Kevyn Aucoin Beauty & the Beast in Me

(USA 2017)

“He was way ahead of his time. Just the way we do now with selfies and Snapchat and Facebook — he would have put the little Instagram kids to shame!”

— Amber Valletta

 

“Kevyn’s biggest motivation to succeed was his abandonment issues. He had this thought that, if I work with you and you become my friend, and I make you pretty, then you won’t abandon me. I absolutely think he was looking for a mother figure in the people that he worked with.”

— Eric Sakas

Superstar makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin lived an enviable life. He was successful doing what he loved — his work was on runways, in music videos, on award shows, and on magazine covers, at one point nine consecutive issues of Vogue. He wrote books and started a line of cosmetics.

On top of that, he hung out with models, legends, and his own idols: Kate Moss, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Paulina Porizkova, Susan Sarandon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Winona Ryder, Liza Minnelli, Tina Turner, Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Madonna, Cher, and Jennifer Lopez to name a few. Some of them were actual friends (I can only imagine Liza leaving voicemail for me).

Judging from the fact that they all let Aucoin record him with them backstage — on videotape, and not always made up — they must have felt something for him. An affinity? Safety? A debt? Whatever it was, it endeared him. Even in his home videos, he made them look good.

So it’s odd and downright tragic that someone who brought so much beauty to the world, never felt beautiful himself. Perhaps it had to do with his birth mother, Nelda Mae Williams, giving him up for adoption, or all the bullying he got as a teenager. He didn’t like his physical features, which were exaggerated by a condition that went undiagnosed for most of his life: acromegaly, a tumour on the pituitary gland that keeps the brain secreting growth hormones. It’s a painful condition that causes headaches and joint pain, and it got Aucoin addicted to prescription drugs.

A trove of home videos found after his death in 2002 forms the basis for Lori Kaye’s documentary, Kevyn Aucoin Beauty & the Beast in Me. He recorded everything — the aforementioned videos with celebrities, with family members and boyfriends, and even when he was alone. Kaye interviews different people from Aucoin’s life to tell his story, and the interviews range from funny (Andie MacDowell) to sad (ex boyfriend Eric Sakas discusses Aucoin’s downward spiral) to eyeroll-inducing (Williams claims Aucoin would not have been gay had she raised him).

His adoptive parents, Isidore and Thelma Aucoin, accepted him and even dropped out of their church because of its stance on homosexuality. He moved to New York City, and the rest is history.

The celebrity interviews are fun, and some are gushy. Some of the interviewees even cry. They all provide insight into the kind of guy Aucoin was. What Kaye has that makes her documentary special, though, is Aucoin’s tapes, and she incorporates footage from them into the project in a way that lets him tell his own story. It’s an often amusing one with a sad undertone. It also serves, as Cindy Crawford points out, as a time capsule — a really good one. I confess, a few scenes gave me chills.

With Andie MacDowell, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Paulina Porizkova, Gwyneth Paltrow, Amber Valletta, Isidore Aucoin, Nelda Mae Williams, Jed Root, Eric Sakas, Tina Turner, Cher, Liza Minnelli, Whitney Houston, Jennifer Lopez, Janet Jackson

Production: Putti Media

Distribution: Logo Documentary Films (USA), Dogwoof (International)

World Premiere

Screening introduced by director Lori Kaye

90 minutes
Not rated

(Directors Guild of America) B-

Outfest Los Angeles LGBT Film Festival

https://www.kevynaucoindocumentary.com

The Devil Wears Prada

(USA 2006)

Some movies you watch just because they start and you’re too damned lazy to see what else is on. Such is the case with The Devil Wears Prada, which served as the end of my Christmas night movie binge.

Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) just finished school and moved to New York City to become a journalist. While seeking employment with more weighty publications like The New Yorker, she snags a one-off interview for Runway magazine. Surprise: she gets the job—working as personal assistant to ball busting editor-in-chief, Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep). Andy’s job duties and a chance meeting with handsome magazine writer Simon Baker (Christian Thompson) cause friction in her personal relationships, especially her chef boyfriend, Nate (Adrian Grenier). Is a job worth this much hassle?

Director David Frankel does a competent job with Aline Brosh McKenna’s screen adaptation of Lauren Weisberger’s novel even if the end result is nothing special. The acting is fine, particularly Stanley Tucci as caddy and nelly designer Nigel. It’s nice to hear Madonna’s “Vogue” in one scene outside Andy’s car. The problem I have is the script, which is formulaic and predictable girl movie stuff: awkward girl in the big city reinvents herself and not just survives but excels in the face of adversity. Of course, there’s a happy ending. The Devil Wears Prada is not my cup of tea: it’s cute, but that’s about it.

109 minutes
Rated PG-13

(Bravo) D+

http://www.foxmovies.com/movies/the-devil-wears-prada

Strike a Pose

(Belgium/Netherlands 2016)

It’s no secret that Madonna’s Truth or Dare occupies a special place in my heart (https://moviebloke.wordpress.com/2016/08/26/truth-or-dare-in-bed-with-madonna/ ). As ladies with an attitude or fellas that were in the mood, the dancers are a big reason why; all seven young guys proved to be more than incidental eye candy, each adding considerable spirit not just to the film but to the tour—and arguably Madonna’s persona. Strike a Pose shows where they are now, which isn’t necessarily pretty but certainly isn’t all that bad.

