Sunday, September 13, 2009


Paul Festa cuts himself shaving in his short film

Thursday my short film LET ME TELL YOU JOHN CAMERON MITCHELL screens at the Castro Theatre as part of the Fourth Annual Good Vibrations Independent Erotic Film Festival. Per request of a cast member, this will be the film's world premiere and swan song - a one night and one night only experience.

There's a $1500 audience-choice award so please forward this page far and wide, rest your voice on Thursday, bring your very loudest friends to the show, get them drunk, and make some noise for me. Here are the details and, below, my submission to Good Vibrations Magazine describing the film.

Good Vibrations Independent Erotic Film Festival
Hosted by Peaches Christ and Dr. Carol Queen
Castro Theatre
Thursday, Sept. 17
7pm pre-party in the Pleasure Lounge (theater's balcony lobby) - $10
8pm screening in the theater - $10

Paul Festa
(2003 / 2009)

Late in 2002, when John Cameron Mitchell solicited 10-minute audition videos for his “Sex Film Project” to create a nonpornographic, sexually explicit movie (the final product would be called Shortbus), I had no idea how to make a film. But I had an idea for an audition video, and I had iMovie on my computer, and I had a deadline, so poof! I became a filmmaker.

The idea was to tell the story of The Breeders, a memoir I’d just written about an affair I’d had with a married couple who resembled my parents. The narration was a mock radio interview with Terry Gross – whose questions were represented by text tiles that sounded eerily like her. Dirty Polaroids I’d taken with the couple provided visuals, along with old home videos, blow-up doll sex scenes, and other materials not usually associated with legitimate smut.

I didn’t quite get permission to use those Polaroids in the audition video, and when I saw the Good Vibes call for entries, I finally asked. The answer was no. So I sat down with the audition tape and boiled it down from its 10-minute narrative form into the 3-minute music video it is today. What I like about the new version is the way the story comes through in shards, in remnants – it’s a little bit like looking at some crumbled ancient statue or incompletely stripped Victorian and using surviving details to reconstruct the original. I also like that it’s both the first film I ever made and the most recent, and I’m thrilled for it to be my first work to screen at the Castro.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

SAVE THE DATE - SF - dirty movies (one mine) at the Castro

A week of sex-film events in San Francisco ( culminates Thursday, Sept. 17th with the 2009 IXFF Independent Erotic Film competition at the Castro Theatre!

My film is a remix of the audition video I submitted many years ago for John Cameron Mitchell's "Sex Film Project," which became "Shortbus."

Please show up in force and make some noise for me. If I win the audience award, drinks are on me until - well Dorothy Parker said it best:
“I like to drink martini’s, two at very most, three I’m under the table…four I’m under the host.”

From the film festival page:
Step into elegance and enter the Pleasure Lounge upstairs at the Castro Theatre, where the drinks are cold, the dancers are hot, and guests spin to win free prizes to the sounds of live jazz and sultry burlesque by Twilight Vixen Revue. Then head downstairs to see what’s hot as IXFF finalists compete for the audience choice award and $1,500. The screening will be hosted by indie film queen and drag celebrity extraordinaire, Peaches Christ, along with the fabulous Dr. Carol Queen, Ph.D.

When: Thursday, September 17th
Time: PRE-PARTY 7:00 – 8:00 pm, SCREENING: 8:00pm
Cost: $10 Pre-party, $10 Screening
Where: Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street, San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 621-6120

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Finish him!

Episode 4 of the BBC's
I, Claudius miniseries shows Livia making an appearance backstage at the Coliseum to give the gladiators a little pep talk. She paid good money for these games and she expects a real fight, no more faking it with pig bladders filled with blood, etc. Then, in the royal box, just as Claudius faints at the sight of Livia getting what she paid for, we hear her cry out to one of the gladiators, "Finish him!"

I had two Livia moments this week, one courtesy of Frank Rich and the other from Anthony Lane. Rich's column in the Times, shredding Sonia Sotomayor's Republicans critics, can't really be excerpted, because like most of his stuff it derives its effect from the piling on of example after example of right-wing idiocy. By the end, you find it hard to believe there are even 40 Republicans in the Senate, or that these will last more than another election cycle or two - but then you remember Karl Rove crowing about the permanent Republican majority he was creating and you are inspired to reflect on the perils of overconfidence.

Anthony Lane's evisceration of Brüno in the July 20th New Yorker ("Mein Camp") is similarly difficult to quote, and just as devastating. The closing graf could stand alone:
“Brüno” ends appallingly, with a musical montage of Sting, Bono, Elton John, and other well-meaners assisting mein Host in a sing-along. Here’s the deal, apparently: if celebrities aren’t famous enough for your liking (Ron Paul, Paula Abdul), or seem insufficiently schooled in irony, you make vicious sport of them, but if they’re A-listers, insanely keen to be in on the joke, they can join your congregation. Would Baron Cohen dare to adopt a fresh disguise and trap Sting in some outlandish folly, or is he now too close a friend? To scour the world for little people you can taunt, and then pal up with the hip and rich: that is not an advisable path for any comic to pursue, let alone one as sharp and mercurial as Baron Cohen. All his genius, at present, is going into publicity, and, in the buildup to this film’s release, he has not put a foot wrong—or, in the case of Eminem, a buttock. But the work itself turns out to be flat and foolish, bereft of Borat’s good cheer: wholly unsuitable for children, yet propelled by a nagging puerility that will appeal only to those in the vortex of puberty, or to adults who have failed to progress beyond it. Call it, at best, a gaudy celebration of free speech, though be advised: before my screening, I had to sign a form requiring me “not to blog, Twitter or Facebook thoughts about the film before 6th July 2009.” A guy pulls down his pants and bares his soul, and we are forbidden to have thoughts? What is this, the Anschluss?
Both these columns put me into fits of schadenfreude, which is by definition mixed with some pity: how can the viruses responsible for these lesions on our culture and politics show their faces after press like this? As someone who intends to make his own share of marks on the world, and hopes they will be reviewed, I search for lessons: never to be that terrible is one, and two, if I am, and I get called on it, to take solace in the knowledge that somebody somewhere is really enjoying my bad reviews.

