Let me backpedal even further down memory lane to the very first time I first became interested in eunuchism; even though, like most men who have no transgender aspirations, I had an instinctive aversion to it and wanted at the very least to cross my legs when I thought about losing my genitals, or even better don a pair of titanium underpants to protect myself. That first time coincided with my decision to abandon acting and become a filmmaker at the age of eighteen.
Stefano Dionisi as the castrato singer Farinelli.
I had an older gay mentor at the time, as many young Gheys do, a sort of nonsexual guru who instructed me in the Ways of Ghey—by ‘older,’ I mean he was twenty-four. He was a classic of his kind: bitchy, funny, great taste, somewhat aristocratic, edgy, Italian. He worked for a while as an assistant to a famous gay journalist for the Village Voice, and one day he threw me a book he’d stolen from his boss’s library called Memoirs of a Castrato by Henry Lyon Young. (He threw things at me a lot, which is probably why we’re no longer in touch.)
At some point during Shoot Your Heroes Week here at PFC, I had an exchange with Eric Baker in our incestuous comments section that led me to remember the time I crossed the Rann of Kutch in a rickety van in search of the secret temple sacred to the hijras, the notorious eunuchs of India.
A hijra performing for the boys.
Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton became the one and only hero I’d ever had around page one hundred of Edward Rice’s superlative best-selling biography of him, which I read when it first came out in the early 90s. This is the kind of man I would have tried to become had I been a Victorian with the sort of linguistic and scholarly brilliance with which he was blessed. Burton was a character far more extraordinary than his contemporary Rudyard Kipling in many respects; he didn’t just dream of the Indian subcontinent and the British Raj in poems and novels, he lived it, playing the Great Game to the very edge of brinksmanship with a level of chutzpah I aspire to.
I was sent an article the other day by Rain Li’s boyfriend, Forest Liu. I think Forest is fantastic, and hope that, if or when Rain is done with him, she’ll pass him along to me. There aren’t many leftover dumplings I would eat from Rain Li’s dim sum brunch, but Forest is definitely one of them.
The New York Times article is about its author going to Cheyenne, Wyoming to meet his friend and former colleague, reformed gay activist Michael Glatze, now an ex-Ghey evangelical. It’s a long piece, so I’ll let you read it here at your leisure.
Michael Glatze in more miserable times (left) with his boyfriend, and now happy as a clam with a new companion, the Bible. You'll be back, baby. You'll be back.
In a nut’s shell, because such things are completely nutty, Glatze has abandoned cock worship for Bible worship, which says everything about religion right there, in a nutshell. Continue reading →
I’m kidding. Sheesh. Relax. I don’t vote, for two reasons: 1) the American political process bores me because it’s usually much the same of the same old shit, although the Obama/Hillary run-off did get my attention; 2) as long as the Electoral College is in place and disasters like the 2000 election can happen as a result, I don’t believe we live in a true democracy.
She's not just the ringmaster, not just the clown show, not just the big cat act. She's the whole frickin' circus.
“But what about your civic duty, James?” you ask, wrapping your toga tightly around you in a snit. To which I reply, “My civic duty is my non-vote of protest.” And I feel I have more effect writing these words than ruining a perfectly crisp morning in November by standing in line for hours waiting to cast my drop in the bucket. As long as I live, I will never let America rest on its self-satisfied, jingoistic laurels, never let it get away with unjustified warmongering, or large-scale financial corruption. To do so would be un-American.
Let me immediately state that, despite the title, there will be no borderline pornographic body parts in this post. But just the fact I have willfully boxed PFC into a corner where I have to make that caveat is relevant to this article. I think.
First, take a look at this viral video currently eliciting belly laughs across the Interweb:
It’s a fake, of course. The bride sort of gives it away, but the drunk woman herself is also too alert; her face lacks the woozy, careless expression of someone who is no longer in control of her actions. In a way — in a convoluted, forced association sort of way — the video is representative of what I’ve been doing with the content of this blog. Continue reading →
My Australian maternal grandmother had a few annoying habits. The most glaring was that she snorted like a sow chasing Thanksgiving leftovers when she laughed too hard. It drove my father crazy. It was nervous laughter, and the pig snorting was exacerbated as she tried to stop herself mid-chortle when my father glared at her. She was terrified of dad, which made her more nervous, which made her chortle-snort at everything he said even when it wasn’t funny. A typical dinner scene at our house ended up seeming like Lars von Triers’ take on Everybody Loves Raymond as scripted by Jonathan Franzen.
