Maria de Medeiros as Anais Nin and Uma Thurman as June Miller in Henry and June
I would have first seen the 1990 film Henry and June as a 21-year old university student in Ottawa, Ontario. At the time, Philip Kaufman’s exploration of the romantic and literary triangle between Anais Nin, Henry Miller and his wife June and his supremely seductive depiction of 1930s Parisian bohemia seemed to me to be the ne plus ultra in decadence. The film was transformative, firing my imagination of what a creative beatnik life ideally should be. I watched it over and over again, dragging friends, and started dipping into the sexually-charged works of Miller and Nin.
This weekend I re-watched Henry and June for the first time in about two decades. Risky: would I be disillusioned? Would it be as good as I remembered? Or maybe my tastes had simply changed in the intervening twenty years (bear in mind, I once thought Siesta (1987) was a profound art movie. Hey, I was 18 when I saw it and I soon learned better). The film was notoriously sexually explicit for its time (it was the first film to receive the NC-17 rating – one step away from an X). Since then, films have become far more explicit and Henry and June’s sex scenes – while still undeniably steamy – don’t pack the same shock value they once did.
It’s also easy to roll your eyes dismissively over the long scenes of Nin and Miller having heated debates about the merits of D H Lawrence and declaiming about poetry and literature in Parisian cafes in between bouts of athletic bonking, or Nin’s breathless narration about her inner musings about liberation and promiscuity – plenty of critics did at the time, and people probably still do now. Any film that can be summarised as “one woman’s erotic awakening” threatens comparison to the cheesily softcore 1970s Emmanuelle films, and Henry and June’s tone of highbrow erotica borders on pretentious – but it’s attempting to convey ambitious, weighty ideas about art, sex and life and doing it in a very stylish way. And for me, all these years later Henry and June still casts a spell.
The film covers the years 1931-1932 (when Nin first met the Millers), and Kaufman offers a swooningly romantic evocation of 1930s Art Deco Paris: every single shot is lovingly composed and art-directed to the hilt to look like a Brassai photograph or a Tamara de Lempicka painting come to life. The soundtrack is equally redolent, marrying 1920s and 30s jazz with accordion-laced French chanson. (The key songs are "Parlez-Moi D'Amour" by Lucienne Boyer and Bing Crosby’s “I Found a Million Dollar Baby" and there is especially haunting use of Josephine Baker’s "J'ai deux amours" in a brothel scene). The combined effect is as intoxicating as an absinthe cocktail. This is clearly a personal labour of love for Kaufman, and it shows.
Tamara de Lempicka painting
The film is about the erotic and intellectual / literary initiation of Anais Nin; the screenplay is derived from her diaries and told from her point of view. Certainly the camera is enthralled by Portuguese actress Maria de Medeiros’s elfin heart-shaped face (her features are simultaneously sharp and bird-like and delicate; with her tendrils of black hair and dark almond-shaped eyes, she looks remarkably like Anias Nin). Fred Ward is charismatic and brash as literary bad boy Henry Miller - and he does a mean Popeye impersonation. But the film is utterly stolen by Uma Thurman, then only 20-years old, as Miller’s predatory and volatile bisexual wife, toxic beauty June Miller.
(This is a potentially disillusioning aside, but Nin, her diaries and Kaufman’s film shouldn’t be regarded as strictly truthful. Nin was a skilled self-mythologiser and massager of facts. Read this interview with Nin biographer Deirdre Bair on Salon.com: she blows apart some of the key aspects of the film. Much of Henry and June’s humour derives from Richard E Grant’s comic turn as Nin’s bumbling, clueless husband Hugh. In real life he was far more urbane and fully aware of Nin’s affairs. Bair also suggests Nin and June probably never actually had a sexual relationship: June was genuinely bisexual, Nin wasn’t).