Fodder for the critics - in one paragraph I got two things wrong: it's Episode 3 of I, Claudius, and it's Livilla - played by Patricia Quinn (Magenta to you Rocky Horror fans) - who cries "Finish him!"

This fact-check brought to you by YouTube, where I verified that Livia's speech to the gladiators is the bitchiest thing that's ever been on TV. Check it out - the whole episode (not to mention series) is worth watching but the speech itself is from 2:56 to 5:04 here:

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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Paris Day 27 - badness part 1

I've been preoccupied for the last several days with the idea of badness, and so much of my own work and that of others I've encountered recently has been relevant to this theme that what I have to say won't fit into a single diary entry. Hence the title, which has an especially nice ring to it on my Facebook status (Paul Festa is badness part 1).

I had reason to think about badness on Monday, the day I woke up to snow and spent the rainy afternoon working at Au Train de Vie. There I was, sitting in this warm, perfectly comfortable French brasserie, periodically putting down sentences in the novel and otherwise watching waves of commuters make their way through the rain to and from the station. I was enjoying everything about this experience, especially my bouncy upholstered train car seat and even the challenge of the work, and most pertinently the mere fact that I was doing my work here, in Paris, in the Jerusalem of my creative spirit. Right in the middle of one of these self-satisified space-outs, the song changed on the radio and Frankie Goes to Hollywood began singing Relax.

I remember liking this song when I was fifteen years old. It was dirty, which was good in and of itself, but it was also the gayest thing I had ever heard through the mass media, and this seemed like progress. So I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Relax, but the soft spot had gone all rotten on Monday because all I could hear, listening to this song in the city of Maurice Ravel, Francis Poulenc, Olivier Messiaen and Jacques Brel, for that matter, was its howling badness, the sex joke stripped of its humor and its shock value by a quarter century of repetition, the violence
(when you wanna sucka to it) done to language, the ferocious banality of the music itself and the sound effects and the whole, awful, depressing package forced down our collective global cultural throat for - I repeat - a quarter of a century.

So, much like when anyone tells you to relax, the song had the opposite effect on me and I became agitated thinking about badness, primarily about the tragedy of our species' cultural future being determined by a free market whose most heavily weighted decision-making shares are controlled by American thirteen-year-old gay boys and their girlfriends. In what other realm of global consequence would we be so careless in entrusting authority, except perhaps the world's most powerful military over the last eight years? Yes, the song in question is English but somehow I just know that it is the fault of my motherland that I was subjected to it in a brasserie overlooking the train tracks to the Gare de l'Est, and while I've always known that American cultural imperialism was an irrefutable fact of life and lamented it, on Monday I understood that it was a tragedy, and I became angry about it, and because there's nothing I can do to influence what gets played on the radio I became deeply concerned, or more deeply concerned than usual, about the moral consequences of my own badness.

So much of what I do is bad. Remember how I said I would read through the diary Feb. 1, beginning to end? Never did it - I'm too afraid of all the badness that's nested in these daily dispatches, starved as they are for revision and that cardinal labor of composition, excision. Those rejection letters I could make residential high-rises out of? Most of them, obviously, were the consequence of how many artistic deaf-mutes sit on selection and admissions committees, but several of them certainly the result of my own badness. And then there are the several hundred thousand words that I have written into this novel and then deleted - novels worth of badness, thrown onto the compost heap to rot with all the novels before this one that I've abandoned, and with that part of my heart that could once listen to Frankie Goes to Hollywood without mourning the death of culture or France or the human spirit.

I wrote before how the work I'm doing now, the actual writing, is excruciatingly difficult but the time flies beneath it - a three-hour morning vanishes like a small fraction of the time. The labored extraction of these sentences from my brain - maybe it's like brain surgery. These teams of surgeons are bent over the patient for six, seven, twelve hours, and when it's through, have those hours passed as they would had the surgeons been on a Stairmaster or reading press releases in a cubicle? However else the work is painful, I am not bored, I am hypnotized by the spectacle of this novel unspooling, not unlike the way Matt couldn't bear to take his eyes off Afterward despite well-founded fears that its badness would continue unrelieved all the way through to the end.

What if the novel is just as bad as that movie, or, to tease the imagination to outer limits, what if it is actually in some ways worse? I value the experience of bad art, not because I enjoy chortling over someone else's mediocrity - I really don't - but because it is so instructive. I once read a John Grisham novel and it was a dismal exercise to get through and one of the most valuable in my self-education as a writer, because after 350 pages of having him bash me over the head with an idea before making an incision in my arm and pumping it into my bloodstream and then burying me in a coffin stuffed full of the idea with a subterranean sound system blaring it for all eternity before he repeated it one more time, just in case I missed it - after 350 pages of this literary bludgeoning I became significantly more sensitive to my own capacity to do exactly the same thing.

It is so close to us, the badness we make, that we cannot see it without a radical perspectival shift, or a hideous reflection glimpsed in someone else's work. The other day, seeing grotesquely bad things in Afterwards, I became convinced my novel was bad in many of the same ways - even now, after editing it mindful of the lesson gleaned at such cost from Grisham and his irredeemable badness. This is why I wanted to flee the theater - the idea that I would inflict such pain on a reader as this film was inflicting on me was almost more than I could entertain outside of a padded cell. I resolved, if nothing else, to be bad in a different way. The bludgeon I use on my reader, I resolved, will be pink, with green fleurs de lys imprinted on it, glitter-glued, LED lights flashing up and down the handle. Don't you get it? The bludgeon is the subject. (Note to Corporate - shave some zeros off his advance). Here - look at the notebook I'm writing this in:

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Sunday, February 1, 2009

Paris Day 24 - tell me again what we're doing

Saturday, my long-deferred day off, was not restful. First I overslept, giving myself a scant hour to straighten up the apartment and buy food for my first guest of any kind in the studio, for brunch. I raced over to the St. Vincent market, on the Blvd. Magenta, where, faced with the ostentatious display, I fell into a stupor - brilliant glistening whole fish beside lobster and shrimp and scallops in the shell at the fish monger's, the cheese stand mobbed so you couldn't get near it, regimented stacks of perfect clementines and blood oranges alongside heaps of chanterelles at the grocer, surrounded by their own throngs, bakers and butchers and wine vendors all chit-chatting with their customers as though this were some sort of time-honored cultural ritual instead of an American queen's mad panic to put brunch on the table.

