For someone as obviously obsessed with movies as Charles Busch, it’s surprising that his work really hasn’t made it to the big screen much. He’s had the occasional cameo (“Addams Family Values,” “It Could Happen to You”), but none of his plays have made the leap to film.
“I’ve been a little arrogant about the movies,” Busch says. “My dream from the beginning was to earn a living in the theater, and I’ve managed to do that ever since Vampire Lesbians of Sodom.” Once he reached that level of financial stability, he says, he became pretty firm about having some say in the final product. “If Stephen Spielberg told me he wanted to make a huge movie and pay me $60 million, I’d say ‘Good luck, honey’ and stay home in bed. But these pitches were for small, low-budget films, and I wanted to make sure I would be proud of them.”
Busch’s manager spent almost eight years trying to get Psycho Beach Party looked at in Hollywood. Ultimately, a fellow client, director Robert Lee King, had a relationship with Strand Releasing, and the project got lined up early last year. “All the elements were there,” says Busch, who was hired to adapt his own play. “I even had it contracted that they couldn’t fire me.”
Unfortunately, his dream of casting all his friends quickly hit a snag. “Every part is for people under the age of 22! They’re all kids! I was the only old hag on the set. I felt like Susan Hayward in ‘Valley of the Dolls.’ ” Although Thomas Gibson (a stage veteran who’s currently starring in TV’s “Dharma and Greg”) jumped out to me as the biggest name in the cast, Busch said the most attention from fans went to Nicholas Brendon, who plays Starcat. I had never heard of this kid; when I confessed this to Busch, he said, “That dates us, honey.” (He apparently stars on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”)
Using a younger cast also made it difficult for Busch to recreate his portrayal of Chicklet, the Gidget-esque protagonist. “We all saw the film as a little more naturalistic,” he says, and he relinquished the role to a young actress named Lauren Ambrose. “So the question then became: Who would I play?” The role of Chicklet’s mother was discussed, but it seemed too predictable. Busch and director Robert Lee King managed to kill two birds with one stone, creating a meaty female role for Busch and fleshing out the action a bit. “The play was almost plotless. We wanted to add more of a narrative thread, so we put in a thriller plot,” including a few murders. As a result, the focus shifted more on the police investigating the case, led by ... Capt. Monica Stark, L.A.P.D., who Busch says is “more like my typical stage persona.” Once the question of casting was resolved, the question still remained of how to translate the famed Busch aesthetic -- clever visual kitsch on a shoestring budget -- to the big screen, where you can (and often must) be a bit more realistic. “Psycho Beach Party” toys with the notion of film special effects, using blatantly bogus rear projections and, for the love scene between Busch and Gibson, an obviously female body double. The tactic seems to have worked: Production designer Franco-Giacomo Carbone won a special design award at the recent Outfest in Los Angeles. The film opens Aug. 4 in New York and four weeks later in Chicago; additional cities, including Los Angeles, are presumably on the way, but release dates are still fuzzy.
Busch has a busy schedule right now: In addition to doing press for the movie, he’s finishing rewrites for The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, which is scheduled to start previews on Broadway in October. Busch is eager to make his Broadway debut, and he’s enlisted some help to make sure it’s as successful as possible: “Just about every famous writer in the American theater saw it at Manhattan Theater Club, and [director] Lynne Meadow and I interrogated every one.” He says the ending has been tweaked a tiny bit but that the undiscerning eye wouldn’t detect any changes.
The buzz behind Allergist’s Wife is considerable, and Busch says people are already calling about the movie rights. Let’s hope this sale doesn’t take another eight years.
A member of the touring Peter Pan company wrote in a few months ago to let me know that the A&E network had filmed the Cathy Rigby musical for television. The broadcast is now set for Oct. 8. Television, of course, is where millions of kids were introduced to “Peter Pan,” courtesy of the Jerome Robbins video starring Mary Martin. This eight-camera production, which has been electronically altered to eliminate the flying wires, will be released on video and DVD on Oct. 10.
When I saw that Amy Heckerling (“Clueless”) had a new movie called “Loser” coming out, I thought the only theatre connection was the casting of Zak Orth, who plays one of the male lead’s obnoxious roommates. Little did I know that the current production of Cabaret would be featured -- and with a slight factual error. Did anyone catch it?
These modern-day Shakespeare retellings are getting out of hand. Joining “Ten Things I Hate About You” and the upcoming “O” is the independent film “Scotland, PA.” This updated “Macbeth,” currently filming in Canada, puts the famed power couple in a fast-food restaurant in the early 1970s. James LeGros and Maura Tierney star, with Christopher Walken appearing as a detective.
My Favorite Thought: I had a few other smaller items, but I’m going to hold most of those and instead feature a handful of reader responses. The IMAX question sparked a few interesting answers -- my favorite was putting “Little Shop of Horrors” on the IMAX screen -- but most everyone wanted to talk about whether MGM could release “Kiss Me Kate” in its original 3-D format on DVD.
“DVDs in 3-D format exist. There are a couple of volumes of ‘America's Greatest Roller Coasters’ available that come with a pair of glasses. These were originally released as laserdiscs when those were still being mass-produced. (I have the first volume of the laserdisc edition; it's a bizarre yet fun viewing experience, but only in small doses.) So maybe we should start a writing campaign to Warner Home Video to have ‘Kiss Me, Kate’ released in a 3-D version.”
Somebody else found a DVD of the third “Nightmare on Elm Street” movie that was in 3-D, so my hopes were getting pretty high. Unfortunately, Dave was able to spell things out. It sounds like you shouldn’t hold your breath.
“This might shed some light on your query. ‘Kiss Me, Kate’ was filmed in a 3-D format using Polarization. The moviegoer wore Polarized Lenses (similar to the ones used in sunglasses), which was the superior method of doing 3-D. Frequently, it involved the use of two movie projectors simultaneously showing the film on a specially treated screen. But the results were outstanding. The "substandard" method is called Anaglyph, which uses the red/green lens method (this is the one that led to frequent viewer complaints about headaches). Low-budget films like ‘Cat Women of the Moon’ and ‘The Mask’ are actually available in this method on home video now.
“Setting up a home theatre for the Polarized method is relatively complicated, but there is a company that does it. (‘Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein’ was filmed in this method and is available in the Polarized format. It runs about $150 for the various equipment to set up viewing.) But at this point, it's probably much too expensive and complicated for general home viewer release, and converting it to the Anaglyph method would cheapen the technological results. So I think seeing . ‘Kiss Me, Kate’ in its original 3-D format just won't happen. Your readers will have to settle to seeing it in its 3-D glory at a revival movie theatre.
“P.S. My grandfather, Joseph Mahler, was the developer of Polarized 3-D, known as the vectograph, and worked under Dr. Edwin Land of Polaroid fame for many years. He was a technical advisor on several 3-D films, consulting with director Andre de Toth for ‘House of Wax.’ ”
Wow! That’s as close to the original source as we’re likely to get. And all because of you readers. Thanks for all your technical assistance on this.
Your Thoughts: Are you OK with seeing Charles Busch take on a smaller role? Any chance of “Psycho Beach Party” capitalizing on the current “Scary Movie” penchant for horror spoofs? And did anyone else spot the “Loser” gaffe?
Eric Grode is New York bureau chief of Show Music magazine, assistant editor of The Sondheim Review and a theatre critic for Back Stage.