tossed her hat into the air in downtown Minneapolis, Deb learns how to ride the L.A. Metro, eat shabu-shabu, walk past the Angels Flight Railway, marvel at the architecture of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, and take in the beauty and excitement of the Los Angeles Flower Market.

Not only does Cookie help bring Deb out of her shell, he manages to snap Burt out of his depression while Chelsea and Vronka snap their whips at Deb's brother, Dan. Deb also wises up to the fact that Jay is someone who uses people.

Even if Cookie claims to be gay or bisexual, he's a far more considerate friend and a much better companion than Jay. Although it's never clearly explained in the movie, the audience is witnessing the beginning of a beautiful new fag/hag relationship.

Deb (Sara Rue) with Cookie (Haaz Sleiman)

Sara Rue and Haaz Sleiman develop a nice chemistry while Hayley Marie Norman and Sophie Monk score strongly as the two hookers. Catherine Hicks has a nice cameo as a mature bartender who gives Elliot Gould her phone number and Kelen Coleman is appealing as Molly, Deb's co-worker who is getting married.

Part of Dorfman has been designed as a tour of the revitalized Los Angeles downtown (the movie's website includes a list of links to places showcased in the film). And there are many moments when one gets the feeling that Sara Rue is auditioning to become the next Drew Barrymore. You don't have to be Jewish to enjoy Dorfman, a smart, sassy, entertaining new film. Here's the trailer:

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In his 1826 work, The Physiology of Taste or Transcendental Gastronomy, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin first laid out the concept that "you are what you eat." In 1964, Marshall MacLuhan stressed that "The medium is the message." Those who wonder what the long-term effect of reality television will be on the youth of America need look no further than Chris Crocker, the devoted fan of Britney Spears whose "Leave Britney Alone" video went viral, launching him on a path to virtual stardom.

A new HBO documentary directed by Chris Moukarbel and Valerie Veatch examines Crocker's sudden fame, his use of YouTube as a creative outlet and marketing tool, and the reality of his life. While some people reacted to Crocker's videos with a mixture of shock and awe, there's much more to him than meets the eye.

Having grown up as a Southern sissy in the small town of Bristol, Tennessee, Crocker was a constant target of bullying and humiliation. His mother (who gave birth to Chris when she was only 14) had problems with substance abuse and enlisted in the military, leaving Chris's Pentecostal grandparents to raise her child, feed Chris, and keep him safe.

Generations of gay men who grew up in small towns, surrounded by people who hated them, have spent a collective fortune on therapy. But all Crocker needs is a digital camera, a computer, and his YouTube account to act out and vent his frustrations. Whether dancing in front of the camera, shopping at Walmart in drag, or showing off his newly-buffed body, the camera offers him unconditional love.

Chris Crocker in Me@The Zoo

With more than 1,000 videos posted to YouTube and millions of fans who can't wait to see his next piece of performance art, Crocker can tap into a never-ending source of adulation without the need for a phalanx of bodyguards. In addition to the money he makes from ads that accompany his YouTube videos, as an aspiring singer/songwriter he's got a built-in audience waiting for him to drop a new number on iTunes.

Me@The Zoo shows a new generation of computer-literate people discovering how digital multimedia allows them to become as many different characters as they wish while broadcasting their fantasies to the world. Without any need for backup singers, choreographers, or arena tours, they can post videos of whatever they like, whenever they like, and steer their future in any direction they like.

The bold new phenomenon of the self-empowered, self-producing, self-branding, and self-therapeutic entrepreneur reminds me of a Fred Ebb lyric from the 1975 hit musical, Chicago:
“One thing I know, and I've always known
I am my own best friend.
Baby's alive, but baby's alone,
And baby's her own best friend.

Many's the guy who told me he cares
But they were scratchin' my back
'Cause I was scratchin' theirs.

And trusting to luck, that's only for fools
I play in a game, where I make the rules.
And rule number one, from here to the end is
I am my own best friend.

Three musketeers who never say die
Are standing here this minute: Me, myself, and I.
If life is a school, I'll pass every test
If life is a game, I'll play it the best.
'Cause I won't give in and I'll never bend,
And I am my own best friend!”
After his attempt to get a reality show built around him fell through, Crocker was able to quickly pivot to writing more songs and transforming himself from an effeminate waif into a young man with a more muscular physique. He keeps reinventing himself to entertain his fans as well as for his own enjoyment. In the following interview Chris discusses what the future might hold.

While Me@The Zoo has some raw moments, the film also contains poignant segments in which Crocker must be the shoulder for his young mother to lean on and in which he becomes the adult in the room when she can barely function.

At 25, this young man enjoys a peculiar kind of stardom that has very much been crafted and managed on his own terms. From full-blown sissy to the man of the house, there are quite a lot of people residing within Chris Crocker. Those who don't like him don't have to watch him. And those who hate him have been duly warned:

1 comment:

Wendy Kout said...

George, Thank you for your thoughtful piece on DORFMAN. So glad you appreciate our film. I do have one correction. Cookie is not gay. He lies to Deb because she lies to him about being married. We see three of Cookie's female lovers in the film. Jay presumes Cookie is gay because Cookie gave him a housewarming gift. This speaks volumes about Jay, who is unable to see the gift as anything but a come on. Thanks again for "seeing" DORFMAN. Just felt this correction was important. Best, Wendy Kout, Screenwriter