Seeing it again, it’s surprising how relatively small the role of June is considering her impact. Her name may be 50% of the title, but it really is a supporting role. (Someone on imdb estimates Thurman’s screen time in Henry and June only amounts to about 25 minutes, and the film is over two hours long). Long before she properly enters the film, the characters talk about June and we see glimpses of her in flashbacks – the effect is tantalising. Her delayed arrival builds up anticipation, giving her a proper “star” introduction when she finally arrives.
And what an arrival: Nin wrote of her first encounter with June, “A startlingly white face, burning eyes ... As she came towards me from the darkness of my garden into the light of the doorway I saw for the first time the most beautiful woman on earth.” To their credit, Kaufman and Thurman nail this moment. Kauffman typically introduces June as emerging out of mist or shadows, behind screens of cigarette smoke, a nocturnal vampiric creature in shabby black velvet. When June vanishes back to the US for the movie’s whole middle section, she still haunts the film like a spectre and we (like Nin) crave her return.
As portrayed by Thurman, June exudes low-life allure and ruined glamour like luxurious perfume that’s curdled. Her inscrutability and kohl-smudged smoky eyes hint at exciting depravity. (In real life, June would have looked almost like a punk. As well as powdering her face a cadaverous chalk-y white, she typically wore lipstick in shades of either black or green. She must have looked like she was decomposing! The film shies away from this extreme). Her origins are mysterious and disreputable – complicated by the fact she’s a compulsive liar. The film hints June resorted to borderline prostitution to finance Henry Miller’s nascent writing career; certainly she was a 10 cents a dance “taxi dancer” when they first met. In an inspired and apparently true-to-life touch, June sometimes carries around an eerie male marionette like a kinky accessory. Called Count Bruga, in close-up his angry face feels German Expressionist and genuinely sinister. The imagery of June and her devilish puppet would appear to have inspired Madonna, who cavorts with a similar male “devil doll” in her "Erotica" video two years later.
Uma Thurman as June Miller
The real June Miller
A particular highlight: June lures Nin to a dissolute subterranean lesbian nightclub full of butch / femme couples (the butches wear men’s tuxedos with short pomaded hair; the femmes wear glittering bias-cut 30s evening gowns). June and Anais slow-dance to a sultry, blues-y instrumental rendition of the song "Moi Je M'Ennuie", one of Marlene Dietrich’s sexiest standards, performed by an all-female jazz band (the song’s suggestion of Dietrich injects a whiff of Weimar Berlin decadence). This is probably the most erotic lesbianic dancing scene since Dominque Sanda and Stefania Sandrelli in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Conformist (1970). June exhales huskily into Nin’s ear, “There’s so much I wanted to do with you ... I wanted to take opium with you ...” then purrs, “I’ve done the vilest things ... the foulest things. But I’ve done them superbly ...” It gave me goose bumps when I was 21. It still does now!
Shame about the murky quality of this clip, and the Chinese subtitles -- but you get the idea
(I must mention the appearance of Brigitte Lahaie in the mostly mute small role of a prostitute in the brothel scenes, who seems to mesmerise Nin because of her resemblance to June. In a dream sequence in which Nin and June make love, Lahaie appears as June’s doppelganger. Lahaie was a former actress in French porn films, and she’s certainly at ease in her nude scenes here. She makes a powerful impression in Henry and June: smouldering, almost scary, strangely androgynous and sexually voracious).
Thurman/June’s mere appearance instantly injects turbulence, tension and high drama into the film. (Especially towards the end, when the tempo begins to sag – June’s return salvages it). Tough but vulnerable and unpredictable, June is less cerebral than Miller and Nin, more emotional. When June belatedly realises Miller and Nin have been having an affair behind her back, suddenly the film feels like it has urgent emotional content, something is at stake. The final confrontation between the trio is wrenching. June is a muse to both of them, but she’s a critical one, recognising how precarious her role is, and vocal in her in disappointments. She’s the one who’s done the desperate living and taken the risks – they’re the ones who reap the kudos for writing about it. “I wanted poetry!” she wails at Miller after reading how she’s represented in his Tropic of Cancer manuscript. “I wanted Dostoevsky!” Being their inspiration leaves her unfulfilled. When Nin tries to reassure her, “I worship you!” June snaps, “I don’t want worship – I want understanding.”
