My partner José and I jetted to Chicago to attend Reeling: The 25th Chicago Lesbian and Gay International Film Festival, which was hosting a Heartland screening of Boy Culture. Chicago was high on my list of places for this film to play, considering the fact that the original short story that would become the novella that would become the novel that would become the movie was conceived and written in that city, and that my mom and sister live there (and my dad is nearby in Michigan)—it's not quite the same to send your family a DVD.
Before the (my) main event, my family and I planned to attend the opening-night screening and gala for Phillip Bartel's Eating Out 2: Sloppy Seconds (which I've already reviewed glowingly). Fifty dollars later, it turned out to be fun. The most amazing thing was the sense of nostalgia—not for seeing a time-tested classic of the cinema (let's face it—I just saw the movie a couple of months ago!), but because it played at the historic Music Box, the theatre I used to hike over to whenever I'd watch indie and/or queer movies back when I lived in the city, back when I was decoding gay-male sexual politics and writing what would become my first novel. The Music Box looked exactly the same, recognizable from a distance by its gigantic sign. (Chicago is big on big signs.)
This fest lacked the air of excitement of some of the others I've attended. There was a large and enthusiastic crowd waiting to see Eating Out 2, but there was no discernible sense that the festival proper was being kicked off. Waiting outside in the cold for so long didn't help unthaw the vibes, but getting inside did—the heat was on overdrive, anticipating the film's sex factor. Less hot, more warm: I immediately recognized the same guy who always used to admit the audience back in the day—looking identical. I seem to recall buying an original Bloodhounds Of Broadway one-sheet from him back when movie posters were not $2 on eBay and Madonna's most obscure film rocked the Box. I have to assume he is the manager or even owner. It was like going back in time. Inside, a pianist played under a blinding spotlight, the ornate, ’30s decor of the cavernous theatre teasingly half-visible just outside its aura. So charming, so disconnected from the bracingly modern movie that followed.
The audience seemed taken with EO2, and my mother, sister, brother-in-law and partner liked it, too. Most excitingly, I was able to finally say hello to Boy Culture's Darryl Stephens. We hugged it out in the aisle in advance of a longer meeting that would occur two days later.
The after-party was nice, but odd.
It was held in a huge antiques store, and featured live music from a dyke band (picture taken directly overhead their frantic performance, below) and food hauled out in tins—note to organizers: you can't only rely on donated food from sponsors, you need to fork out some cash.
But it was fun anyway, and I got to meet Pink editor Jason P. Freeman (he recognized me from afar in the same way that I would later spot Jennifer Hutson slinking through Macy's food court...well, not exactly in the same way). Jason had some pix of us snapped (Jason...I'm waiting) and told me he loves to collect writers on his MySpace, not pretty boys. Wait...can't you be both?
This is Jason (flashing grin), Eating Out 2: Sloppy Seconds director/Boy Culture editor Phillip Bartel (showing skin), Lulu Gets A Facelift director Marc Huestis (true blue) and me with a tressed-to-kill partygoer.
The party ended, but it was also just beginning.
We were staying at the W, enjoying a rare adult vacation, but what might have made the whole trip feel like a grown-up excursion was a night out with an old friend, Zafar.
I went to the University of Chicago with Zafar, and roomed with him my sophomore year. He was a colorful guy, very glamorous, an aesthete. I think he was bi then but either way, I quickly came to know him as a part of our dorm's queer contingent. I remember him entering my room in my first year, openly checking out my Mapplethorpe postcards, Madonna magazines and SILENCE = DEATH sticker before focusing on a copy of The City And The Pillar. "Gore Vidal...do you like his work...or his life?" This was how we found each other, and we rarely bothered with subtlety ever after.
Zafar became one of my best friends, and was actually referred to in the original, anonymous Boy Culture short story, which scandalized at least some of our friends when it was published in a school journal. Later, he was one of my buddies thanked in my dedication. He lived in New York for a time, and then we lost touch. Eight years or more passed and I hunted him down to see if he'd like to come see the movie. Not only did he sign up immediately (and recruit a half dozen friends), he also hosted us at his new place in Edgewater and took us out to MK, a ritzy restaurant...where an unexpected star "slighting" occurred.