Rather than inserting an image of a massive schlong, or even a much smaller one, as was the case yesterday with Jesus Luz (what were you saying about Latinos being hung?), we're taking a break from the smut by marveling at what size queens the Arabs are. Behold Burj Khalifa.
The most annoying thing for me about Grandma’s visits was the breakdown of her flight, even though now that I think about it, it’s from her and my mother that I get my daunting, entrapping sense of detail. It’s a long way from Australia to anywhere these days, they still haven’t mastered that distance thing, but back in the 70s and 80s that distance thing was even more acute, which meant we had to listen to hours of a blow-by-blow description of everything that happened during the flight, including what she ate, and how inevitably the food on Qantas was so much better than BOAC/British Airways, “those awful poms just cook the most atrocious food, soggy vegetables, tasteless meat…” etc.
Perhaps my relentless optimism has finally driven me to a completely delusional state, but I feel there’s a tangible change in the air, a change for the better, like we’re finally turning this old rusted tankard we all live on around.
The Magical Weekend began once upon a time last Friday, when the fairy princess dressed by a dead queen stepped into her carriage and the world smiled in the reflection of her happiness. Princess Kate waved her magic wand, which unfroze our hitherto Fearful Leader from over two years of slumber. As he rose from his sepulcher amidst the briars and shook off the cobwebs, King Barack seized his vorpal sword, strode into the banquet and slew the fruminous Donaldsnatch, after which, with what seemed to be the same stroke, he felled the elusive Osama Bin Jabberwocky.
This is the bit when, after the witch is killed, eternal winter melts away and Narnia kicks into bloom in an explosion of time-lapse foliage. Prancing satyrs like me, until now locked in stone, surge forth once again to roam the hills, making sweet music, drinking wine and chasing other satyrs instead of nymphs.
You’ve always been my favorite of the fictional characters I was asked to believe in without question from childhood. As an adult, I admire how humbly and stoically you have endured under the shadow of that fat bitch Santa Claus over the centuries. You are a testament to how cute ultimately triumphs over gluttony with the right amount of tenacity.
I had the strangest dream this morning. Betty White was married to my father or some other amorphous patriarchal member of my family, and we belonged to some hyper-conservative, super-slick country club. Betty got very drunk and loud, so I admonished her for making a fool of the family in front of the rest of the club and threw her glass of champagne in the pool. I woke up full of remorse for how I’d treated her, for being so bourgeois in my dreams when I am so not in waking life. I felt like writing her an apology note and sending it to her agent. The truth is I rather like drunk, loud, bat-shit-crazy old women, like Royce and Marilyn. Royce’s favorite exclamation is from whence comes the title of this post:
They say that every character in your dreams is really a variation on you. Obviously I need to get in touch with my inner Betty White and ask her forgiveness instead of sending an apology note.
It turns out I spoke too soon about Lady Mary Crawley from Downton Abbey. By the season finale, she’s had more comeuppance than she deserved, and she’s managed to move from super bitch to sympathetic heroine. I have to hand it to show creator and writer Julian Fellowes: superb job on the old character arc, there, dear chap.
Regardless of what happens outside the house, what is at the center of Downton Abbey is the dynamic between servants and their masters, which is always the basis for shows like this, that intricate Upstairs, Downstairs relationship drama, a perverse master-slave relationship that can be seen as a microculture of the whole employer/employee, ruler/subject dynamic of the world at large.
Servants and masters from "Downton Abbey." Very much like a small corporation.
I grew up with live-in “staff” or “help,” or whatever euphemism works best to chase away the sour taste of having to use the word “servant.” And it’s correct to use a euphemism in our case because they weren’t servants as the term denotes in a Downton Abbey way. They really were there to just to help the family, and were treated in as egalitarian a fashion as possible, except for the fact they slept in the servant’s quarters near the kitchen where the laundry was drying, they never ate with us, they called my parents “sir” and “madam,” served us dinner from the left, cleared the plates from the right…. Well, I suppose we did our best not to have servants despite evidence to the contrary. Continue reading →
Today we have the post-mortem of the Oscars, which is only interesting to the kind of people who still read the newspaper in paper form, and to people like me who are left baffled, and require some sort of grief counseling. Truth be known, I’ve only ever been completely satisfied with an Oscar ceremony once, and that was the year The Last Emperor won. I was just smitten with that film. I was lucky to be a magazine editor at the time, so I booked myself and my friends into countless screenings of the film, and championed it ardently wherever I could. Clearly I identified with the poor, misunderstood boy emperor who floated around a gilded cage swathed in silk to a score by Ryuichi Sakamoto, lit by Vittorio Storaro.