(June was right to be suspicious of Miller and Nin cannibalising her life for their literary works. The film ends in 1932. After Henry and June divorced in 1934, both Miller and Nin seemed to abruptly lose interest in their shared muse, pretty much abandoning June to a squalid and despairing life ravaged by extreme poverty and mental and physical illness. When Miller encountered June for the first time in years in the 1960s, he was reportedly shocked by her deterioration. The woman praised by Nin for her "tantalizing somber beauty" was now a withered crone. June’s later years are shrouded in mystery and mostly undocumented, but they are recently beginning to come into sharper focus. Her Wikipedia page and this excellent blog fill in some of the blanks. She apparently died in 1979 aged 77).
In her exquisitely-lit, dreamy close-ups, Thurman as June can suggest a Tamara de Lempicka painting, Ingrid Thulin in Luchino Visconti’s The Damned (1969) or Warhol superstar Candy Darling at the height of her 1930s-style, Harlow-inspired glamour (not to imply Thurman looks like a drag queen, but she is Amazonian in stature and I’ve always thought she shares Darling’s sculpted bone structure) – or an escapee from a Josef von Sternberg film. Imagine Marlene Dietrich’s shady demimondaine Shanghai Lil from Shanghai Express (1932) with a tough Brooklyn accent (Thurman’s hard-boiled Depression-era Brooklyn accent as June is perfection). Thurman’s beguiling way of lowering her head and looking up through hooded half-closed eyes is pure Dietrich (in the 1940s the insolent young Lauren Bacall adopted this stance, too. When she did it, it was called “The Look”). If anyone could have played Dietrich in a biopic, based on this film, it’s Thurman. In fact the great French auteur Louis Malle was planning to make a film about the early life of Dietrich starring Thurman – but when he died in 1995, the project was abandoned.
Candy Darling. I mean Uma Thurman. I mean Candy Darling
You've got that look that leaves me weak: Uma Thurman as June Miller
Henry and June captures Thurman early in her career: with the benefit of hindsight, Thurman’s subsequent filmography is decidedly patchy. It’s not Thurman’s fault, but she never quite had the opportunity to live up to the potential Henry and June suggested (and certainly she’s had plenty of roles since that have found her wanting). She’s probably best-loved for her collaborations with Quentin Tarantino (who’s been quoted as saying he sees Thurman as the Dietrich to his von Sternberg), but neither Pulp Fiction (1994) nor the Kill Bill films (2003-2004) challenged her dramatically the way June Miller did. (Funnily enough, Pulp Fiction reunites her with Maria de Medeiros, but I don’t recall them having any scenes together in it). These days she’s more regarded as a great beauty than a great actress. But while the proposed Dietrich film starring Thurman is a great cinematic “what-if”, Henry and June remains a testament to what a riveting screen presence Thurman can be.
Finally, you can watch the actual Anais Nin onscreen in glorious colour in Kenneth Anger’s hallucinatory experimental art film Inauguration of The Pleasure Dome (1954). This is just a snippet, showing the 51-year old Nin looking great in black fishnet tights, with a gilded birdcage on her head. Warning: watching this might turn you into a Satanist! (Kenneth Anger would probably like that).
Photo of me, selecting what records to play at Dr Sketchy. No, seriously it's 1950s vintage beefcake physique model (winner of Mr Muscle Beach 1951) and sometimes actor (his filmography includes Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (1953), Wild Women of Wongo (1958) and Colossus and The Amazon Queen (1960) Ed Fury: he looks like a right laugh, huh? I wonder if he's a distant relation of Billy Fury's?