After darting around from vendor to vendor, unable to penetrate the crowds, I finally settled on a woman selling a wide variety of Portuguese delicacies where I was able to get meat and cheese and dessert pastries and found myself spending twenty minutes chatting with her and tasting this and that and getting in a significant amount of my day's French practice comparing notes on her products, on our travels and tastes in music, and hearing, for the second time this week, that my accent sounds more Italian than American. I'm not well enough versed in local snobbery to know whether this is a good thing.

In any case by the time I left the market I was hopelessly late for brunch and my guest, Charlotte's Dutch friend Edo, had already come and left. But he's a close neighbor and didn't mind coming back at noon, so we had a nice hour here over mango and Portuguese soda bread and goat cheeses and raw cured paper-thin-sliced bacon. Our plan was to apartment-hop, so we then went to his beautiful top-floor flat a few blocks away for whiskey. After hanging out with Edo I thought I would take
Anna Karenina to a cafe, but instead found myself on an impromptu date with Marc, Ryan Philippe's much better looking younger brother.

This was my fault - maybe it was the whiskey, but suddenly
Anna Karenina didn't seem like the right means with which to close the distance between brunch and the three parties scheduled for the evening, and all my resolutions about not getting involved with someone who was not going to further my French studies seemed misplaced on this long-deferred day off, and so, in a victory over my workaholic goal-orientation, Marc and I met a few text messages and half an hour later at Les Halles for a screening of Slumdog Millionaire. I was late, he was later, and by the time we got to the front of the ticket line the 4:45 show was sold out. So we opted for the 6PM screening of Afterwards, the new Gilles Bourdos film starring John Malkovich and Romain Duris.

One of the problems with my inability to focus on a single creative discipline - writing, or film, or music - is that I am stretched thin not only in producing work but in consuming it. I read a handful of novels every year and see a handful of movies and go to a handful of concerts. I am shamefaced admitting this. But there are only so many hours in a day and several of them not committed to finishing the novel and shooting video and chit-chatting with the Portuguese delicacy monger are going to wind up swirling down the Facebook time toilet - it's just a fact of modern life. Everyone's busy - book title spotted today:
I Should Probably Kill Myself but I Can't Find the Time. And this makes actually going to a movie or a concert a kind of dicey experience, because when you have so little time and money and commit a chunk of it to a work of art, you would really like for it to be good.

After about 25 minutes of brutalizing sentimentality, numbing bathos, sledgehammer symbolism, contrived, labored and transparently manipulative plot devices, intelligence-assaulting script and editing, maudlin soundtrack, raw-sewage overflow of philosophical kitsch, and a performance by Romain Duris that suggested that the director had asked him to indicate every emotion by imitating a Parkinson's disease victim, I slipped Marc a note asking if he was having a good time. He wasn't, but wanted to stay to see what happened, so we suffered through the whole 107 minutes, which easily felt like twice that. Did Malkovich read this script before he took the job? The movie encourages you to make peace with death in order to live more fully, and in this it succeeds, because in the 106th minute you find that you have more than reconciled yourself to your own.

The worst thing was that they hardly played any commercials beforehand, and I was counting on those to give me at least some French practice for the evening. I knew better than to expect any from Anglophile Marc. Sometimes I wonder, when Marc is groping for a French word, is he really even French? Is he really 23? Or is he one of those virtuoso hustlers who prey on the gullible, the half witted, half willing mark? What if he's 31, American, wanted on 20 counts of kidnapping and identify theft? He was a little rough in bed. What if he is from Cleveland?

We left the theater and stopped to check out the pool at Les Halles (pictured above) and the tropical greenhouse. We walked through the Louvre, pausing by the blue fountain (below), and, despite the nasty bite of cold, kissed on a pedestrian bridge over the Seine. Over the hour a few parts of Marc's story unraveled. "I have a confession to make," he said when we got back to his place. "My name is not really Marc. It's Matt." Marc, it turned out, was just a
nom d'Internet. The whole thing became even more confusing when I explained to him that I had mentioned him to friends (that's you, dear reader) by a pseudonym - so Marc turned out to be a fake name for a fake name (Matt is a fake name for a real one, presumably, but stay tuned). Matt/Marc/Ryan Philippe's much better looking younger brother was excited to have been named Marc - I had chanced upon a favorite of his - and decided he would be Marc the rest of the evening. Before we left his place for Rive Gauche parties he also clarified his age. He's not 23. He's 22. And I confessed my own age, which is routinely five years older in reality than it is on Craig's List.

Frank Browning's Groundhog Day party was splendid, rich with charismatic natives and expats and we could hardly tear ourselves away to attend Guy Livingston's a few blocks toward the river, where we arrived just as most of the guests were heading out. We had the host and his wife and a friend of theirs to ourselves. Guy is a Facebook find, of sorts, another musician/filmmaker, whose brother Hugh (cellist) was a Yale classmates of mine and my sister's. We rose to leave a half hour later and finally left the apartment another hour after that following a Jewish goodbye of grand proportions that involved being served a plate of desserts and a glass of white port.

Matt and I caught one of the last metro trains back to Gare de l'Est, where we found ourselves locked into the front courtyard along with some other Saturday night Parisian party animals; we all wound up hopping the 8-foot iron gate. At two in the morning we were back in the monastery with my noisy neighbors and unquiet ghosts and thus I had my second guest of my residency and day off.