James Franco butching it up in an impression of Marilyn Monroe that really wasn't as funny as Anne Hathaway pretended. The fact he played it like a frat bro in drag was disappointing.
So let’s analyze the analysis of last night’s ceremony by the grown ups of news, the New York Times. Alessandra Stanley says that the”The producers cast the young stars James Franco and Anne Hathaway as hosts, then kept the writing old and hoary,” which sounded like a personal comment directed at me and my love life. Franco and Hathaway were almost show-stoppingly nervous and downright bad right at the beginning just after that brilliant Inception mash-up video they did with Alec Baldwin and Nelson Mandela. That video was the highlight of the evening, along with the Bob Hope hologram with portions of an old broadcast, which as the NY Times pointed out, underscored just how lame the writing for last night’s show really was. I do not agree that Kirk Douglas merely “did his best,” as the Times says; it’s the first time in my life I actually liked the guy.
This is the James Franco in drag we know and love, for the cover of trannie magazine Candy, photo by Terry Richardson.
The big upset was David Fincher’s loss. I couldn’t help but hear the words of a director friend of mine, “Harvey Weinstein is truly evil.” Indeed, after what happened last night, with a decent but insipid film like King’s Speech upsetting the far more accomplished Social Network, one can only think that Harvey has pulled off the ultimate impossible financing deal and re-mortgaged his soul to the devil. And this is just when I’d thought the devil had had enough of Harvey and had moved on to my landlady Susan Blais.
Bringing this all back to to the subject of me, watching Franco and Hathaway clash like oil over water – he basically flipped the finger to the Academy with his attitude, treating them to what his generation really thinks about this crap, while she ran off in the opposite direction and sucked up to the establishment — reminded me of the one time I have ever experienced a large-scale televised awards thing like this, which was when I hosted the Miss India Pageant in 1993. As I like to say, it is something every American should do once in his lifetime.
The reason I was cast as the host is ridiculous in the first place. A friend of mine was co-producing it, and as this was the first time India was televising the event, they wanted it to look as professional as possible, which meant having an American white man do it. This was at a time when India was still reinventing herself and feeling insecure about being Indian, so hiding behind an American — a native New Yorker, no less, who was spoon-fed bravado from when he could barely stand in his crib — seemed like a good idea. In principle. I had begun my film career in India, see, and had lingered for long enough to start to speak Hindi, which meant I could pronounce the names with some degree of accuracy (linguistically speaking, Hindi has some tricky consonant groupings, and if you aren’t spoon-fed them in your crib, they are very difficult to pronounce).
The producers’ biggest mistake was thinking that, because they thought I looked like David Letterman, I would be funny. This was typical racial profiling as practiced by non-whites: they think we all look alike. No white person would every mistake me for Letterman, especially a white comedian. Just because I liked to lounge around Mumbai on a Rajasthani divan high on opium and ganja, shredding my world with acerbic alacrity didn’t mean I was ready for the level of impromptu comedy that would soon be required of me, in front of over a billion people across Asia, from the Middle East to Hong Kong.
Four days before rehearsals were meant to begin for the pageant, thirteen bombs exploded in different places Mumbai, a mini-9/11.
The Mumbai Stock Exchange after the March, 1993 blasts
One of the targets was the Centaur Hotel, a well-intentionally designed structure that looks like the prow of a beached ocean liner in Juhu, which fortuitously rhymes with Malibu because that’s sort of what it is in relation to the rest of Mumbai geographically; i.e., it’s up the coast from the main city and is a well-to-do enclave. The comparisons stop right there, though. This is India, so Juhu is plenty funky, and at the time the Centaur Hotel was a complete shithole, albeit classified as a 5-star shithole by the Indian government because, of course, it was run by the Indian government. I say was a complete shithole because I noticed in Slumdog Millionaire that it was closed for business and being renovated; it’s that abandoned hotel the heroes hide out in for a while. I’m glad it has (hopefully) been brought up to it’s potential; I always thought that architecturally it was a great concept.
The Miss India pageant was supposed to take place in the bombed-out Centaur, so naturally I assumed that the show would be cancelled or at the very least postponed. Not at all. There are a handful of countries that take their pageants very seriously; in places like India, Venezuela and Puerto Rico, it is like the women’s World Series. The show would go on, even though most of the entire ground floor of the hotel was blasted out. Not to be outshone, I decided on going, what the hell, it’s a lark, so I packed my bravado, copped some Xanax for those post-large-scale-terrorism-attack willies combined with stage fright (we all know those), and hopped on a plane from Delhi to Mumbai for rehearsals.
