Monday, March 17, 2014



My new show may be tied up with legal problems, but that hasn’t kept me from keeping my career flame burning brightly. First, I was happy to appear as Queen and Grand Marshal of the annual Toilet Bowl parade and football game in Newnan Georgia. I'm happy to say that I was able to carry out my waving duties from the main float (37,500 white carnations molded to approximate porcelain) without taxing myself too badly as the parade route was only three blocks long. I have no idea who won the game as I fell asleep during the first quarter. I can tell you that one team looked stunning in aubergine and taupe while the other was ill served by turquoise and vermilion.

I just had time to finish presiding over the banquet, where I handed out the Most Valuable Player and Most Unbalanced Cheerleader awards when I had to jet to New York for my appearance on Fox News. I was to appear as part of a panel on women edged out of jobs by less qualified men - they had heard about my contretemps with dear Ewan McGregor over the Ricki Lake stage tribute. Unfortunately, when I got there, we were pre-empted by a show on a pressing issue of the day, transvestite babies.

I returned home, exhausted, to Norman and arrived just in time to prevent him from mixing cocktails with a bottle of Liquid Plumr that seemed to have gotten mixed into the liquor cabinet. He had already had several servings of Brasso so he was in no shape to do much besides sleep them off. Nurse Tameka put him to bed and I felt in need of an escape so I called my dear friend, Nurse Lynn, and asked for his charming company on my usual matinee foray.

Nurse Lynn suggested a movie that I thought was called 'Quilts' and I went assuming it would be a nice homespun western about life on the prairies, complete with gingham and sunbonnets. You can imagine my surprise when the movie started off with a guillotining. I must have missed that part of my course on American frontier womanhood – I often skipped lectures to go to advanced Tap. I soon realized that I had made a common dyslexic error and that the movie in question was actually Quills , a saucy tale of the Marquis de Sade at Charenton asylum, with Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet, Michael Caine and Joaquin Phoenix. I really must have my dyslexia checked out - last year I went to 'Topsy Truvy' expecting a sequel to Steel Magnolias where the girls from the beauty shop stage a production of Uncle Tom's Cabin and was quite thrown by the Victoriana and all the operetta music.

Having played Charlotte Corday in a production of Marat/Sade as a slip of a girl, the ambience of Napoleonic mental institution was a homecoming of sorts. Our production, however, did not have quite so many body fluids in it. Quills is based on a stage play by Douglas Wright and uses the Marquis DeSade as a jumping off point to explore themes of power, dominance, humanity, and the nature of art and the responsibility of the artist to society. Despite the 18th century trappings, I found the story and the debate very modern. Much of the plot concerns a battle between the kindly abbe who runs the institution (Joaquin Phoenix) and a doctor (Michael Caine) sent by the authorities whose 'modern' methods are cruel and barbaric and who enacts the sadist in his personal life. DeSade immediately sees the new doctor for what he is and takes delight in goading him and forcing the doctor to face his true nature; this makes the doctor angry and sets in place an ultimately tragic chain of events.

All through the movie, I was reminded of the current debate over violence and sex in movies and saw the two authority figures as embodiments of our current left and right wing approaches to the problem. The doctor, with his prurience, also reminded me greatly of Ken Starr. There's no one so interested in the sins of others than a self-proclaimed righteous puritan with a few skeletons in the closet. In the hands of most Hollywood directors, the movie would have devolved into sensationalistic explorations of sexual violence. However, in the hands of Philip Kaufman, one of the few directors committed to making adult films about adult subjects for thinking adults, it becomes something much more and, despite the occasional gothic touch, carries important points about the power of creation and art to influence life.

The performances are uniformly excellent. Geoffrey Rush relishes each sneaky double entendre in his role as the Marquis and creates a complex portrait of an artist driven by muses beyond his understanding. Kate Winslet, as a laundress beloved by the abbe and alternately intrigued and repulsed by the Marquis and his writings, gives her sacrificial lamb of a role surprising depth. Joaquin Phoenix continues to surprise me as an actor and may eclipse his late lamented brother - it's certainly been his year. His abbe is all too human – torn between what he believes to be right and good and his instincts as a man. Michael Caine is Michael Caine, in evil mode this time, and there's nothing wrong with that.

This is not a film for those looking for mindless Hollywood formula sex and violence and Nurse Lynn and I left the theater debating the import of much we had seen. Definitely worth seeing if one is a thinking adult.

Headless corpses. Kettles of lye. Hemoglyphs. Gratuitous gorgeous architect. Peruvian marble. Merry shoemakers. Gratuitous volumes of ladies' poetry. Body effluvia

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