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People Or Plastic?

BAKER STREET

by Eric J Baker

Congratulations. You survived the apocalypse.

I guess Jesus doesn’t read Pure Film Creative (despite the “topless Magdalene” tag last week), because he passed right over me when flinging souls into Hell like I wasn’t even there! However, as surprised – and slightly miffed – as I am to have been spared, it wasn’t the oddest event of my week.

That distinction belongs to Thursday night, when I found myself standing about 18 inches from Weird Al Yankovic, an entertainer about whom I had hitherto no opinion and never expected to see live from that or any distance. Such are the sudden twists and turns of life.

The venue was the State Theater, a renovated vaudeville palace in central Jersey, where I once fell asleep during the 25th anniversary showing of 2001: a Space Odyssey, despite it having been introduced by somebody. He didn’t climb into the audience and sing to the woman next to me, like Weird Al did on Thursday, hence becoming forgettable.

A new tradition: Every generation now has the plain Italo-American chick who morphs herself into an un-nuanced, overdressed, workaholic performer who champions homosexuals and habitually pisses all over the Catholic church.

As Weird Al played his set, I noticed many of the artists he parodies are dead: Jim Morrison, Michael Jackson, Coolio, Kurt Kobain. Oops. Sorry, Coolio. Not content to milk past glory, Al also mimicked Lady Gaga’s Poker Face with his version called Polka Face.

Weird Al or Lady Gaga. Which one is the bigger fake?

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I, Monster

I check my look in the mirror
I wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face.
— Bruce Springsteen, Dancing in the Dark

The caption for this photo on the site I poached it from said, "Springsteen made it acceptable for men to wear bandanas around their heads." Bwahahahahahahahahahaha.

Ever since that song was first released, I have been puzzled.  I can understand Bruce changing his clothes and his hair; the Jersey Boy look can be sexy if you have an eye for what old school queens call “rough trade,” but it’s never stylish, and in the 80s the clothes and the hair from the Swamps Beyond The Bridge and Tunnels were almost as bad as they are now, as showcased on The Show That Cannot Be Mentioned on MTV.  But why would a man as handsome as Bruce Springsteen want to change his face?  After all, a man’s face is something that should not be changed by anything other than time.  For the fair sex, it’s as my former lover Daniel, the Giant Spanker of Celebrities, used to say: “Every vooman has a second face.  It’s called make-up.”

All I can think is that some irate ex-girlfriend of Spingsteen’s must have screamed the truth about his one facial imperfection during a heated smack-down Jersey-style breakup moment: “So you think you’re fuckin’ sexy, huh?  So does half the fuckin’ world!  But let me tell you something.  Do you have any fuckin’ idea how fuckin’ difficult it is to kiss a guy with an underbite?  Huh?  You practically have to hang upside down like a bat to do it properly.  And I’m sick of it!  I’m outta here!”  Which led Bruce to sit down and pen that song.  From then on, if he was going to dance, it would be in the dark so that no one could look at his underbite, which is a pity because it’s the key to his sexiness.

At the risk of being hauled up for cyber bullying with my relentless pursuit of Galliano, this post does pick up from the earlier pieces about him not just because of the work John has had done to his face, but because he’s got me thinking about my play Hatter and narcissism.  What makes anyone take a look in the mirror and not just want to change his clothes, his hair, his face, but take a scalpel to it and rearrange as much of it as he can afford?

A computer impression of what Michael Jackson would have looked like had he not had plastic surgery. I firmly believe that had he left well enough alone with his face, those traumatized boys wouldn't have sued.

Hatter is an extended riff on the Mad Tea Party, in which the Mad Hatter is now Matt Hatter, the Galliano/McQueen/Tom Ford rock-star fashion designer character, and Alice is a fashion journalist who has the goods on him.  One of the tropes I carry over from Alice in Wonderland is the looking glass, the mirror, how people perceive themselves.  The fashion designer, I state in the play, is the mirror that people hold up to themselves: he tells you how to dress, what you look better in, who you are going to be today.

I stumbled on the notion of the fashion designer-as-looking glass when I was writing the piece.  Actually, I stumbled on quite a few things when I was writing it, both intellectually and physically, but I’ll expound more about that when we get closer to production and I shed my inhibitions.  It wasn’t until I was living with a philosophy professor a couple of years later that I realized that this notion of the exterior world being a mirror of the self, in particular the libidinous self, is central to the teaching of modern French philosopher Jacques Lacan.  Basically, Lacan’s mirror stage, “typifies an essential libidinal relationship with the body image.”  I’ll leave it there and let you follow the Cliff Notes on Jacques Lacan via my Wikipedia links if you’re interested.  I need to keep this blog as light and fluffy as a Galliano tulle gown if I’m going to keep my readers, i.e., the fashion folk and the Amanda Seyfried breast-loving pervs, happy.