When I got there, I noticed they were constructing this massive runway down the middle of the Olympic-sized pool in the center of the hotel right down to the beach. I could see them building it from my room on the top floor of the hotel. It was in the shape of a Byzantine double crucifix. I came to think of that as symbolic over the upcoming days.
The inner courtyard of the Centaur Juhu Hotel, showing my pool of doom, over which the catwalk was built. My room was on the top floor, center, right hand side. The entire ground floor was blackened from the blast that had ripped through the hotel shortly before we started rehearsals.
Just after I checked in, I was sitting in my room catching up with a friend of mine, Milind Soman, a male model turned actor, with whom I had shared another adventure a few years earlier, during which he proved himself to be one of the few real stand-up guys I have ever met in my life. New Yorkers would call him a mensch. While we were catching up, the phone rang.
“Is this James Killough?”
“There’s a bomb under your bed,” said the caller, clearly not the hospitality desk welcoming me to the hotel and making sure everything was all right. Now, you would think given what had just happened across Mumbai that I would get up and bolt from the room. But for some reason, maybe trying to impress mensch-of-mensches Milind sitting opposite me, I just looked under the bed and replied, “No, there isn’t.”
“Then you are a target the night of the performance,” said the caller, and hanged up.
Milind Soman, whom I sadly haven't seen in a donkey's age, but I'm pleased to see he's now the spokesman for Just For Men, which I use on my beard, but I would use on my hair if I had enough.
Much as I would have liked to ignore the call, the sensible thing to do was to tell the producers, given that this was a climate akin to post-9/11 New York. The whole production was instantly put under lockdown, and we weren’t allowed to go outside hotel for any reason. And we were three days or so away from the main performance. I was assured there would now be elite force snipers covering me from the roof and a Black Cat commando embedded every fifth person in the sizable audience for good measure. Great. Suddenly I felt like was really the host of the Miss Israel Pageant taking place on the Gaza Strip.
Indians are nothing if not expert reassurers. It’s that sway of the head, the “no problem, don’t worry,” their charm. You buy it every time no matter how long you’ve lived there, no matter how well you speak the language. Why? Because they themselves buy it.
I was promised a rehearsal, but didn’t get one the entire three or four days leading up to the performance, during which I basically twiddled my thumbs in my room. I was this afterthought who was somehow going to wing it with a script I had written. I was invincible, I didn’t need what mere mortal performers needed, because I was David Letterman. Everyone else scurried around, the girls going off to swimsuit contests and shopping sprees and congeniality competitions and other Miss Country things, while the crew frantically tried to prepare for an event they had never staged this on this level before. Again, this was the first time the Miss India Pageant was to be televised.
In case you didn't get the point, I shall belabor it. Another scene from the Mumbai blasts shortly before the Miss India pageant.
As my crucifix runway was being built, the backdrop went up as well. It turned out to be an enormous peacock, from which I was to emerge at the beginning of the show and make my way down this sweeping staircase. Just like Liberace.
Ugh. I was pre-embarrassed for myself. The Xanax stopped working. Rudderless, rehearsal-less, increasingly nervous, I snuck out of the hotel to the house of one of the pageant judges next door, an actress with whom I had worked on the first film I ever wrote, which had brought me to India in the first place. The judge wasn’t there, but her willfully insouciant sister was.
“What are you worried about?” the sister said breezily, as if being forced to perform for two hours in front of a billion people across Asia (in rerun) without a rehearsal, with snipers on the roof, commandos in the audience, K-9 bomb squad dogs behind stage and around it — a stage crowned by a peacock I would emerge from like some burlesque fan dancer, no less — when you have never done anything remotely like this in your life, and you only got the gig because of erroneous racial profiling, weren’t enough to justify a wee case of the jitters. “The contest is rigged anyway,” she yawned. “Everyone knows that. Just relax.”
Oh, great. Thanks, friend’s sister. Now I have to be the spokesperson for petty pageant corruption on top of everything else.
I am not a quiet, retiring type. If something bothers me, I’m gonna let you know. And I was getting pissed as hell. Still, I was lulled into the usual reassurance with the swaying heads, and lots of “What rubbish! Of course it’s not rigged!” As proof, there was going to be a terminal in my podium that would be linked directly to the judges and their voting tabulation. Furthermore, this terminal would act as a sort of teleprompter for my script. My friend’s sister had to be wrong.
