Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Fluffer

Things continue to come together for my soon to be legendary production of Aida on Ice. My costar, Andrea Boccelli, managed to make it around the rink today without knocking anyone down. I wanted to rush over and congratulate him, but he speaks very little English so I settled for a large 'Bravo' from the hockey penalty box where Bob Mackie and I were discussing my second act costumes. Rosita, the overly large Guatemalan lady in charge of the Ice-A-Rama where we're rehearsing, has become quite smitten with dear Andrea and is no longer quite so upset when the simple wear and tear of rehearsing a large and complicated show causes a little paint chipping or other minor cosmetic damage to her rink. I'm sure the zamboni explosion last week was due to her poor maintenance procedures and had nothing to do with us. I should send her a bill for the smoke damage to the ostrich plume head dresses the chorines are wearing during their kick line.

The flying trapeze rig for my grand entrance into the tomb scene is being installed today. A very nice young man named Peter has been installing cables and winches all over the place. He's also putting a large net over the ice which will have to go. It's going to ruin the sightlines. It can be there for the preliminary rehearsals but has to leave when we enter tech in a week or so. Yes, we're almost ready to move ahead as Joseph has just signed the legendary star, Esther Williams, for the part of Amneris. I know Esther usually works with water, but ice is more or less the same thing and it's time she had a comeback in an appropriately showy role. She rehearses with us tomorrow.

Feeling in the need for a little light comedy, I strayed out of the Ice-A-Rama and found an out of the way art theater advertising a movie entitled The Fluffer. As I was in the mood for a nice sunny film about a resort hotel chambermaid who poofs up pillows and leaves little mints, in I went. The lights went down and I soon found that I had made an error in my interpretation of the title. This film is set in the world of gay pornography and the title does not refer to pillows or duvets. A fluffer, in the argot of that demimonde, refers to an off camera assistant who keeps the male star in, shall we say, performing shape.

Wash Westmoreland is the writer/director of this little independent film and he comes from a career in gay pornography. (This is a subject I know a little bit about - I have to have something to talk about while getting my hair done). With this film, he's trying to make the leap to more respectable fare, but still stays with a world and milieu with which he's familiar and that will be totally alien to most viewers. Our hero is young Sean (Michael Cunio), a recent transplant to LA who, like many other 20 somethings here, has aspirations to make it as an actor. One day, he accidentally(!) rents a gay pornographic video and becomes obsessed with the handsome star, Johnny Rebel (Scott Gurney). Intrigued, he heads off to the production company which produced the video where he fends off the moves of an older employee, Sam (Richard Riehle). Impressed by his fortitude, Sam offers him a job as a cameraman with the company.

Sean (and vicariously the audience) soon comes to recognize there's nothing remotely sexy about shooting pornographic videos. It's work. It isn't long before our hero comes into contact with the handsome Johnny Rebel who, despite his job, is straight and living with a woman, the stripper Babylon (Roxanne Day). Despite his non-sexual job as a cameraman, Sean is soon pressed into acting as off-camera fluffer to Johnny, an assignment he accepts without too many reservations, falling in love with Johnny in the process. Johnny also feels a bond and the triangle between him, Sean and Babylon will lead to tragic consequences for all of them and shatter their world.

Westmoreland, despite his seamy background, is a careful film maker and the piece seems polished and assured. He is careful to slowly let the audience into his world and it's amazing that he's been able to fashion a film at all with these themes that doesn't completely alienate an uninitiated audience. Sex scenes are carefully shot to give the audience the impression of what's going on but there's no more nudity or sexual simulation than there is in the average episode of Oz or Queer As Folk. Unfortunately, Westmoreland the writer lets down Westmoreland the director. Individual scenes are razor sharp and there are moments which are devastating, such as when young Sean asks for a lap dance from Babylon, who does not know who he is, in an attempt to feel closer to Johnny. The whole structure, however, falls apart in the third act. Westmoreland seems completely at sea in terms of resolving the tragic forces he's unleashed and the last fifteen minutes are almost unwatchable as he wastes all of the audience's good will in some harebrained scenes that seem completely out of character. The actual end attempts to be symbolic and fails completely. I don't think even a Spielberg or a Hitchcock could have pulled it off as written.

The performances, from a largely unknown cast, are fair. Scott Gurney, as the conflicted Johnny, holds the picture together. He's good looking and exudes a feral sexuality which explains why both men and women find him attractive. He just wants to have a good time. Michael Cunio, as the wimpy Sean, gets blown off the screen when Mr. Gurney is in a scene but can hold his own, otherwise. Roxanne Day brings surprising sympathy to her hard edged stripper. There are also cameos from indie film darlings like Guinevere Turner and Deborah Harry and additional cameos from real life porn world figures like Ron Jeremy and Chi Chi Larue.

This is not a film for all audiences, but it's better than it has any right to be. If Mr. Westmoreland can learn how to bring a story to climax and resolution, he may eventually be a decent film maker.

Blockbuster tape switch. Helmetless motorcycle riding. Swimming pool sex. Homo-erotic dream sequences. Drag queen birthday. Stolen Beta Cam. Convenience store robbery. Steal from Cabaret.

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