By Anthony D'Alessandro
By Catherine Wagley
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
At the moment, I’m staring at a photo of Nicholas Gonzalez. He plays Alex Santiago -- ex-boxer, former UCLA med student -- on Resurrection Boulevard. In the photo, Nic is showing off his come-hither visage, to-die-for mouth and especially fine biceps, flexed with his hands behind his head. Some stylist had the wisdom to put him in a snug white T-shirt whose sleeves are really short, bunching up around the shoulders so that some of his armpit hair shadows the lower belly of his biceps. I can‘t think of anything more theoretically probing than stripping Nic down and grazing in his pits as I ponder casting him in the Sal Mineo role for a remake of Who Killed Teddy Bear? and trying to taste every seme of his response, in a recent interview, to the question ”If you could be trapped in the reruns of a television show from the 1980s, which one would it be and why?“ Handsome answered: ”Wonder Woman. Those boots, those legs. Tie me up with the Lasso of Truth.“ After grazing is over, I intend to test the limits of the golden lasso against his skin and to express the truth from every fine part of his body.
Obviously, I am interested in the theoretical ramifications of lust -- thinking as a kind of lust, lust as thought -- as well as in how stars summon libidinal energies beyond their reckoning. Supposing a history of such ramifications, the hermeneutical resonance of munching armpits, and how the fantasy of doing this and more to Nic as opposed to Charles Nelson Reilly means representationally, one might assume I might be able to glean some insight or clarifying observations from a book that traffics in the zone of such matters. And yet Gay Fandom and Crossover Stardom: James Dean, Mel Gibson and Keanu Reeves offers no succor to the pangs of my critical inquiries.
The title page features a two-page spread of a still from My Own Private Idaho: River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves cruising on motorcycle. (It remains such a striking shot that the book could be just a pretext to market the hot image.) Although he notes in passing that the two stars ”ride“ (God forbid they should cruise) around on a motorcycle together, Michael DeAngelis spends no time interpreting, analyzing, considering, much less dreaming about what, how or why such a scene means, nor what the still -- which he uses only in the stingiest manner, as illustration -- conveys on its own. (No invigoratingly ”obtuse“ Barthesean third meanings for Mr. DeAngelis!) Such hermeneutical wondering and wandering might necessitate actual cogitation and some sense of play, and, gosh, it’s really difficult to prove and footnote play. Thinking about how the still, the photograph, produces meaning might necessitate having to ponder rather than just mention bike culture and its gay cinematic history -- from Marlon Brando in The Wild One to Joe Spencer in Warhol‘s delirious revisioning, Bike Boy, itself a remake of his racy I, a Man. A pit stop for interpretation might have allowed watching, in order to fuel his own intellectual motor, Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising and, in particular, Kustom Kar Kommandos -- rather than cite someone else‘s watching -- so that bike culture’s referential difference from car culture, and how both variously influence and are influenced by leather culture, may be parsed. Men revving their engines, bending over to get under the hood, tuning their machines to purr, getting greasy: Studying the still might mean dealing with the mechanic -- guy with tools -- as erotic fix, worker in the libidinally resonant body shop. Given a book beginning with two chapters on James Dean, one might consider how River Phoenix, in the still (and as he matured in his career), with his sun-kissed dirty-brown hair and shades, channeled Dean. His shades hide his eyes and suggest some unknowable and unarticulable but performed interiority and turmoil, while, sunglasses-less, Keanu‘s eyes are open, staring out on the road (the future) ahead of him. Considering Phoenix’s relation to Dean would require confronting the form thought takes: how the book might have had a complex arc by beginning with Dean and ending with Phoenix, who not only, like Dean, died young, staying pretty, but also was, unlike Dean, beginning to enunciate and act upon his own sexual desires, even though they diverged from the heteronormativity (if that is what it is) of Hollywood.
Look at Keanu and River straddling that hog: When two guys hump a bike, at least two readings are possible: 1) River is feminized, Keanu‘s bitch, willing passenger to his driver; or 2) riding that bike, snug against his man, River’s in power and in position to top Keanu‘s key anus, lending a special inflection to ”taking a back seat.“
Except for an inadequate personal narrative about some man ”(let’s call him George)“ who ”dominated [his] attention“ at a certain point in his life, DeAngelis never states why the book focuses on these stars as opposed to others. He never interrogates how race or class may complicate fandom; whether it is even possible or desirable, given the radical instabilities of identity, destroyed everyday anew (as Proust conceptualized a century ago), to extrapolate a coherent audience to nominate as ”gay“; or why the book jumps almost 30 years -- from Dean to Gibson and Reeves, from the 1950s to the 1980s -- without DeAngelis ever attempting to contemplate a male star from the late 1960s andor ‘70s, when due to Vietnam, Stonewall, Women’s Lib and Black Power, among other things, masculinity got a makeover whether it wanted it or not. Perhaps a digression on the importance of Burt Reynolds: how, with his performance in Deliverance and then his posing nude for Cosmopolitan, both in 1972, he was a crucial, hirsute model of masculinity‘s looked-at-ness and its participation in homosexuality (particularly on the level of disavowal and shame -- ”I got so fucked-up last night“ -- a disavowal introducing the probability that both masculinity and homosexuality are, as categories, always negotiable). A digression on early-’70s Burt might not even have had to mention the later complications of his ”walking“ Dinah a Shore, marrying Loni Anderson and ducking AIDS accusations. While there‘s little rancor or abjection when masculinity’s made over comically (Joe Namath in hose) or contradicting itself for the good of the children (Rosy Grier doing needlepoint for Free To Be You and Me), Reynolds, still perfumed by Deliverance, in Cosmo was doing neither. Exactly what he was doing has yet to be determined, though his appearance in Boogie Nights provides a fascinating gloss on it all.