A fluffy Galliano-designed tulle gown. I just can't wrap my mind around how someone who can produce such beauty, and such vast quantities of such beauty, season after season, can reflect such ugliness.

Narcissism, as I discovered during an extended “spack out” I had in London over the fall/winter 2008-09 season, isn’t the same as having a dollop of normal vanity combined with healthy self-confidence.  The cause of said spack out, as the British call flipping out, was that I was taking the oncoming Recession personally.  It had to be my fault that everything was collapsing around me, only I was to blame that a trillion dollars of wealth had vanished, leaving the indie film business — never exactly a booming, flush industry to begin with — with nothing in the collective bank.  See, we rely on the discretionary capital of high-net-worth individuals to close most independent film deals, and suddenly there was nothing left, nothing was moving forward, and we were all tumbling towards nothingness.  In good ol’ Anglo-Australian-American fashion, I saw this as entirely my doing: my small overdraft at the bank had collapsed the world economy in a butterfly effect.  That had to be it because I was raised to believe that had to be it; all problems in our lives are our fault, aren’t they?  And the only possible explanation for this colossal, recession-causing fault of mine was that I had a major personality disorder.

So I hopped onto Our Lord Google, Omniscient God of Everything and Everything Else, and scoured directories on mental illness, the DSM IV, the WikiWonderWorks, you name it.  Then I found the cause of it all:  Narcissism Personality Disorder, a.k.a. NPD.  That was me.  It spoke to me, it rang true.  Years of running from the horrible truth were over.

But a blind test was in order.  I needed proof before I committed myself to an institution, and if not an institution then to intensive outpatient psychiatric care courtesy Her Majesty’s NHS.

I printed out a list of the symptoms without a heading or an explanation and handed them with great drama and flourish to the aforementioned philosophy professor, who shared my bed and knew me best.  “Read this, Jonathan.  And tell me who this reminds you of.”

Jonathan read.  “I dunno, who does it remind me of?”

“Me?”

“No.”

“Oh, come on.  You mean I don’t have even one of these characteristics?”

“Not really.  No.”

I was crushed.  I needed not one, but at least five to be considered an NPD.  But there was still hope: why should I believe the one person that I had purposely brought into my life to convince me I was sane and wonderful when I clearly wasn’t?  Just having Jonathan around was part of the pathology of my NPD.  Luckily, our friend Helen, a psychologist and social worker who spent her days “sectioning” people, which is the British equivalent of forcibly committing people to mental institutions, came over for a cup of tea and a “rollie.”  Helen is a great character: soothing alto voice, big Amy Winehouse black bouffant, fifties glasses, bright red lipstick.

“Go on, Jonathan, tell her,” I said.

“James thinks he’s a narcissist,” Jonathan said.

“And he doesn’t believe me,” I added.

“You’re not a narcissist, darling,” Helen said with calm authority while she finished rolling her cigarette.  “You’re just an American.”

In the end, Jonathan and Helen and Mayoclinic.com convinced me I didn’t have NPD nor any major personality disorder.  All I have is somewhat elevated levels of vanity by British standards, but relatively normal levels of it for an American.  And just because most hours of the day I tend to be preternaturally confident when many people around me aren’t, doesn’t make me a narcissist.

Damn.

True narcissists are delusional.  When I say that there are a lot of narcissists around here, it’s because Hollywood attracts people who really do have NPD.  It’s what makes this “Hollyweird.”  Like all completely or partially insane people, their inner Lacanian mirrors are cracked or warped, as I believe Galliano’s might be, even though it would be up to his shrink to diagnose him, not some blogist who caused him to be spanked one night seven years ago in Paris.

Having said all that, it’s time for me to admit I don’t really fancy myself the gay Hugh Hefner, as I’ve stated in earlier postings.  It just sounded sensational. I’m not even sure I like his baby oil regimen, which I was inspired to try after that NY Times article about him; I feel more leathery, not less.  Actually, I feel parchmenty.

George Clooney's neck wattle, which makes him the straight James Killough.

What I really delude myself as being is the gay George Clooney.  This is not just because both he and I are getting sexier as we get older; although, truth be told, anything is sexier than when I was a tall, lanky, out-of-shape youngster.  The main reason I am the gay Clooney is because we both have the same drooping wattle folds between our chins and necks.  I noticed his the other day while watching The American.  I am a bit younger than Clooney, so I just have one wattle, which is starting to come in like a wisdom tooth.  No doubt it will be joined by another soon, and I’ll be more like Clooney than ever.  They’ll be my wisdom wattles.

I don’t know if Clooney does anything to his face, if he botoxes or fills in wrinkles.  I don’t intend to, even though my sister thinks I should inject something in the accordion action happening around my neck.  Nah.  Just cover the mirrors, people, cos I’m going out like Eastwood, making movies and lookin’ like a Shar Pei puppy.