This was a typically raucous and laidback Saturday afternoon Dr Sketchy at The Old Queen’s Head in Angel. The emcee was the suave-tastic Hooray Henry Higgins and the model/performer was the ultra-glamorous Annette Bette. A very talented member of the audience took some great moody and dramatic photos of the afternoon. Here are two shots of Annette Bette in action where the photographer accidentally managed to get me looking gormless in the frame. (I love the detail of the martini glass in the foreground).
Musically I launched straight into raunch mode with the single entendre smut of “Ice Man” by Filthy McNasty. Later on just to amuse myself, I paid homage to one of my all-time favourite films (Kenneth Angers’s 1964 avant-garde homoerotic biker / occult art movie Scorpio Rising. That film really warped me at an impressionable age!) by playing a cluster of songs from its soundtrack (“Devil in Disguise" by Elvis, “Fools Rush In” by Ricky Nelson and “Torture” by Kris Jensen, in case you’re curious).
Ice Man - Filthy McNasty Cooler Weather is A-Comin' - Eddie Weldon Nobody But You - Mamie van Doren The Grunt - The 50 Milers Love Potion No 9 - Nancy Sit Monkey Bird - The Revels Kiss Me Honey Honey - The Delmonas The D-Rail - The Flintales Drive Daddy Drive - Little Sylvia Club Delight - Jack Jolly The Swag - Link Wray I Only Have Eyes for You - The Flamingos Blame it On My Youth - Ann-Margret Smoke Gets in Your Eyes - The Mallet Men Dancing on the Ceiling - Chet Baker Let There Be Love - Diana Dors The Bouelvard of Broken Dreams / Fever - Sam Butera Work Song - Nina Simone Intoxicated Man - Serge Gainsbourg Makin' Whoopee - Marlene Dietrich A Week from Tuesday - The Pastels Work with It - Que Martin The Squeezer - Big Bob Dougherty Cherry Pink - The Bill Black Combo Anasthasia - The Bill Smith Combo Summertime - Little Esther Love Me or Leave Me - Lena Horne Drive In - The Jaguars Shangri-La - Spike Jones New Band Yes, Sir That's My Baby - Ann Richards Crawlin' - The Untouchables Beat Party - Ritchie & The Squires Close Your Eyes - Dolores Gray Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend - Eartha Kitt Womp Womp - Freddie & The Heartaches Rigor Mortis - The Gravestone Four Go Slow - Julie London Sexe - Line Renaud Town without Pity - James Chance Teardrops from My Eyes - Ruth Brown I Live the Life I Love - Esquerita De Castrow - Jaybee Wasden Devil in Disguise - Elvis Presley Fools Rush In - Ricky Nelson Fujiyama Mama - Annisteen Allen Torture - Kris Jensen Dragon Walk - The Noblemen Last Night - Lula Reed Jezabel - Edith Piaf Strip-tease - Juliette Greco Kiss - Marilyn Monroe Caravan - John Buzon Trio Wondrous Place - Billy Fury The Beast - Milt Buckner All of Me - Mae West Night Walk - The Swingers Willow Weep for Me - The Whistling Artistry of Muzzy Marcellino The Girl Who Invented Rock'n'Roll - Mamie van Doren Sometimes I Wish I Had a Gun - Mink Stole Tall Cool One - The Wailers Daddy Daddy - Ruth Brown The Girl Can't Help It - Little Richard One Night of Sin - Elvis Presley Beat Girl - Adam Faith (Beat Girl soundtrack) Chattanooga Choo Choo - Denise Darcel Sweet Little Pussycat - Andre Williams The Whip - The Originals Esquerita & The Voola - Esquerita Take It Off - The Genteels Suey - Jayne Mansfield Groovy - The Groovers Pussycat Song - Connie Vannett The Stalk - The Giants
I don't think I've posted this tittyshaker already.
Ed Fury knocking up drinks behind the bar. Hmmm: Canada Dry Ginger Ale? I hope he’s making Moscow Mules.