Indian Army Black Cat Commandos bouncing around. Yes, I willingly put my life in their hands, all in the name of beauty pageant.
I’ll never know what happened in the hour leading up to the performance to cause the mysterious malfunction of the judge’s voting tabulation system linked to the terminal in my podium, which likewise didn’t work. Maybe the judges rebelled against the rigging and couldn’t be trusted to vote the right way. Given what happened at the end of the performance, I would like to imagine that something like that happened, that my friends and colleagues had had a crisis of conscience, as I still have. I’ve never spoken to them about it because I fled in such a hurry and returned to Bombay only years later.
Just before the performance began and my name was announced, before I emerged from the embarrassingly camp peacock, with snipers overhead, a throng of models and contestants backstage, and nausea in my stomach, I said to the stage manager, whom I shall call Deepak to protect the complicit, “How the fuck am I supposed to do this reading from a script I haven’t rehearsed?”
“Don’t worry,” he said. “Just go out there and be funny.”
The 1993 Miss India Pageant wasn’t just rigged in a subtle way, it was a full-blown 18-sail-ship rigging in plain view of everyone in the audience, the contestants, judges, and me, its spokesperson. The show wasn’t broadcast live, but it was still difficult to mask what happened in the final edit that was shown to over a billion people across Asia, in rerun.
The first hiccup occurred towards the last third. There was something strange going on in the manual relay of information between the judges and me, which lead me to accidentally read out the real semi-finalists they had actually voted for, not what the producers wanted, which meant that one of the girls, who would of course go on to win second place, was accidentally eliminated. We had to go back and redo that portion of the show, and eliminate the girl who was supposed to have won, whose name I had already read out, who had mistakenly celebrated a victory that was likely hers to begin with.
In the heat of the moment, I still had time to muster moral indignation — the unfairly eliminated girls, who like me had refused to believe the rumors of rigging, were sobbing backstage — and turned to Deepak when I was offstage for a moment in the wings, “It’s rigged!”
“So what,” he replied with a shrug. “You’re doing a great job. Keep going.”
Despite everything, I suppose I had managed to locate my inner David Letterman and was actually managing to be humorous. No longer. I wasn’t amused and was seriously contemplating walking off.
Just before the end, I was given a note in handwriting I recognized, James, Please read these names out, and it was signed, the Judges. And the names of three girls who should have won were there, not the names of the three who ended up with crowns on their heads. Had I read the real winners out, they would simply have made me go back and redo it, and I was tired of this shit. What had started out as a fun lark had turned into yet another Mumbai nightmare.
Namrata Shirodkar, the woman crowned as Miss India, but who probably wasn't the real winner.
Now, maybe this was an elaborate set-up, we will never know. Maybe that wasn’t really a note from the judges, but like I said, I had worked with two of them for a long time, and knew a few of the others. And I had been warned by almost everyone that the show was going to be rigged and that the girl who was crowned, Namrata Shirodkar, was going to win it, which I just refused to believe possible.
I left that note on the podium, along with the microphone I threw down in disgust once the lights cut and the cameras were off. On my way out, I said to Deepak, “I’m not going to say anything about this, but I want cash, and you can pay the taxes,” and left on the 1 a.m. Air India flight back to Delhi. They did pay me a month later over a Thai meal in Delhi, in cash, literally under the table. I hope they paid the taxes. After all, the organizers and producers of the event were none other than the venerable Times of India.
Well, after telling that story, I’m not sure it’s appropriate to insert my signature picture of Amanda Seyfried’s breast. So I’ll leave you with a more chaste picture of her having an orgasm instead:
Amanda Seyfried having an orgasm while looking at her lesbian lover's shoes in "Chloe." (Oh come, all ye pervy keyword searchers! Join me!) This orgasm is distinct from the one enjoyed by Julianne Moore in an earlier scene, when Julianne was being fingered by Amanda. In this one, Amanda is having sex with Julianne's character's teenaged son. The film is kinda filthy if you think about it, not when you watch it, though.
And the video below isn’t funny at all. I take back what I said about John Galliano having been provoked in my blog a couple of days ago. I apologize for it, and it certainly doesn’t look like anyone from my crew is going to be offering him work soon, even if he were inclined to do it. I take Galliano’s passing on doing the costumes for Hatter a few years ago at its word and cease and desist from further endeavor to convince him otherwise.