I haven't given up on getting Matt to speak French with me, but it's an uphill climb. I stumble for everything in French, and he stumbles for basic vocabularly - "pre-cum," for example. "It's too clinical in French!" he protests. "Do you really want me to call it
liquide séminal?" He prefers the English language, he says - he loves it. "You are the French Academy's worst nightmare," I told him, making a point of saying this in French. I botched the adjective-adverb order; he corrected me.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Paris Day 6 - blowing my fuses

It was such a nice reward Monday morning after predawn work to watch that big moon set that I was primed for a repeat performance yesterday, and disappointed when it didn’t materialize – the dawn was rainy and overcast. As I was looking west for even a glimmer of moonlight behind the clouds, I saw that the sunrise was staining the 10th a slightly radioactive peach, and started taking pictures.

Then I noticed was that there was an unbroken rainbow arcing over Paris from the National Archives to the Port de la Chappelle. I couldn’t capture the whole arc and the only picture that came out shows just the southern base of it rising from behind rooftops and chimneys across Rue des Récollects:

I had to cut the morning’s work short in order to pick up my stipend at this big government building by the observatory, way out in the 5th. I’ve been in Paris probably a half dozen times in my life including this trip, for a total of the same number of weeks, so while I’m increasingly comfortable finding my way around (especially after renting a bike the last time, in the summer of 2007, and never riding the Metro), huge swaths of the city remain terra incognita. One of these is out by the observatory, and yet as I ran (late) across Montparnasse Boulevard toward the Port Royal RER station, I had the most powerful sense of déjà vu.

I only figured it out when I saw the pharmacy on the corner – I’m almost positive this is where Jean Servais goes toward the end of Rififi to talk to the junkie’s dealer (at a pharmacy) before dashing down the stairs
to take the RER out to the house under construction in the burbs where he rescues the kid and everyone gets shot. Rififi (Du Rifif Chez Les Hommes is the original French title) is one of my four or five favorite movies. So the morning had three things to recommend it: rainbow. Rififi. Stipend.

I set about spending the stipend immediately, walking through the Latin Quarter past the Luxembourg Gardens to find perfect prop after perfect prop (all of Paris is on sale right now) for Creation du Monde. Among the things I love about this project, it has turned Paris into a treasure hunt. I wanted these champagne flutes to be a surprise for James but I just cannot resist gloating over them:

Just when you think Paris can't get any more beautiful...

I would write more about the Brazil-ian experience of visiting C.R.O.U.S. to pick up my stipend, and associated thoughts, watching various students in head scarves collecting substantial wads of euros, about how Joe the Plummer just has not succeeded in getting through to these silly French people, because they are very assiduously sharing their wealth – with the likes of me, no less – even as there is less and less of it to go around. Socialists! But today is supposed to be my day off, which I’m allowing myself even though I didn’t quite finish my writing day yesterday and didn’t manage to sit down with my French lessons…being here is its own language class, of course, and I now know how to say that the electric stove keeps blowing the fuses.

Before I quit I just want to express my concern for the people behind the Pacino Rififi remake, which I've only just this minute heard about. Are they fucking crazy? Is the idea to improve on that film? New retail goal - an old copy of the Auguste de Breton novel. If anything will get me to study French on a daily basis, that's it.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

2008, or, Things To Do When You're Stoned, Part I

I caught this sight the morning of the worst day of my year (yesterday).

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008


The very best thing about being at tonight's commercial premiere of Gus Van Sant's Milk was the crowd and the place. There's nowhere better than the Castro Theatre to see cinematic depictions of angry gay mobs teeming outside the Castro Theatre, and nowhere better to see the premiere of a hometown film. Shouts and ovations went up for friends and acquaintances and people well known to us; a chorus of whispers when the actual Cleve Jones was spotted onscreen, a shout-out for Dennis Peron, cheers for Tom Ammiano. And no matter what the film, there is nothing like seeing a show at that theater when it is sold out. James and I miraculously got two seats together in the second row of the balcony and that, along with David Hegarty's organ playing before curtain, was worth the price of admission.

As for the mobs that teemed in front of the theater after the film (pictured above), one can only imagine the impact they might have had, multiplied around the state, had the distributors not seen fit to sit on the film until after the voters of California passed judgment on Proposition 8.

As for the film itself: Sean Penn's performance is a marvel and a force of nature. The film surrounding it is very good, and far exceeded expectations, but did not get under my skin the way it ought to have. The crowd scenes and some of the supporting actors seemed artificial, as though they belonged to a lesser production. The film gave White a fair amount of screen time, and did due diligence with respect to his multiplying stresses external and internal (mercifully leaving out the Twinkies). Still, I never believed in the character the way I believed in Penn as Milk, and that had serious consequences for the denouement and the time invested in White. I understood the editorial decision that forced a choice between the early footage of Feinstein as she announced the assassinations and including her as a character (beyond a gavel-wielding ghost at a board meeting), but I felt the sacrifice. Here was the woman who mentored White and found Milk's body - an episode whose gruesome details are well known. Perhaps it was a necessary sacrifice - I hesitate to second-guess a writer and a director who told a coherent story and brilliantly incorporated contemporary footage and elicited at least one dazzling performance in 128 swift minutes.

The soundtrack had a reasonably light touch but was otherwise foul. The sex was lighthearted, which I liked, but it was too spare - Milk may have stopped going to the baths after he won office, but still I suspect he would have hated how sexless the film was especially considering it was set on Castro Street in nineteen-seventy-fucking-eight. James brought up one important point, which was how convincingly gay Penn's portrayal was. And this is something to be really grateful for, and it's more important than the sex - that we didn't wind up with a Brokeback Harvey Milk.