Because this Dr Sketchy fell on a Bank Holiday Monday, it was scheduled as an afternoon one from 4 pm until 7 pm. But apparently there was a misunderstanding with the management at The Paradise in Kensal Green, who assumed we wanted the venue from 7 pm till 10 pm like normal. For one thing, that meant there wasn’t enough staff to work behind the bar upstairs: Dr Sketchy customers would have to go to the downstairs bar for their drinks and to order food – not the end of the world. More worryingly, apparently a few people had called The Paradise enquiring about Dr Sketchy and been told to come at 7 pm like normal! Dr Sketchy promoter Clare and I felt a sense of mounting panic: the tickets hadn’t sold out in advance and people had been told to come at the wrong time -- was anyone even going to come? So it was a massive relief when people started filing in by 4 pm and in fact everything went off fine. The info was correct on Twitter, Facebook and the Dr Sketchy website and obviously that was what most people referred to. Phew!
Clare herself was the emcee this time, and she's getting more assured onstage all the time. The model and performer was the reliably excellent Sophia St Villier, a Dr Sketchy veteran. The ethereal Sophia looks like a pale-skinned redheaded English rose (although she’s actually from New Zealand!): think of the beautiful red-haired English actress Moira Shearer in the film The Red Shoes. During one of Sophia’s poses, it felt compulsory to play a slinky sex kitten track by that other red-haired vixen – Ann-Margret. It may have been the pose while Sophia was wearing a glistening emerald green latex dress. (Yes, Sophia St Villier even looks ethereal while wearing rubber).
Sophia St Villier
I’d been to a boozy dinner party the night before – the hint of a hangover combined with it being a Bank Holiday Monday afternoon made this Dr Sketchy feel nicely mellow and low-key. (I also drank a few Bloody Marys). I eased into things with some 1950s Cool Jazz and Latin exotica before building into more raucous titty-shaking mode.
I Remember You - Chet Baker Falling in Love Again - Billie Holiday Dansero - The Don Baker Trio Chihuahua - Mina Besame Mucho - Betty Reilly Babydoll Mambo - Belmonte and His Afro-American Music Mambo Baby - Ruth Brown Oink Oink Mambo - Chuy Reyes & His Orchestra Fredy - Eartha Kitt and Perez Prado Ou es-tu ma joie? Caterina Valente Witchcraft - Joe Graves & The Diggers Les Cigarillos - Serge Gainsbourg Rum & Coca Cola - Wanda Jackson Eso - Conjunto TNT Misirlou - Laurindo Almeida Maria Ninguen - Brigitte Bardot Peter Gunn Mambo - Jack Costanzo Night Walk - The Swingers Imagination - Diana Dors Anasthasia - Bill Smith Combo Romance in the Dark - Ann-Margret Drive In - The Jaguars Fever - Nancy Sit The Stripper - John Barry (Beat Girl soundtrack) Rigor Mortis - The Gravestone Four Mondo Moodo - The Earls of Suave You're My Thrill - Dolores Gray Beat Party - Ritchie & The Squires Chattanooga Choo Choo - Denise Darcel Jungle Drums - Earl Bostick Sick and Tired - Lula Reed De Castrow - Jaybee Wasden Vesuvius - The Revels The Coo - Wayne Cochran Harlem Nocturne - The Viscounts The Fire of Love - Jody Reynolds I Only Have Eyes for You - The Flamingos The Stalk - The Giants Little Things Mean a Lot - Jayne Mansfield Honey Rock - Barney Kessel Wondrous Place - Billy Fury Cheesecake - The Nite Sounds You're Crying - Dinah Washington My Funny Valentine - Chet Baker I'm Through with Love - Marilyn Monroe Boss - The Rumblers No Good Lover - Mickey and Sylvia Witchcraft - Elvis Presley Bacon Fat - Andre Williams Your Love is Mine - Ike and Tina Turner Whatever Lola Wants - Eartha Kitt Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend - Julie London Give Me Love - Lena Horne Baubles, Bangles and Beads - Marlene Dietrich Sometimes I Wish I Had a Gun - Mink Stole Mack the Knife - Hildegard Knef Begin the Beguine - Billy Fury Petit Fleur - Chet Baker Somewhere Over the Rainbow - Gene Vincent So Long - Ruth Brown
Nice cleavage shot of Dinah Washington, the great torch singer of R&B
This Bank Holiday Saturday afternoon Dr Sketchy at The Old Queen’s Head was nicely mellow and boozy (well, I’m speaking for myself here) with no stressful technical glitches (apart from some last-minute drama about locating a microphone for emcee Ophelia Bitz, but nothing major).
