Goodbye to Language
Jean-Luc Godard's latest free-form essay film may be, more than anything else, a documentary of a restless mind.
Some people are proposing a boycott of Newsweek because of a silly article that criticizes gay actors -- specifically on TV's "Glee" and in the Broadway revival of the Bacharach-David Musical "Promises, Promises" -- for acting too gay in straight roles. This strikes me as fundamentally hilarious for several reasons, the most obvious of which are:
1) I didn't know anyone needed additional incentive to not read Newsweek, since circulation figures indicate that lots and lots of people have been not reading it without making any concerted effort not to do so.
2) "Glee" and "Promises, Promises" are both Musicals, for god's sake. Where would the Musical be without the participation of gay actors? The movie version of "Paint Your Wagon" -- that's where. You Musical fans want to spend the rest of your lives watching and listening to Clint Eastwood singing "I Talk to the Trees"? Then go ahead and complain that gay performers are too gay to star in Musicals.
You would prefer, maybe, the 1973 musical remake of "Lost Horizon" with Liv Ullmann, Peter Finch, Michael York, Sally Kellerman and George Kennedy? Oh, wait, that had John Gielgud as Lama Chang of Shangri-La. Too gay.
3) The writer of the piece, Newsweek associate editor Ramin Setoodeh, went on "The Joy Behar Show" to defend himself and said he was "a member of the gay community." He said those words. Gay community? Where's that? Nobody really talks like that, do they? It sounds like the Mar Vista rest home in "Chinatown." Do they accept persons of the Jewish persuasion in the Gay Community, or is it Restricted?
4) On that same show (transcript here) celebrity guest Dan Savage reminded gay community member Setoodeh that Charles Nelson Reilly played the romantic lead in "Hello Dolly" in 1964. And the damn thing was a hit, too. The 1969 movie version starred Barbra Streisand. How much more gay can you get -- besides, maybe, Bea Arthur and Lucille Ball in "Mame"? Generic conventions demand a certain suspension of disbelief when characters are required to burst flamboyantly into full-throated song at the drop of a hat. Meanwhile, "Glee" either recently devoted or is about to devote a show to the oeuvre of Madonna. Are there really any rigidly "straight" roles in such productions? And even if there are, how is it possible for anyone to come across as "too gay" when they are already surrounded by so much gayness? (I'm sorry, I guess this is kind of a re-statement of #2.)
5) Setoodeh (who wrote a similar anti-"Glee" Newsweek story headlined "King of Queens" in 2009) gets the argument precisely backwards. The headline of the piece is "Straight Jacket: Heterosexual actors play gay all the time. Why doesn't it ever work in reverse?" He writes: "While it's OK for straight actors to play gay (as Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger did in 'Brokeback Mountain'), it's rare for someone to pull off the trick in reverse.... Cynthia Nixon was married to a man when she originated Miranda on 'Sex and the City.' Kelly McGillis was straight when she steamed up 'Top Gun''s sheets, and Anne Heche went back to dating men (including her 'Men in Trees' costar)." Oh, so an actor's believability has to do with whoever he or she is sleeping with at the time a particular performance is given? I don't get it.
Obviously, then, (closeted) gay actors have been playing straight enough for Setoodeh for many years -- as long as he wasn't personally aware that they were privately behaving in a gay way just then. His problem isn't about how they act on stage or on screen -- it's about how he just can't help imagining them acting at home: "For all the beefy bravado that Rock Hudson projects on-screen, Pillow Talk dissolves into a farce when you know the likes of his true bedmates." Did he really write "when you know the likes of his true bedmates"? Do you have to be a Member of the Gay Community to know what Hudson's true bedmates liked?
I pity the literalism of Setoodeh's imagination. Laurence Olivier, Danny Kaye, Cary Grant, Randolph Scott, Barbara Stanwyck, Fannie Flagg, Wanda Sykes, Marlon Brando, James Dean, Montgomery Clift, Lily Tomlin, Ian McKellen, Meredith Baxter, Sara Gilbert, Will Geer, Ellen Corby, T.R. Knight, Portia de Rossi, Jane Lynch, Dick Sargent, Robert Reed (who wasn't married during the run of "The Brady Bunch"!!).... After what we know (or think we know) about such actors' memberships in the Gay Community (some lived there, some rented, some may just have had gay ghetto passes), will Setoodeh ever be able to watch them with a straight face again? Does it even matter, since to him it's simply his fantasies about their off-screen lives that alter his perceptions? To re-work what gay actor Laurence Olivier legendarily said to Dustin Hoffman on the set of "Marathon Man": "What's wrong with acting, dear boy?"
Setoodeh quotes the New York Times review of "Promises, Promises" to support his opinion of Sean Hayes' performance: "his emotions often seem pale to the point of colorlessness ... " To me, that sounds a lot like Tom Hanks' gay character in "Philadelphia." Hanks won an Oscar for pulling off what many considered an impossible acting challenge: playing a gay man with no sense of humor. But Hanks had been humorous before, and he's been humorous since. If an actor is lackluster in a particular role, does the fault necessarily lie with his or her sexuality? Maybe the trouble, if there is one, is with the performance. Or in the mind of the beholder.
I didn't know Neil Patrick Harris was gay when he played the heterosexual horndog in "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" -- and he was at least as funny when I watched it again after he came out. But let me say that it is not wise to invoke the gayest movie in Hollywood history, "Top Gun," in support of the argument that Kelly McGillis was "straight" enough at the time to play a romantic lead opposite Tom Cruise. Or did Setoodeh forget that her only rivals were Anthony Edwards and Val Kilmer?
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