I loathed the 1995 Harvey Milk opera and, as much as I enjoyed and admired this film, I wasn't swept away by it. Both suffer by comparison with the two accounts to which they are indebted - Randy Shilts's 1982 book "The Mayor of Castro Street" and Rob Epstein's 1983 Oscar-winning documentary "The Times of Harvey Milk." Someone let much of the emotional air out of the film's tires by announcing to us, before curtain, that it was a "ten-hankie" movie. I don't want to jinx Rob Epstein's documentary in the same way for those who have not seen it, but in fact it is vastly more powerful and heartbreaking than the biopic. Fortunately for us in San Francisco, it's playing at the Roxie this week. The rest of you can and should rent it.

And that reminds me of a Harvey Milk experience I wanted to blog about when it happened this summer but it got away from me - at Suppervision 2, my friend iii put together a video piece set to a remix of Milk's political will. I hadn't looked at the transcript or listened to it (in Epstein's film) for fifteen years and it took me a moment to realize what I was hearing. Already it had commanded my attention, but when I recognized it I came apart. The message is so simple, so powerful, so right: come out. It's the message that created the world around me and gave me the life that I have. And for all the utility Gus Van Sant found in that political will to tell this story, not once did it carry the emotional impact of recognizing Harvey Milk's own voice and hearing his message set to a techno beat (!) at a nightclub and seeing his words projected on a screen. Perhaps this is the root problem for the film - even wizardry like Penn's and everything else the film has to recommend it can't live up to the power of the source material that's so readily available to us.

So, yes, definitely go the Castro and see this film. But make it an equally high priority to experience the Epstein doc and the Shilts biography. As good an imitation as Milk is, it can't compete with the original. I leave you with the original:
The other aspect of the tapes is the obvious of what would happen should there be an assassination. I cannot prevent some people from feeling angry and frustrated and mad, but I hope they will take that frustration and that madness instead of demonstrating or anything of that type, I would hope that they would take the power and I would hope that five, ten, one hundred, a thousand would rise. I would like to see every gay lawyer, every gay architect come out, stand up and let the world know. That would do more to end prejudice overnight than anybody could imagine. I urge them to do that, urge them to come out. Only that way will we start to achieve our rights.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Chicago, IL: critical mass

Lots to catch up on since leaving SF Sept. 24th - successful, sartorially triumphant and emotionally twisted days in Dallas, incomparable week in Tennessee, and a so-far terrific time in Chicago with the exception of being cornered last night in my in-laws' suburban garage by a baseball-bat-wielding gangsta teen (I froze, James saved us). More about all that later! For now, the reviews are in, and Chicago likes my film:
"Stunning...Perhaps the finest film ever made on how people experience music, and one of the best-crafted and moving documentaries in a very long time."
- The Chicago Sun-Times

- The Chicago Tribune

"A remarkable film...highly, highly recommended."
Back east, they still like it:
"Intensely personal...nothing can quite prepare you for the experience."
- New Yorker critic Alex Ross
I don't think I mentioned that the film won a prize at the Rome International Film Festival (one of the finest regional film festivals in the southeastern United States) a few weeks ago:
Best Experimental Film
Most fun in Chicago so far was the morning I spent with Andrew Patner at WFMT. The interview was fluid and lively and Andrew did a great job segueing in and out of the musical selections, which included Messiaen playing "God Among Us" from the Nativity Suite, Albert Fuller playing the first movement of the Rameau Suite in A (Allemande), and Olivier Latry playing the Apparition. Favorite part was rummaging around the station's huge CD and LP collection to come up with those three tracks - when have I felt like such a kid in a candy shop? Oh yeah - Tennessee.

The interview with Andrew aired last night between 11 and midnight and I didn't get to listen. But it should be available as a podcast soon here.

If you're in Chicago or know someone who is - two more screenings of the film this week, including tomorrow's big show at the gaudily gorgeous (English rococo?) St. James Cathedral downtown:
• Saint James Cathedral, Chicago
Screening accompanied by Bruce Barber, organ
Wabash and Huron
Wednesday, October 8, 2008, 7 p.m.
Free admission

• Loyola University Museum of Art
820 North Michigan Avenue
Sunday, October 12, 2008, 1 p.m.
The WFMT interview is posted here:
10-06-08: Paul Festa (Filmmaker)

And a blog called "The Listening Sessions" just posted this write-up:
Thursday, October 9, 2008
... Paul Festa's "Apparition of the Eternal Church" ...

Another blog posting on the event:
Sunday, October 12, 2008
"All of this has happened before"
Apparition of the Eternal Church

"A fascinating portrait of how people experience music."

Chicago is apparently teeming with bloggers - more posts from the St. James show than in the last two years of screenings combined. Modesty prevents me from quoting this one, but secretly I'm pleased someone noticed the outfit.

Monday, October 13, 2008
The Year of Musical Thinking
Ghost Light Monday -- Apparition of the Eternal Church documentary film

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Degenerate Art - in Berkeley! October 5th!

My friend Susan Waterfall - brilliant pianist - is presenting an evening of "Degenerate Art" - music, film and photos from Weimar. I'm very sorry to be out of town for this, which was a hit at this summer's Mendocino Music Festival. The details, from Susan:
“Degenerate Music!”: The Music of Weimar Berlin
Berkeley-Richmond Jewish Community Center Sunday October 5

Susan Waterfall, pianist and narrator, Erin Neff, mezzo soprano, and the Mendocino Music Festival Chamber Players, present an evening of music, film, and photographs.

After World War I, Weimar Berlin was a cauldron of artistic ferment as avant-garde artists and intellectuals, most of them Jewish, struggled to create a modern German culture. Exuberant freedom and hectic experimentation masked a sense of impending doom. After 1933, Hitler denounced them all as “degenerate” and their forced exile carried Weimar modernity to the rest of the world. The evening includes Joris Ivens’ twelve minute 1929 art film, "Rain," with an extraordinary score by Eisler, cabaret songs of Weill and Schoenberg, Weill’s String Quartet, and pieces from Three Penny Opera.