The performer / model this time was Tallulah Tempest, making her Dr Sketchy debut. We were all dazzled by Tempest: A former ballerina-turned burlesque performer, she still wears her white satin ballet shoes and displayed her ballet skills by posing en pointe for long, tortuous stretches. Ophelia and I admired Tempest’s powerful calf muscles while she modelled – impressive! Tempest performed to The Doors's version of the Kurt Weill song "Alabama Song". Her costume was great, too: a sort of harlequin / Pierrot black and white diamond-patterned ballerina outfit, with black tear drops drawn coming out of the corner of one eye. She looked like an escapee from the 1950 Kenneth Anger film Rabbit’s Moon.
You can actually watch Kenneth Anger's wondrous Rabbit's Moon in its entirety on Youtube. I recommend you do. Or better yet, get it on DVD. The dream-like imagery, married to a doo wop soundtrack, is sublime
The vivacious Ophelia Bitz and I enjoying some sparkling repartee. How we laughed! Photos by Maria Depaula-Vazquez
When I was in Vegas in April I spent a whole afternoon exploring the maze-like Charleston Antiques Market. One of the used books I skimmed and was tempted to buy was Queen: The Life and Music of Dinah Washington by Nadine Cohodas. (The other one I almost bought: a pristine edition of Funeral Rites by Jean Genet. I really should have snapped that up!). I’ve never read any biographies of the great Rhythm and Blues torch singer. Her life and career are fascinating. One of the true jazz and blues greats, Washington’s influence is incalculable: just as Washington as a young singer was initially indebted to Billie Holiday, you can recognize Washington's idiosyncratic phrasing in the like of Esther “Little Esther” Philips, Lula Reed and Timi Yuro. (When I play Timi Yuro’s swinging, finger-snapping version of “Fever”, people assume it’s Dinah Washington). Today, Amy Winehouse has declared she reveres Washington.
Washington’s life was short but tempestuous and decadent – qualities audible in her remarkable gritty, bluesy wailing voice. A dedicated boozer and pill-popper, she was dead by the age of 39 (in 1963) of an apparent accidental overdose when she unwisely mixed diet pills (which in those days were essentially amphetamines; Washington struggled with her weight) with sedatives and alcohol – a combination that proved lethal. What a loss, as Washington was still at the peak of her powers at the time of her death.
There was a great photo in the biography of Washington shortly before her death wearing a platinum blonde bouffant cotton candy wig, a mink coat and an outrageous pair of diamante-trimmed cat’s eye sunglasses: the caption says something like “Dinah wearing her two favorite accessories: a wig and a mink coat”. One of the first African-American superstars to enjoy crossover success on the white pop charts, Washington was financially able to indulge her love of bling. Luxuriating in jewelry, furs and sports cars, she embraced the ghetto fabulous ethos decades before hip hop. Washington was called The Queen of The Blues in her lifetime, and by all accounts her manner was definitely imperious. A defiant and willful tough cookie, she was known to pull out a gun in disagreements. During recording sessions she would pound back magnums of pink champagne (no wonder her vocals sound so relaxed and effortless!). By the end of her life Washington was married seven times.