Directors Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan get into the past and even dig up a little dirt, like the lawsuits some of the dancers filed after Truth or Dare came out. Thankfully, they don’t spend a lot of time on either. Instead, they focus on what exactly working with Madonna during such a pivotal time in her career brought to each of their lives, for better or for worse. What each dancer ultimately ended up doing isn’t as interesting as the subtext, which suggests that it was all an illusion.

As one might expect, some of the dancers at least on the surface have done better than others. Salim “Slam” Gauwloos, Luis Camacho, and Kevin Stea are working choreographers (Stea also got into deejaying and recently even recorded an album). Carlton Wilborn, the only one who toured with Madonna again after Blond Ambition, published a biography and is now a life coach. Jose Gutierez Xtravaganza lives with his mother in her apartment in New York. Oliver Crumes is married and possibly disabled—it’s not entirely clear, but that’s what I deduced. Sadly, Gabriel Trupin died in 1995 (which I already knew). His mother, Sue, has a lot to say about his role in Truth or Dare.

As a huge Madonna fan, Strike a Pose did not reveal much that I didn’t already know. That said, one thing that blew me away was that three of the dancers knew they were HIV-positive during the tour, yet none of them said anything about it. I’m not judging—anyone who made it through the “crisis years” of AIDS understands why. Still, it’s sad that not even someone as big and unfazed as Madonna, who gave a poignant speech about Keith Haring and featured a gay kiss in her tour documentary, was capable of creating a safe space then. Things have changed.

It’s easy to write off Strike a Pose as a lame attempt by minor players to milk their 15 minutes of fame, but I didn’t find them to come off that way. Not at all. Each seems sincerely okay with where he is, which is great. None of them plug any current projects. If anything, the focus is on what one does after the lights dim. Each of them has faced demons—drugs, disease, career obstacles. In fact, Camacho suggests that they are all responsible in one way or another for forcing Madonna to back away from them.

None of the dancers are as fierce as they were 25 years ago; this didn’t bother me because frankly I’m not, either. Watching Strike a Pose feels like meeting up with some friends you haven’t seen in a long time. If there’s one thing I learned from this documentary, it’s that Truth or Dare touched a lot more people than I thought. The one thing that would’ve been nice: Madonna showing up.

Screening followed by a live Q and A with Carlton Wilborn.

83 minutes
Not rated

(AMC River East) B-

Chicago International Film Festival

http://www.strikeaposefilm.com

Paris Is Burning

(USA 1991)

“Opulence. O, P, U, L, E, N, C, E, opulence. You own everything. Everything is yours!”

—Junior LaBeija

Before The Crying Game and Transamerica, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner, and Scissor Sisters’ “Let’s Have a Kiki,” there was Paris Is Burning. I first saw it at a screening on my college campus, I think, when it was fairly new—I remember a double feature with Madonna’s Truth or Dare, so it had to be summer or fall 1991. I’ve since seen it countless times. It’s one of the films I quote most. I love it, even as it turns 25 years old. It is, in two words, fucking fabulous!

Shot in 1987 with a short check in three years later, Paris Is Burning is ostensibly a documentary about the Harlem nightlife ball culture (pronounced “boo-wall” by most here). The film takes its name from one said ball, a rather clandestine affair held in a shabby party hall somewhere near Lexington/125. A world unto itself, ball culture was loaded with costumes, wild dancing, attitude, hierarchy, and tons of rules. There was blood, sweat, tears, and fighting—but there was also community and (for some) glory. As one subject, Willie Ninja, informs us, the balls may have been long and drawn out, but they were never boring. Amen! This is clear.

Much to her credit, director Jennie Livingston goes—excuse how this sounds—beyond the balls, getting into the daily challenges not only gay men and drag queens faced, but also actual bona fide transgender women. This was probably the first exposure I had to that. I mean, being gay in the Reagan Era was bad enough: if you weren’t destined to live a long and lonely life in the closet, you were going to get AIDS. Either way, the only thing straight about you was your road to hell. Transgender was…something else altogether. America was not ready for it when Paris is Burning came out, which makes it all the more remarkable.

Paris Is Burning is a big middle finger to all that thinking. While not everyone subscribed to that view, Paris Is Burning was the first film to show a lifestyle like this in a positive light. It was effective; it showed how fun and liberating it could be to walk a ball, fake tits or not. Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side. Damned fun! No wonder Madonna co-opted vogueing and snagged two Xtravaganzas for her tour.

Although there are undertones of sadness throughout, every person in this film is a hero. They were courageous simply living their lives how they did, when they did. The key was a mix of self confidence and major guts. Dorian Corey gave me a crash course on reading and shade. Pepper LaBeija showed me that living the good life takes more than money. Venus Xtravaganza showed me that life is a negotiation. Whatever category you choose, you better work it!