The Berkeley Richmond JCC’s newly restored theatre is at 1414 Walnut Street, at the corner of Walnut and Rose in North Berkeley. Concert begins at 7:30. 510-848-0237.
$15 Member, Senior, Student; $20 General.

Presented in association with the Goethe-Institut San Francisco and the Mendocino Music Festival.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Sandi DuBowski in SF this weekend

Sandi DuBowski, star of my film Apparition of the Eternal Church, cover boy for my book OH MY GOD: Messiaen in the Ear of the Unbeliever, and director of the award-winning Trembling Before G-d, is most recently the producer of A Jihad for Love, which sold out the Castro Theater at the queer film festival this summer. For those of us who were shut out of that screening, the Lumiere in SF and the Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley offer us an opportunity to see the films with both Sandi and director Parvez Sharma in the house.

Here's the scoop, from my in-box to your ears:

A Jihad for Love opens in San Francisco and Berkeley on August 22nd at the Landmark Lumiere and Shattuck Theaters!

Producer Sandi DuBowski (Director of the award-winning, Trembling Before G-d) and Director/Producer Parvez Sharma will lead Q & A after screenings from Friday, August 22nd – Monday, August 25th.

Landmark's Lumiere Theatre
1572 California St., San Francisco
(415) 267-4893
Fri-Sun at 2:15, 4:45, 7:00, 9:30;
Mon-Thu at 4:45, 7:00, 9:30
Director/Producer Parvez Sharma
& Producer Sandi DuBowski in person
4:45 & 7:00, Fri 8/22, Sun 8/24, & Mon 8/25
Buy Tickets Online

Landmark's Shattuck Cinemas
2230 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley
(510) 464-5980
Daily at 3:05, 5:15, 7:20, 9:35 (valid 8/22-28)
Director/Producer Parvez Sharma & Producer Sandi DuBowski
in person 5:15 & 7:20, Sat 8/23 at Shattuck-Berk
Buy Tickets Online

After Premieres at the Toronto and Berlin Film Festivals and in over 20 countries, A Jihad for Love has won five international awards and has inspired a media blitz across the world. Tens of thousands of people have participated in a thought-provoking dialogue about Islam that the film has catalyzed.

See the LA Times feature story at

Watch Parvez on CNN here:

Please come in large numbers opening weekend! On Monday morning, the booker will determine whether to hold the film for a second week based on how many people came to see the film in its opening weekend.

Buy tickets online for the Lumiere here or for the Shattuck here.

If you would like to get involved, email

Visit,, and and our Facebook groups – A Jihad for Love and Films That Change the World.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Two radio interviews Thursday

By chance, I am on two radio shows tomorrow and they're both on 91.7 listener-supported public radio KALW.

The first show, Artery ("cultural coverage that pumps blood to your brain"), airs about ten minutes before the 9 a.m. Terry Gross. It's a terrific piece, I think, with nicely integrated clips from Albert Fuller, Ana Matronic, Marga Gomez, and Harold Bloom. (Here's the mp3 if you missed it on the air.) I could nitpick at a few things - I didn't describe Christianity per se as repulsive, but its martyrdom art. And for my taste the introduction's use of the terms "liberal" and "conservative" - not to mention "bigotry" to characterize Messiaen's religion - is far too reductive. As always, you miss some things that wound up on the cutting room floor along with your stuttering, malapropisms and retractions, and on this issue of Messiaen's amalgam of theological orthodoxy and musical radicalism, I argued in a missing part of the conversation that some of Messiaen's theology - especially concerning the manifestation of God's voice in birdsong, and the unvarnished eroticism of his love of Christ - hardly qualifies as reactionary. Still, the reporter, Nathanael Johnson, got to the heart of things - he illuminated meaningful themes about belief and aesthetic bliss that I wanted the film to sound. It was gratifying to listen to his synthesis.

Bonus: on the Web page, Artery bestows upon OH MY GOD its first quotable criticism (actually the first thing pretty much anybody has said about it beyond "cool idea"):
"a beautiful and insightful book."
FYI - the text-only edition (no pictures, and only $15 as opposed to $40 for the fully illustrated version) is now available.

The second radio show I'm on tomorrow is Out In The Bay. It airs at today at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday April 13th at 2:00 p.m., with simultaneous streams at After that, you have 3 months to get the podcast or on-demand version out of the archive.

Nine days until 4/18! Between now and then I have to get through two fundraisers, a number of rehearsals, a panel discussion at Grace Cathedral Sunday the 13th at 9:30 a.m. and several thousand more logistical details that need to be resolved by next week.

Also, if anyone knows how to get the print media to return my calls, let me buy you a beer

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Saturday, March 8, 2008

3 little readings (one tonight) and one huge screening/performance 4/18

I had this fantasy that I would get caught up in my work and caught up in the blog through the New York trip and THEN post this save the date, but today, when the call came to read tonight at Writers With Drinks, I gave up. Hopefully I'll get the blog caught up before I go to New Mexico Thursday, or while I'm there. Here's the email I just sent out:

Dear friends--I have three SF events coming up between tonight and April 18:

1. If you save one date for me in the next ten or twenty years, please
let it be April 18th, 7PM, the earthquake anniversary, for a
tremendous spectacle at Grace Cathedral. They're giving the SF
premiere of my very queer and slightly sacrilegious film "Apparition
of the Eternal Church
"--in the sanctuary, with live organ
accompaniment! Can you believe it? For the Berkeley screening in
January we had a 100-year storm, so expect at least a plague of
locusts for April 18th (another earthquake seems too much to ask).

I will start off the evening giving the West Coast premiere of
Messiaen's Fantaisie for violin and piano, a gorgeous piece (think
Debussy on steroids) that was just published last year. Afterward I
will read briefly from my new book based on the film. It's a free show
with an open-bar reception to follow, and it should be a ton of fun.

Check out Apparition star Eisa Davis in her big New York Times write-up today.