MK has a retro police-station sign out front (Chicago and its signs)—a lighted ball with its two-letter name. Inside, it's giant in a way that is hard for New York eateries to duplicate unless they're very old or very well funded. (That's Zafar and José, out front.) While eating on the first floor, we became aware of a drunken woman one level up
from us. Just as we were noticing her, a balled up glob of bread bounced off her table and onto our coats. It was hard to figure out what happened, but a dishy waiter told us Extreme Home Makeover diva Michael Moloney was on the uppermost level (I could see him but didn't know him from Adam—or Eve—because I avoid watching a show that ends with tears and, "Thanks, ABC!" every week) and had pelted the woman with the homemade bread ball because she'd bothered him earlier. Possibly she was a tipsy fan, but he wasn't exactly clearheaded himself. The management came to us to apologize, but despite getting an A+ in every other regard, MK earned a D- from me in crisis management—they only offered us three free flutes of champagne, but I don't drink and José and Zafar had already finished. We did see Moloney being read the politest riot act ever, and as we left he offered us the smarmiest grin.
No free dessert, no just desserts, just an Extremely tacky queen proclaiming, "Let them eat bread!"
Saturday was the big day of the Boy Culture screening. I have to confess (ba-dum-bum) that I hadn't really thought through how I'd feel about sitting through a screening in my one-time hometown surrounded by people I knew, and also by my family, who know me better than anyone and stood a good chance of guessing which parts came from real life. I consoled myself with the thought, "I didn't direct, write or star in this movie. So if they hate it, I have deniability." I had no reason to fear—people around the world have embraced the film. I knew they wouldn't hate it like I know the Dems will be smiling on Wednesday—"I know" and "oh, no!" are just a few twists and turns apart.
Boy Culture was screening at 9:45 p.m. at the Landmark Theatre in the Century Mall. A mall...just didn't feel like the right place for an indie queer film, but I was assured its geography in Boys' Town made it the logical place for all gay cinema. Right away, it was obvious the film was in demand. There was a
long line (I was responsible for something like 20 of the people myself!) and I was pounced on by Reeling's promotions person and its founder Brenda Webb and asked to join Darryl for the after-screening Q&A. Darryl and Rob arrived (had never met him, had barely met Darryl) and let me tell you, Darryl Stephens is sunshine on a stick. He was absolutely charming and in high spirits, and he told me he's seen the film with audiences enough times that he's no longer nervous about being watched as he watches.
We were escorted in (very V.I.P., good for impressing mama) and took our seats, and I got to see my agent Danielle Egan-Miller (who took over for my late former agent, Jane Jordan Browne, an employer, mentor and friend who made the first deal for the film's option) and her staff and lots of supportive friends. As the theatre filled up, seats were scarce. Hilariously, the promotions person was on the mic when two black patrons entered and began looking for seats in the front. She piped up with, "If you guys want to go to the back—I mean...!" The crowd roared with laughter and they did, too. The guys were still looking for seats moments later when someone shouted out, "I'll take the one in red!"
Great sign that the audience was doing stand-up even before the show went on.
The movie played. Terrible, terrible print—or maybe copy, since it's on video. Wow. Like...severe case of jaundice. The reactions were spot on, though, followed by excellent applause. Many stayed for the Q&A, which was kicked off with a question about Noah's Arc (fair enough—the audience was packed with Darryl fangirls and fanboys) but ran through several deep thoughts, including, for Darryl, "Did you respect your character?" I teased Darryl that probably someone would ask which of the actors was really gay—People Magazine is now printing coming-out stories of celebs seemingly every week—but the audience totally chickened out. Instead, one guy looked me in the eye and asked if I based the prostitution-driven novel on personal experiences. Nice to have Mom and Dad on hand for that one. Of course, I did base the novel on experiences—but some were less personal than others.
We plugged the movie's March release, I plugged the movie tie-in book's February 1st publication...but I forgot to mention the blog.
Uh...tell your friends.
In all, my Reeling experience left me reeling in the best of ways, and Chicago was as much an old friend to me as my old friends were.