Sadly, the era and the players of Paris Is Burning are long gone, but their spirit doesn’t just live on—it thrives. Paris Is Burning and its subjects are legendary.

Side note: everything has its dark side. This is a perfect example: http://dangerousminds.net/comments/dorian_corey_the_drag_queen_had_a_mummy_in_her_closet

In 2016, the United States Library of Congress deemed Paris Is Burning “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.

71 minutes
Rated R

(Home via iTunes) A

http://www.jennielivingston.com/paris-is-burning

Truth or Dare [In Bed with Madonna]

(USA 1991)

“I do not endorse a way of life but describe one, and the audience is left to make its own decisions and judgments.”

“Even when I feel like shit, they still love me.”

“Yeah. It ain’t all fucking hunky-dory.”

“I know I’m not the best singer and I know I’m not the best dancer, but I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in pushing people’s buttons, in being provocative and in being political.”

—Madonna

In Richard Linklater’s Slacker—released the same year—an Austin, Texas, townie (Teresa Taylor) hocks a jar she claims is a “Madonna pap smear,” talking it up as an item “closer to the rock god than just a poster.” Up close and personal, that’s essentially what Truth or Dare is: a Madonna pap smear, figuratively speaking.

Truth or Dare is Madonna showing us all how cool she is. It encapsulates an exceptionally interesting time—the best time for her to do something like this, as proven by her later tour documentary, the painfully dull I’m Going to Tell You a Secret, in 2006. Certainly no run of the mill performer, it’s only fitting that Truth or Dare is no run of the mill concert film. Shot at the zenith of her career during the Blond Ambition Tour in 1990—a banner year for an artist with a long track record of controversy and success—Madonna allows director Alek Keshishian unprecedented (though not complete) access behind the scenes, and he in turn gives viewers a lot of juicy nuggets to feast on. For fans, Keshishian shows that Madonna really is—or was—all that, and more: she’s snappy, saucy, snide, mischievous, rebellious, witty, tough, and through it all ridiculosly entertaining (and I imagine a lot of fun if you’re on her good side).

The live stuff is superb. Keshishian picks all the showstoppers from Madonna’s most iconic tour: “Express Yourself,” “Holiday,” “Vogue,” a what-the-fuck version of “Like a Virgin” inspired by an ancient Egyptian orgy, and my favorite despite its unfortunate truncation, a Bob Fosse meets A Clockwork Orange take on “Keep it Together.” Views from both the floor and onstage present the show in all its over-the-top glory. Using color in an otherwise black and white film makes the live pieces all the more special.

The backstage shots on tour—the nightly prayers, the stress and snafus, the post show parties—are even better. The shade Madonna thows at other celebrities—Oprah Winfrey, Belinda Carlisle, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and of course Kevin Costner—is uncalled for but hilarious, sometimes uncomfortably so. Personal events like her spat with Warren Beatty before the Dick Tracy opening in Orlando (she calls him an “asshole”), a phone call with her father to arrange tickets for a show in Detroit, meeting a childhood friend, even attending Pedro Almodóvar’s party in Madrid all uncover multiple sides of Madonna.

But Keshishian goes deeper (and deeper): for every cringeworthy contrived scene that rings hollow—like visiting the cemetery to see her mother’s grave—is an honest one revealing the flawed and complicated person Madonna is. My favorite moments in Truth or Dare are the small events that show her human side. She’s generous with her dancers and her family—the scene where she sings “Happy Birthday” to her father onstage is precious. Her conversation with Sandra Bernhard where she admits she’s bored is illuminating and oddly relatable. I still find her comment that “everyone talks about how fame changes a person, but they never talk about how fame changes the people around them” her most poignant statement—and Keshishian demonstrates what she means. Often, Madonna doesn’t have it all under control: it rains on the Asian leg of her outdoor tour, her headset keeps shorting out during a concert, the police pop up to arrest her at her show in Toronto, her brother Martin doesn’t show up at her hotel suite when he’s supposed to, her throat gives out, a member of her entourage is drugged and assaulted, a dancer (Oliver Crumes) goes AWOL. These scenes stand out because they reveal a lot about how Madonna handles tough situations—and she’s not always good at it. Moreover, she doesn’t have everything she wants: phone messages, Antonio Banderas, Slam and Gabriel, to name a few.

Madonna has admitted she was shady and a horribe brat in Truth or Dare (http://www.ew.com/article/2015/08/07/madonna-truth-or-dare). What makes it richer and more thorough, though, is that the focus is not solely on her. Madonna’s dancers are given ample space to show who they are and let some of their stories come out. Bringing out their homosexuality, especially during the age of AIDS, is a bold move that points to the topics and issues that clearly color(ed) her work. Truth or Dare got me to see Madonna more as a performance artist than a pop star.

There are loads of truly fun moments here. Plus, we get to see a flash of her boobs. In the end, Madonna shows us a good time but still leaves us asking, who’s that girl? It’s a strategy that’s served her well throughout her career.

120 minutes
Rated R

(Home via iTunes) A-

http://www.miramax.com/movie/madonna-truth-or-dare/