2. I've just been asked to read at "Writers With Drinks" tonight:

The Make-Out Room, 3225 22nd. St. btwn. Valencia and Mission
7:30 PM to 9:30 PM, doors open at 7 PM

3. Later this month I'll be reading with Violet Blue and other authors
in the Best Sex Writing 2008 anthology:

Thursday 3/27 at 7pm
The Center for Sex and Culture
1519 Mission btw. 11th St. and S. Van Ness, Suite 2

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Southern Circuit 7: Paul Festa's last gasp

I hate to intrude on Socheata's tour, but I couldn't bear the thought of just vanishing from the blog without saying goodbye, as though some horrible disease had come and carried me off midsentence. That was only part of the problem.

Albert Fuller onscreen in Mobile, AL

In fact, the conspiracy against my blog was joined by several agents, disease being just one of them, and if I may say so it was overkill.

Justin Bond as Kiki DuRane onscreen in Mobile, AL

Even if I hadn't been denied Internet access at every turn, and even if I hadn't fallen prey to a numbing demoralization and loss of will facing down my Oh My God deadline, it was certainly enough to have gotten that nasty bug that left me, from Beaufort to Orangeburg to Montgomery through New Orleans (canceling my Mardi Gras) to Baton Rouge to Palm Beach to Mobile, writhing in bed with fevers in a sea of mucus, praying, in my secular-humanist way, for death.

John Cameron Mitchell onscreen in Mobile, AL

So now here I am, midway through someone else's tour, and I've just filed the final draft for the first edition of the book, and the mucus has dried up, and I'm preparing to head to New York for the screening there at St. Bart's, which will double as the book launch and triple as the New York premiere performance of Messiaen's Fantaisie for violin and piano, with my Yale and Juilliard classmate Melvin Chen tinkling the ivories.

Shanti Carson onscreen in Mobile, AL

I can't express how luxurious--almost irresponsible--it feels to be blogging after the nasty, brutish and short deadline of putting that book together, conception Thanksgiving to first edition Feb. 27th.

Ned Stresen-Reuter onscreen in Mobile, AL

And so I hate to waste my last Southern Circuit blog entry complaining about all the things that went wrong on my tour--they were acts of God, for the most part, and clearly she did NOT like my movie.

Elizabeth Povinelli onscreen in Mobile, AL

But amid the viruses and tornadoes there were incomparable moments of human error, such as scheduling my movie to coincide with both the Superbowl (Orangeburg) and Ash Wednesday (uber-Catholic Baton Rouge), and screening my movie at a South Carolina high school for 10th graders without bothering to look at it beforehand (Wayne Koestenbaum: "It also sounds--this is obscene--like being fucked by light. Fucked by light!" "OK THAT'S ENOUGH, THIS SCREENING IS OVER AND NOW WE'RE GOING TO SPEND THE REST OF THE CLASS PERIOD TALKING ABOUT CENSORSHIP.").

Wayne Koestenbaum onscreen in Mobile, AL

Since I know full well you get what you pay for, should I have been surprised that there was a dead pizza in my fridge at the Montgomery airport Motel 6? And I got so much great press that it would be absolutely churlish to point out that the Mobile Vanguard chose to alternate spellings of my name between Festa and Zesta.

Justin Bond as Kiki DuRane onscreen in Mobile, AL

The abovementioned conspiracy against this blog and its author had so many layers of redundancy built into it, so that before long an elaborately choreographed dance of fuck-ups began to emerge from the ruins of my Columbia happiness, and I saw that I could literally set my watch to the pace of disasters.

John Cameron Mitchell onscreen in Mobile, AL

Something went wrong approximately every 12 and a half minutes. I missed my flight out of Columbia after Orangeburg. I left a Thin Man book-on-CD disc in the rental car and my computer lock on the keychain. In Montgomery, I had to rent an SUV. I continued getting hate mail from Athens. The wheel on my suitcase broke. The Motel 6 WiFi in Palm Beach was broken. The Motel 6 WiFi in Baton Rouge didn't exist. I cannot blog under these conditions!

Michael Warner onscreen in Mobile, AL

My movie played to audiences of a dozen people. In Beaufort it played to fewer than that in the back of an office.

a sold-out screening of Apparition of the Eternal Church in Beaufort, SC

In Montgomery, my name on the marquee of the Art Deco Capri Theater brought in a total of 13 people.

"Control Paul Festa"

I am box office poison!

I have seen my name in lights, and it isn't pretty

In Baton Rouge, in the most beautiful modern theater I've ever seen, much less screened in, I forgot to give them the new DVD and the one they had tiled up and froze halfway through, eliciting a panic attack by the director.

In Baton Rouge they didn't know I was box office poison and gave me a star dressing room.

In Florida the movie screened at the Palm Beach Community College to an audience of 11 undergraduates who made NOT ONE SOUND from the moment they entered the theater to the moment they fled from it. A perfectly silent Q&A, which calls into question my use of the letter Q.

Harold Bloom onscreen in Mobile, AL

And then--Mobile. Closing night. In a jewelbox theater at the public library, following blanket press coverage--two stories in the Mobile Press-Register and ads and write-ups in every tabloid and posters around town--a full house!

wrap that blanket press coverage around me

More people saw the film in Mobile than the rest of the tour combined--including Greenville.

Squeaky Blonde onscreen in Montgomery, AL

Great questions afterwards, good sales at the Bar Nothing Boutique. And then, after sushi with the delightful and miraculously competent Charlie Smoke of the Mobile Arts Council (on whose Website is posted the unedited transcript of the Mobile Press-Register interview), a celebratory Oreo McFlurry at the downtown MacDonalds and a glorious, complimentary night's rest at the Holiday Inn, with a 14th-floor view of Mobile and a bed with a 1000-thread-count sheets and a pillow menu.

Manoel Felciano onscreen in Mobile, AL

At the Motel 6 I'm not 100 percent sure those things on the bed were pillows.

