Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sister Dearest or Pop Porn, Summer in the City

Hi. I know it's been forever. My friend Jeffrey said I'm taking slogging (slow blogging) to new heights. I've been trying to finish this post, but maybe I feel guilty that I read this yummy piece of trash book about Madonna. Meanwhile, I've seen lots of movies (new Star Trek: super duper fun joyride; see it in iMax if you can), and had lots of serious thoughts about film (like how Kirstin Scott Thomas's performance in I've Loved You So Long is compelling and heartbreaking) and superficial thoughts about TV (Adam was robbed, yes, but Kris is so damn cute!). But first I have to get this entry out of the way.

Read all the way to the end for a verymarkmccormick scoop!

Madonna's brother Christopher Ciccone has written a tell-all book about what it's been like living in his sister's shadow. It's positively the worst book I've ever read, absolute trash, and I couldn't recommend it more highly! Three words: dee-lish-us!

Everyone knows that I've had a nearly three-decade long fascination with Madonna. (Not adoration, fascination; they're different.) It started when I was in college, about 18 years old, working in a Record Bar store in the Pocatello Mall. The manager put on a record, Madonna's first self-titled album. We couldn't believe it was a white girl. It's hard to imagine now with Brittney, Kylie, and dozens of other imitators, but in those days white girls didn't sing like that. We loved it and played it all the time. And we sold the shit out of that record.

Many years later I made a short film about Madonna, starring moi, making the point that most people, especially gay men, have a story about some Madonna song that formed the soundtrack to an important event in their life. That little movie I'm proud to say played in film festivals all over the world.

A story I would have liked to have told in Madonnalogue, but it didn't even occur to me was how being Madonna's brother, and being gay, and having aspirations as a performing artist, even a fine artist--well that could really fuck you up. And it did for poor Christopher.

Basically, he puts the psycho in sycophant. At the same time you can't help but feel for the guy. This is his side of the story, no doubt, but it rings true. Her Madgesty is impossibly imperious from early childhood. There are lots of stories of the "she always got the most cake" variety from their childhood. And still he always craved her approval and attention. She encouraged him to study dance, as she did. And that ensured him a role in her early years as a perfomer. When she was just starting, playing small gay clubs in Manhattan and then London, Paris, and other places, he was a back-up dancer. Through all of this she was at best decent and at worst a total and completely self-serving bitch. And the stories ring true, because they're all so consistent with each other and with what you can hear any night of the week on Extra and Access Hollywood.

The entire arc of the narrative is simply a series of fights about tours, houses, husbands, drug usage (his, not hers--that girl is clean) and email battles. It's written in first person present tense, which can really get confusing when he flash-forwards from the present, to, um, the present. It's an awkward tense; blame his co-writer, no doubt hired to bring semi-coherence to his rambling litanty of slights.

As I said, it's tours, houses, husbands, and drugs. The tours and houses parts are easy to explain. Madonna hires him as a dancer, then dresser, then art director on many of her tours. She treats him like shit, doesn't pay him enough, but gives him just enough affection for him to come back for more. Lather, rinse, repeat. This guy is a glutton for punishment. The exact same pattern is true of her houses: "Christopher will you decorate my house?" "Sure. How much will you pay me?" "A pittance." "Oh, Madonna, you're such a bitch; you underappreciate me; I'm living on the edge of poverty, but okay." "Good, you little fucking ingrate; now I'm going to be the most demanding client you can imagine and then I'm going to withhold the palty sum we agreed to, because I've heard you're doing drugs with supermodels and actresses and that really pisses me off." "Oh Madonna you are so mean. Naomi and Linda and Demi and Farrah--they're all so nice, and they really understand me, and we're hardly doing any coke at all--now give me my fucking money or I'll never speak to you again." "Check into rehab and I'll think about it." "I hate you! But okay. . . dammit!" On and on, I swear, through every goddamn tour and house. Christopher tries to be even-handed in the telling of this, because he wants you to sympathize with him. Sometimes it works. But he'll never work in Hollywood again.

