Under the Tents

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Fashion’s drag; Schiller shtick; going Dutch; Joy’s last gasp

Well, Olympus Fashion Week ended and, with it, the exhausting plethora of pushy crowds, earsplitting parties, too many free Mojitos, and swag (so amusing to see grown men lunging for gold lamé totes they’ll have to have balls of steel to actually carry).

Tuleh delivered a show that was innovative and highly creative in its idea of luxury, Roland Mouret’s had an elegance derived from his sinuous, Yohji-inspired draping and resonant color palette, and Nanette Lepore’s fetching Hacienda collection featured the prettiest models, turned out in upswept curls and pouty ‘40s lips which transformed them into Gene Tierney at her loveliest—when she played the drugged-out, half-caste, nymphomaniac Poppy in Josef von Sternberg’s “The Shanghai Gesture.”

But oh, the many duds! One wants to support young designers, but Sandoval surely did not point the way. Too many bad ideas—like those very ‘80s, collarless big shirt dresses desperately in need of belts…anything, and dropped crotches in trousers, which no one, not even the lithest 17-year-old model, can carry off—did not make for fashion bliss. His models were all too evident of the current ennui epidemic on the catwalk—anonymous, anorexic white chicks doing that ungainly, bow-legged storm trooper stalk down the runway.

Tommy Hilfiger’s show had a massive audience of the most boring-looking suits and cloned-out fashion victims I’ve ever seen, and the clothes followed suit—faded-out yuppie separates like clam diggers, pullovers, and khaki you could find in any thrift store boy’s section. (Josh Duhamel was there, however, lending some real glamour with his perfect, camera-proof, teeny-tiny WASP features and casual jeans attitude.) And then there was Vogue’s Andre Leon Talley being a total brown-nose for Condé Nast advertisers, calling Kimora Lee Simmon’s Baby Phat show “great.” If “great” means hooker-wear consisting of exposed bellies, hot pants, dumb little stoles, a thong, and some bling, then we’re all going to have to revise our definition of “tacky.”

The Film Society of Lincoln Center showed the unreleased 1984 film “Nothing Lasts Forever” at its event on September 6, “Talking About Tom Schiller.” Schiller was the inspired writer and director on “Saturday Night Live,” in its legendary early years, and a reel of memorable skits from that show was also screened. This included Gilda Radner in the marvelous Fellini takeoff, “La Dolce Gilda,” which Schiller told the audience was actually filmed at a cast party at One Fifth Avenue, following the show’s live taping, and ending the following morning on the West Side Highway with Radner touchingly addressing the camera: “Leave me my dreams. Dreams are like paper, they tear so easily. I love to play. Every time I play… you win. Ciao!”

Even more haunting was the sketch in which a 90-year-old John Belushi—for whom Schiller devised his famous Samurai character—wanders through a cemetery, ironically commenting on the early deaths of all his fellow cast members. Schiller’s roots lie in comedy as his father wrote for “I Love Lucy,” and he remembered being on the set of the famous grape-stomping episode as a child, and picking up a squashed grape.

Bill Murray was in the house, jovially toting a jumbo popcorn, and eager to see “Nothing Lasts Forever,” as he played a part in it. Also there was the still yummy-looking Zach Galligan (“Gremlins”), the star of the film, his first at age 18, in which he appeared as an aspiring artist in a surreal New York that was a blend of ‘30s romantic comedy and ‘50s B-movie sci-fi.

The film got made at MGM during a period when studio heads were being shuffled, which might account for it slipping in under the wire. The cast is pretty special—Dan Akroyd, Imogene Coca, Mort Sahl, Sam Jaffe, Eddie Fisher (singing “Oh My Papa”), Lawrence Tierney, Paul Rogers, Clarice Taylor, Lauren Tom, composer Lucia Hwong, Larry “Bud” Melman (pre-“David Letterman”), and the fabulously named ‘70s supermodel Apollonia Von Ravenstein. (I last saw her at Studio 54, dancing topless on the shoulders of fellow mannequin, Sterling St. Jacques.)