Her career was as volatile as her private life. As a recording artist, Washington was very prolific and there wasn’t always the highest quality control (the liner notes to one of my CDs claims “Records were released that Dinah didn’t even remember making”). On the plus side, that means there are always more treasures to discover in La Washington’s oeuvre. Dinah Washington is definitely an artist I play a lot at Dr Sketchy. I know she’s most loved for classics like “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes” and “September in the Rain”, her duets with Brook Benton and her sumptuous, string-drenched version of Noel Coward’s “Mad About the Boy”, but I think I like her best at her most subdued and melancholy, when she drops the trademark bravado and sassiness to reveal a sensitive, bruised side. Check out these two stunning, goose-bump inducing heartbreak ballads I’ve recently discovered – to me they sound like Dinah Washington baring her soul. I’ve been playing both these a lot lately when I want to drop the tempo to something sultrier and dramatic.
"You're Crying" by Dinah Washington
"I Want to Cry" by Dinah Washington
Miss Irene - Ginny Kennedy Cheesecake - The Nite Sounds That's Why I'm Asking - Carl Dobkins Jr with Lew Douglas Orchestra & Chorus Heartbreakin' Special - Duke Larson Rock'n'Roll Waltz - Ann-Margret Leave Married Women Alone - Jimmy Cavallo Little Ole Wine Drinker Me - Robert Mitchum Too Old to Cut the Mustard - Marlene Dietrich and Rosemary Clooney Jungle Walk - The Dyna-Sores Oui je veux - Johnny Halliday Over the Rainbow - Gene Vincent It's Only Make Believe - Billy Fury Little Things Mean a Lot - Jayne Mansfield Directly from My Heart - Little Richard The Strangeness in Me - The Runabouts Love Letters - Ike and Tina Turner The Heel - Kay Martin Bombie - Johnny Sharp Out of Limits - The Marketts The Coo - Wayne Cochran The Chase - Chaino Khrushchev Twist - Melvin Gayle Stop Talking, Start Walking - Annie Laurie Save It - Mel Robbins De Castrow - Jaybee Wasden That's a Pretty Good Love - Big Maybelle Blockade - The Rumblers Torture Rock - The Rockin' Belmarx Salamander - Mamie van Doren Please Don't Go Topless, Mother - Troy Hess My Baby Cried All Night Long - Lee Hazlewood Raunchy - Bill Black Combo Do It Again - April Stevens Anasthasia - Bill Smith Combo The Beast - Milt Buckner Screwdriver - Luchi Willow Weep for Me - Nina Simone Lullabye of Birdland - Eartha Kitt Night Walk - The Swingers I Want to Cry - Dinah Washington Blues in My Heart - John Buzon Trio Boulevard of Broken Dreams - Denise Darcel The Sneak - Jimmy Oliver I Need Your Lovin' - Don Gardner and DeeDee Ford Everywhere I Go - Ted Taylor Daddy Daddy - Ruth Brown This Thing Called Love - Esquerita Fever - The Delmonas Stranger in My Own Hometown - The Earls of Suave Beat Party - Ritchie & The Squires Comic Strip - Brigitte Bardot and Serge Gainsbourg Rigor Mortis - The Gravestone Four Black Tarantula - Jody Reynolds The Whip - The Frantics A Guy Who Takes His Time - Marlene Dietrich Bonjour Tristesse - Juliette Greco Drums-a-Go-Go - The Hollywood Persuaders Intoxica - The Centurions Crawlin' - The Untouchables Like a Baby - Wanda Jackson The Stalk - The Giants Blues in the Night - Julie London Sleep Walk - Henri Rene & His Orchestra What is This Thing Called Love? Lena Horne Rollercoaster Blues - Diana Dors Let's Get Lost - Chet Baker The Lady is a Tramp - Hildegard Knef Mambo Miam Miam - Serge Gainsbourg Gopher - Yma Sumac What is This Generation Coming To? Robert Mitchum Lover - Peggy Lee Bossa Nova Baby - Elvis Presley You Know I'm No Good - Wanda Jackson
Reunion: My mentor / filth elder John Waters and I at the book launch for the paperback edition of Role Models in May 2011
Brutal close-up of John Waters and I in December 2010, at the book launch party for the hardback edition of Role Models. Both photos by Damon Wise
I was at the launch party for the UK paperback edition of John Waters’ book Role Models last Thursday (26 May) and figured I’d better blog about it now while the details were still fresh in my mind. (Well, fresh-ish: it was a boozy night).
