Feats Don’t Fail Me Now

“He does manage to make Summerland his first novel in which none of the characters turns out to be gay. There is, however, a coming-out-of-the-closet-drama. But it’s ingeniously disguised, nonsexual and certain to go over every young reader’s head,”

critic Adam Heinlich notes of Michael Chabon’s latest novel.

But what does that mean, exactly? The characters in Chabon’s previous works, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Wonder Boys and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay don’t “turn out” their sexuality all of a sudden. They simply are. But that very simplicity is something of an ever-so-mild disturbance to Heinlich, so accustomed is he to Heterosexual Privilege and the Romance of the Closet — particularly when “ingeniously disguised” and “nonsexual.” However, it’s doubtful whether such a sub rosa episode will go “over every young reader’s head,” as “gay” has long been part of their vocabulary. . .

as the ultimate put-down.

“Homosexuality shocks less, but continues to be interesting;”

Roland Barthes wrote (it seems like eons ago doesn’t it?) in the preface to Renaud Camus’ Tricks

“it is still at that stage of excitation where it provokes what might be called feats of discourse. Speaking of homosexuality permits those who ‘aren’t’ to show how open, liberal and modern they are; and those who ‘are’ to bear witness, to assume responsibility, to militate. Everyone gets busy, in different ways, whipping it up.”

Indeed they do! But today “are” and “aren’t” have by and large changed places. The gays and lesbians whose “feats of discourse” dominate the media are insistent as to how conformist, middle-class and nearly indistinguishable from straights that they can be. Meanwhile “arent’s,” like Joan Walsh of “Salon” magazine, can be found coming to the defense of the right-wing extremist couple who set their attack dogs on a lesbian neighbor, chewing out her throat. A jury found them guilty of second-degree murder, but the judge overturned it, and Walsh was only to happy to register her approval. Such people must know their place after all.

But “place” can vary.

A few nights ago the Los Angeles County Museum of Art hosted a special preview screening of Gus Van Sant’slatest film, Gerry. Gus’ most resolutely avant-garde work since his much-derided 1998 remake of Hitchcock’s Psycho, Gerry stars Matt Damon and Casey Affleck (Ben’s younger brother) as two young men apparently taking a hiking expedition on a “Nature Trail.” We’re supplied with no information as to their backgrounds or precise relationship to one another, though the homoerotic atmosphere occasionally thickens. As they proceed along rocky, sagebrush-strewn paths there’s occasional mention of a “thing” that may be their destination. “Burning Man,” perchance? We never know as they get lost. Soon the landscape turns to solid mountainous rock, and large stretches of desert. Soon the film — though “based on a true story” — becomes less a drama than a landscape painting, like Michael Snow’s La Region Centrale or Phillippe Garrel’s La Cicatrice Interieure

Enraging many critics when it premiered this past January at Sundance (including the usually unflappable Todd McCarthy), Gerry clearly isn’t designed to lure fans of such Damon-starred releases as The Bourne Identity , or even The Talented Mr. Ripley, though there’s a Ripleyesque murder at what would ordinarily be called the “dramatic climax.” Yet the large crowd who showed up for the Museum screening wasn’t at all dissaisfied. They got right into the slow rhythm of the work, and stayed the course with nary a fidget. Afterwards there was a Q&A session that I led, with one young gentleman in the audience commenting on the “sexiness” of the leading players, with the implication that it might be a distracting factor to the total experience. This remark had Gus and I exchanging puzzled glances. What was he expecting from an “openly gay” filmmaker anyway? He would have preferred unsexy leads? Well, maybe not, as this same youth was among the throng of masuline lovelies that huddled about Gus near the stage for further questioning when the formal Q & A was over. Perhaps he was as perturbed as Heinlich. But for different reasons.


Barthes notes ( in Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes)

[is] different from secondary sexuality, the sexiness of a body (which is not its beauty) inheres in the fact that it is possible to discern (to fantasize) in the erotic practice to which one subjects it in thought (I concieve of this particular practice, specifically, and of no other). Similarly, distinguished within the text, one might say there are sexy sentences: disturbing by their very isolation, as if they possessed the promise which is made to us, the readers, by a linguistic practice, as if we were to seek them out by virtue of a pleasure which knows what it wants.”

So much less troubling to have instead sexy people, like Damon and Affleck, and Gus’ petit ami T. J. Roberts (today appearing far more mature than when that photograph was taken). A quiet, friendly presence. Cheerful with occasional flashes of sheer glee at being 23 and feeling on top of the world.

A short time later a group of us repaired to the apartment of a producer friend of Gus’ for drinks, which as it turned out was in the same building on Havenhurst where Richard Rouilard lived. And died. The past occupancy of Bette Davis in the building was mentioned, along with the fact that poltergeists make occasional noisy appearances.

Richard told me of a bit of rattling he’d heard one night, and I recounted my own ghost story, which unfolded in an apartment on Ave. C in New York back in the 70’s, where I visited and friend who was in turn “visited” by something that clomped across the room and upset a chair placed directly in front of us.

I have no idea, or interest, in what may cause such phenomenon. They’re entertaining but supply no information regarding the “other side” that I can make out. They’re just air. I’d be a lot more interested in ghosts if Richard were to haunt the building by throwing one of the parties he used to give. Needless to say, neither John Edward nor James Van der Pragh would be invited.

I find it increasingly easy to slip into the past these days. Especially when I’m visiting areas of town that seem much the same as they were years ago. The Chateau Marmont, up the street, has a ton of ghosts all its own. But it’s doubtful whether they could get a noise in edgewise what with the actors, models, musicians and film directors (Gus included on this visit) who overrun the place.

A giant statue of a majorette, slowly turning with a perpetual smile, used to be out front on Sunset alongside the Chateau — and served as an iconic embodiment of “female” for the cover of Gore Vidal’s novel Myra Breckinridge. Long gone, its been replaced in some ways by the Calvin Klein sign across the street — adorned with whatever crisply muscled piece of male whitebread that has caught Bruce Weber’s fancy this season.

“Oh look, T.J., ” said Gus pointing to the sign’s current star,”it’s Travis.”

“Well,” said T.J. with a drawl and a wicked chuckle (being he who knows what he wants), “everybody loves Travis.”

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