Madonna and Her Husbands
The best parts are the dishy chapters about Sean, Warren, and Guy. He relates how each of them treated him, focusing on how they handled his homosexuality. Here's the summary.

Sean was decent. He treated Christopher well. Sean apparently had a sort of man crush on Charles Bukowski of all people. He was always around the house. Sean was into male bonding rituals and once had Christopher cut his thumb whereupon Sean cut his and they became blood brothers (years later, Christopher was incensed when Sean approached him at a party and, referring to the blood brother incident, asked him if he had AIDS).

Warren was the best of them all. He was secure in his own masculinity and entirely comfortable wtih Christopher's homosexuality. In fact he showed quite a bit of personal, and seemingly purely platonic, interest in Christopher's sexuality.

Guy was a jerk. He was boorish and homophobic, at least in the beginning; much of Christopher's impressions of him were based on their early time together, because during most of Madonna's marriage to Guy, she and Christopher were estranged. Guy and his buddies liked to use words like "twee" and Christopher found it all maddeningly homophobic.

So while reading I couldn't help wondering about the overall veracity of the story. Luckily verymarkmccormick is very connected: Here's the scoop! I once met Randy Taraborelli, who wrote a very good biography of Madonna, semi-authorized I believe. He's a friend of a friend. And he how has now done me two massive favors. The first was that he delivered the movie I made about Madonna to her personally. I was having the hardest time getting it into her hands. I even have another good friend who is close to her longtime publicist and manager Liz Rosenberg. He gave me her address. I sent it to Liz a few times and always heard back, through my friend: "well we didn't get the disc" or "well I'm sure it's here somewhere; I'll make sure she gets it." But I wanted to know that it was in her hands. Randy took a disc to the Golden Globes or some awards ceremony and later said in an email to our mutual friend, "I put it in her purse and said, 'This guy has made a short film about you and it's really good, and I want you to swear by all that is kaballah that you will watch it.'" I have not received the adoring note I had hoped from Madge, but I'm glad it made it into her posession.

Second favor: when I finished Ciccone's book I wrote to him and asked him what he thought. I wanted to gauge how accurate the portrayal was. Here's what he agreed to let me quote:

I loved that book, actually. I devoured it. But then, when I finished I was a little sickened by both brother and sister. Both appear to be hopelessly flawed, at least by his interpretation. She will survive it, of course. Nothing in there was exactly surprising where she is concerned. Not sure about him, though. I think that might be it for Christopher, maybe in the business -- because who can trust him now? -- and most definitely in his sister's life. But I guess he was willing to take that chance.
So listen, I know we're all verybusypeople. But if you have any pool or beach time this summer, this is the perfect accompaniment to your Ban de' Soleil and icy beverage. They should sell a version in a brown paper wrapper.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Love is as Love does

I haven't liked a movie more than Two Lovers in a long time. See it. It's like a foreign movie in many ways: subtle, beautifully shot, surprising, and in the end, nourishing.

Joaquin Phoenix is mesmerizing as Lenny, a guy too old to live with is parents, but too depressed to be trusted alone. He works in the family dry-cleaning business in Brooklyn, but not the cool part of Brooklyn. His mother is Isabella Rossellini. She's a Jewish mother, but one of the nice things about this movie is that no one is a stereotype.

The story is quite simple. Lenny's parents are trying to set him up with the daughter of a their new business partner. She's lovely and lovable, a completely round character, surprisingly, and he is in fact smitten with her. But he becomes obsessed with his neighbor Michelle, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, who I think he sees as someone even slightly more fucked up than himself.

That's it really. He loves two girls in entirely different ways. He makes a hard choice, between these two and in the end he makes a bargain with love to save his own life.

I couldn't stop thinking about this movie, and what it said about lonliness, obsession, about familial love and expectations, and about filmmaking. The plot is so, so simple, that the success of the film can only be credited to the director, writer, casting agent, production designer, cinematographer. These elements are ochestrated finely, and the result is like a Kronos Quartet version of a complex little sonata.