I shall leave you today not with a celebrity tit picture, we’ve moved on from those, but with a joke a young friend just shared with me via text.

Question: If Marilyn Monroe were alive right now, what would she be doing?

Answer: Clawing at her coffin.

Apparently that is from Chuck Palahniuk.

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Palace of Fear

It’s official.  Today I went where so many other Hollywood celebrities have gone before.  Michael Jackson. Linsday Lohan. Not OJ Simpson, that was Beverly Hills, but Justin Timberlake’s 48-year-old cougar stalker, for her restraining order.  Yes, I’m talking about the Los Angeles Superior Court House.  My  landlady, Susan Blais, who IN MY OPINION is a psycho, is taking me to court (I have to put that IMO in or she might sue for defamation if she’s bored on a busy Saturday night and deep Googles herself and finds this).  I can’t say what is going on, yet, because I’m not sure it’s advisable to talk about it here until it’s over and I’ve inevitably lost, but trust me, it’s nefarious, it’s evil, it’s demented. In my opinion, of course.

Lindsay Lohan, whose thighs are bigger than mine, arrives at the Los Angeles Superior Court last week, wearing a dress that sells out online an hour later. I wore leather.

The court house reminded me of Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil”: long white marble corridors with countless wood doors leading off them, each one holding a drama, a mystery, a trauma; insouciant lawyers wafting by, the women strutting like rickety grandfathered American Airlines flight attendants still defiantly propping up glamor at 55, the men with the gruff, slovenly look of battle-worn litigators who have long since gone deaf to the law’s calling; and the filler in between all of this, the American civil servant: doughy, usually not white, know-it-all, seen-it-all, “NEXT IN LINE, PLEASE! STEP DOWN!”

Katherine Helmond getting a facelift in Terry Gilliam's "Brazil," which also reminds me of my mother (sorry mom), not just because of this hilarious scene, but because of the relationship between Helmond's character and her son, played by Jonathan Pryce. How does Gilliam know us so well?

In my mind I dubbed it the Palace of Fear: imperceptibly, shuffling down the marble halls, wafting through the callow attorneys, darting between the Weeble-like civil servants were the cowed would-be criminals, the victims of justice, the people like me, lost among the frigid lanes of the Dictatorship of Bureaucratia, unsure what room to go to, why the entrance on Grand Avenue is on the fourth floor, but the entrance from Hill on the other side of the building is on the first, four flights down, down, marble-and-wood-door down.  I was up and down, in and out of rooms, shunted back and forth, until finally, thoroughly spun around and calling for Dinah my cat, I ended  up in an elevator saying out loud, thinking I was alone, “Should I be going up, or down or …”  But I wasn’t alone.  There was another man with me, clutching a perplexed sheaf of papers in hand, eyebrows twitching.  He was a black man my age, no doubt also strafed by the recession, also brained by an in-his-opinion evil landlady.  He jumped a little and said, “Don’t be upsetting me with that shit, man!”

Outside the Palace of Fear, where the entrance from the street is on the fourth floor, and it's all downhill from there. Isn't justice purdy?

The great thing about these experiences is you get to see what these places are really like outside of a TV show or a movie, and for some reason the real thing is just so different in a not-very-entertaining way, or not as entertaining as a movie or a TV show.  It’s immersion into the realm of unpleasant senses.  You’re now in the drama, the drama is you.  This is happening.

It’s the same thing as living in this shithole building I ended up at in an emergency move in November when I needed a place quickly.  It’s this old school 20s Hollywood apartment building that was built for wannabes and still houses them.  It’s a dorm, basically, owned by the wicked witch/evil queen in every Grimm’s fairy tale I was read as a child (in my opinion).  Living in the entertainment district of Hollywood is like living in Times Square when it was making its transition from “Midnight Cowboy” to “Lion King.”  This is Holly-weird Central, complete with the charming pot dealer who lives beneath me, who calls me Daddy-o.  When I was watching back episodes of “The Shield” in here, I felt that I was living a stereoscopic reality with what was happening on the criminal-chasing, siren-blaring, cop-barking screen and what was happening outside my windows.  I am in this.  Dinah, my dear, we have fallen into a hole and can’t get out, and the Red Queen wants my head.

When I am confounded by my predicament I ask myself, “What would Lindsay do?”  Not true.  I’m being flip.  I ask myself what Bill Hendrickson from “Big Love” would do, I shit you not.  I find episodes of that show comforting.  The Hendricksons are just living the Libertarian dream of being consenting adults who should be able to be legally polyamorous, but they are relentlessly beleaguered, and I identify with that and find it comforting in a schadenfreude-ish way.   Scary?  Yeah, well.

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