The venue was a tiny East End hipster art gallery called The Last Tuesday Society. The Sultan of Sleaze himself was in attendance (the publishers flew him into London for one day only). As per usual Waters was looking soignée in a Comme Des Garçons ensemble (the jacket was incredible, a pattern alternating daisies with skulls). Waters signed books in the art gallery and then went next door to a former Victorian pub renovated into an astonishing private home to give brief readings from Role Models. I’d interviewed him for the alternative arts and culture website Nude when he was last in town in December 2010 to promote the release of Role Models in hardback (that launch party was at the Comme Des Garçons store on Dover Street). I didn’t honestly expect him to, but Waters did recognise me (be still my fan boy heart!): he recalled the Nude interview and said, “That came out nice!” Even if he was simply being gracious and pretending to remember, it still made my toes curl in ecstasy. While he signed my book and we had our photo taken, I was quickly able to tell him I’d recently seen Boom! on his recommendation (Waters has enthused that Boom! is his all-time favourite film and has even toured and given lectures about it). He was curious about the audience’s reaction to it. I admitted the theatre was pretty deserted and that some people walked out during the film. Waters didn't look surprised.
Afterwards next door there wasn’t much in the way of seating, so people mainly sat on the floor in front of the podium where Waters gave his reading. Surveying the crowd he remarked he felt like he was at a Beatnik coffee house circa 1958 and proceeded to read the intro to the chapter on outsider porn. Afterwards there was a short Q&A session. Asked about his reaction to the death of Bin Laden, Waters said he loved The New York Post’s headline about discovering a stash of pornography in Bin Laden’s bunker: “Osama Bin Wankin’!” (He said his all-time favourite New York Post headline remained the one announcing the death of Ike Turner: “Ike Beats Tina To Death!”). He was also asked about his response to extreme performance artist Leigh Bowery using the name “John Waters” as an alias when he checked into the hospital just before dying of an AIDS-related illness in 1994 (he heartily approved). Finally he was asked about Lady GaGa. Waters complimented GaGa and her PR team for being so incredibly hard working (like me, Waters is a Jayne Mansfield fanatic – he presumably recognises and appreciates a tenacious publicity-seeking starlet when he sees one) and remarked admiringly that all the little twelve year old kids who think they might be gay listen to Lady GaGa and then they are gay!
I went to the party with my old friend, the ace film journalist Damon Wise who’s known Waters for years and is a something of a confidant for him. Afterwards I wound up taking Damon (who’s straight as an arrow, by the way, but hip) on a bit of a bar crawl of Shoreditch’s most bleeding-edge gay drinking establishments, starting off at The Joiners Arms and ending up at The George and Dragon (fittingly, a poster of Divine in Pink Flamingos takes pride of place on the wall there, garlanded with Christmas lights). At the latter, alternative club royalty Princess Julia was DJ’ing. With her shaved-off eyebrows, punk-y eye make-up and Sean Young-in-Blade Runner / Joan Crawford-in-Mildred Pearce 1940s pompadour hairstyle, she looked simultaneously retro and futuristic -- like a beautiful alien. By then we’d polished off several pints of lager, gin and tonics served in vintage tea cups at the launch party, whiskey and then more lager. When Princess Julia played Bobby Vinton crooning “Blue Velvet”, it was a dizzyingly weird but appropriate end to the night.