I asked Schiller about Anita Ellis, who played Galligan’s aunt in the film. “She was a friend of my parents,” he said. “I used to go to her apartment for these incredible parties she’d throw. Everyone would be there, all these famous people, and it was that real, old New York you read about.” I saw Ellis at her last public engagement, singing at The Ballroom with her brother, Larry Kert (“West Side Story”) in the ‘80s. I did not know then that she suffered from lifelong, paralyzing stage fright and, although avid to see this legend, didn’t know what to make of the fragile creature on stage, who barely seemed to know when to come in musically. When she did, however, the sound was glorious possibilities.

Bill Murray humorously kept asking the audience if there were anyone out there who could come up with the bucks and legal aid to get “Nothing Lasts Forever” back into the public eye. While poking fun at “this Dutch guy’s weird slacker accent,” he acknowledged Michael Streeter, the author of “Nothing Lost Forever: The Films of Tom Schiller,” who provided the impetus for the whole evening. Streeter saw the film on Dutch television as a kid, never forgot it, and became obsessed with Schiller’s work.

There was more Hollander influence at Fashion Institute of Technology’s exhibit, “Dutch At The Edge Of Design: Fashion and Textiles from the Netherlands,” which had all of the creativity so lacking in those Fashion Week tents. The high style work of those lovely madmen, Viktor & Rolf, is featured, as well as lesser-known talents, like Marcel Wanders, Nicolette Brunklaus and—I love the name—Alexander van Slobbe. The show is a magical synthesis of fashion and art, exemplified in the work of Miriam van der Lubbe, who uses traditional blue and white Delft motifs, in surprising ways, as on a bra and panty set.

We actually sold these in Japan,” she told me. “The Japanese are obsessed with this blue and white.”

Perhaps the most striking thing in the show is a pair of shoes made from the skins of moles. These will strike a visceral chord in New Yorkers, frighteningly accustomed as we are to the rodents underfoot. They are her statement about animal rights, as well as the very real destructive problem they present.

Van der Lubbe’s partner, Niels Van Eijk, was responsible for the piece FIT museum director Valerie Steele cited as her favorite in the show, his spectacular Bobbin Lace Lamp, another example of old school craft given a literally bright new twist. When I asked if she and van Eijk are the official Dutch art power couple, she modestly laughed it off and told me that, despite her country’s reputation for liberalism in regard to sexuality, drugs, and euthanasia, definite problems do exist, which is why she prefers to live in a small town, away from Amsterdam.

I have to see so many bad gay plays, it sometimes seems as if a moratorium should be called on queers slavishly toiling on their own personal, but oh-so rarely enlightening or fresh takes on dating, the Chelsea scene, or cutely revisionist historical views of, say, sailors, as in the recent Fringe Festival “Fleet Week.” I felt I’d seen this a dozen times before, with its cutesy puns like “Seaman Stayne and Seaman Swallows present for duty, sir!” Perhaps the sad demise of the Big Cup will, at least, temporarily halt some of this lame-brained laptop dramaturgy.

It is, therefore, a pleasure to belatedly recommend John Fisher’s “Joy,” which you have just this weekend to catch before it closes at Actor’s Playhouse. Although I could have done without all those Gershwin-Cole Porter songs, much as I love them, and the play is a trifle over-long, Fisher has a real gift for smart dialogue and his play swarms with bright observations about academia and sexual congress and politics, made all the more hilariously intense in its observations of callowness by the San Francisco college setting he has chosen for it.

Ken Barnett, “Dell Dude” Ben Curtis, January LaVoy, and the adorable Michael Busillo all charm, but the play really hangs together through the performance of Paul Whitthorne. His character of Paul is like an update of dear old, fucked-up Michael from that granddaddy of gay plays, Mart Crowley’s “The Boys in the Band.” Too-smart, too-sensitive, and masters at spoiling any great party they choose to host, these guys are like one’s own worst nightmare of oneself, and Whitthorne mercurially merges the loathsome and lovable in a dazzlingly empathic manner.

Contact David Noh at Inthenoh@aol.com