Ilan Greenberg onscreen in Mobile, AL

And the next day, feeling like Jack Bauer speeding down the highway on a mission of harrowing consequence, I drove my PT Cruiser into the French Quarter, parked it, and staged a commando raid on the Cafe du Monde, where I slammed down a plate of beignets and a cafe au lait before I ran back to the car, returned it, and got my flight out of Louis Armstrong International with minutes to spare and powdered sugar all over my shirt.

Jackie Beat onscreen in Mobile, AL

Socheata, back to you.

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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Southern Circuit 6: Columbia, S.C. ROCKS!

What day is it? I’m writing all these entries in the early hours of the next morning, and Blogger doesn’t honor the idea that the day before and the day after are distinguished by my having gone to bed. Technically today is Friday, February 1, 2008, and yesterday, or earlier tonight, was the screening of my film at the Nickelodeon.

Think of the Athens screening as having taken place among the sarcophagi in the museum, and Columbia as the middle-of-the-night show when the dead are raised and the liquor comes out. My first screening with beer in hand! Public screening, anyway. (There was free Dewars in New York, but only after the screening.)

So much laughter, so much connection, such great questions afterward, and such good sales at the Bar Nothing Boutique, where several people ordered fully illustrated copies of Oh My God. After all the all-nighters and the relentless, monumental stress of turning that thing from idea to book between Thanksgiving and Southern Circuit, I couldn’t have been happier if Knopf came up to me after the show and offered me a half a mil for my novel (which doesn't mean I would turn it down).

Afterward I had a terrific time with my Nickelodeon hosts, despite the fact that my guardian angel art yenta Laura had to skip out early with a migraine.

Like John Mitchell and Harold Bloom,
Laura got a headache from
Apparition of the Eternal Church

The rest of us went to some fabulous underground tavern and then to the Strom Thurmond memorial and then to the Art Bar and then the Nickelodeon’s Andy Smith--

--who, it turns out, went to Swarthmore with my boyfriend James—took me to the old theater, now a beauty shop, that they bought and are raising money to restore. Here are pictures:

Sorry no time for more detail or captions (this one is "ghost theater")—it’s well past 2 in the morning and I have to drive three hours tomorrow before reporting to Beaufort High School by lunch hour. Caffeine is my friend.

Columbia, S.C. ROCKS!

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Southern Circuit 5: I feel like I'm in a museum

ATHENS, GA--I was bored in my own screening tonight so I took pictures of the screen with people’s heads silhouetted at the bottom (as always, remember to click on these images for full size):

I was bored because I thought the audience was. The crowd at the M. Smith Griffith Auditorium at the Georgia Museum of Art was so reserved I wasn’t always sure they were actually there. Just shy of 40 people spread themselves out equidistantly in the 200-person theater, and I was so insecure after their display of silence, especially on the heels of the laugh-riot in the Burgiss Theater at Furman, that I actually asked them, from the stage, “Did you like the film?” Almost as though I had some baroque punch line I was building up to, like Hedwig’s routine about what poor animal hadda die so that she could wear that fur (her Aunt Trude). But I had no routine and no punch line, I only had a more than slightly pathetic question. Miraculously, in the reading, in the Q&A and in the conversations that followed afterward it seemed that most of them did like the film. They were just very, very quiet about it. Was it because they were in a museum? Maybe they were afraid if they laughed, a docent would come over and smack them. Maybe--this is a terrible thought--it was an elaborate art installation and they were in fact a representation of an audience. Oddly, the biggest laugh of the night came during the reading from Oh My God, in the part where I recall the time, after the New York premiere at St. Bartholomew's Church, when someone came up and said it was the first time he'd heard the word "blowjob" in church. "And if this film achieves nothing else..." (Note to self: Georgia audiences like blowjobs-in-church humor.) Lo and behold, after the show the Bar Nothing Boutique was down one e-book.

Southern Circuit cruise director Allen Bell has posted the podcast of the interview we did by phone a few days ago, after I’d slept two hours following an Oh My God editing all-nighter (here's a page with the MP3 file). Allen is a good interviewer, and an ace radio editor. He took a junkyard of stunned pauses, conversational U-turns, yawns and stuttering to make me sound half human, even occasionally awake. When I listened to the final product I was relieved, but then felt sheepish about my closing remarks, urging believers to come out and see the film even though it was a pack of atheists cracking jokes about their lord and savior. Why did I feel the need to pander? But sure enough, after the film, guess who made a point of coming up and saying how much they liked the film--two church choir members, a church organist, and a devout Catholic. My audience! Does the Vatican have, like, a film series?

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Southern Circuit: The youth of America, or, why I am never satisified

These Furman University students seem happy--but
have they fulfilled their CLP credit for the semester?

GREENVILLE, SC -- Tonight’s screening at Furman was a qualified success. On the one hand, it was a room full of laughers, and that’s the most immediately gratifying response available to a filmmaker or performer. Pin-drop silence is a finer gratification, but I’m happy to make do with guffaws, which proliferated throughout the Burgiss Theater almost the whole way through (Elizabeth Povinelli's remark that "There's a whole creepy side to Catholicism--which I experience in the south, actually--" got an especially nice laugh). And the auditorium, which seats 150, was perhaps 2/3 full. Furman has a handy program called CLP--the Cultural Life Program--handy for visiting filmmakers, that is, because students get credit for attending gallery exhibits and oddball experimental documentaries about how coastal homosexuals, Jewish intellectuals, and drag queens respond to French-Catholic organ music. After the show, in the lobby, there were two tables set up, one with Apparition-related merchandise and the other where the audience got its CLP ticket validated, like a parking chit. One of these tables was mobbed by cinephiles.

My only real disappointment was that the 30-inch extravaganza in the Sunday Arts section of the Greenville News didn’t appear to have convinced many people to brave the balmy evening to see the show. Were there even ten people there who weren’t Furman students or faculty? I really am being such a whiner for pointing this out, because it was a very good and good-sized audience, but there’s just this feeling of—exactly what kind of press do you need to fill a theater? Thirty inches above the fold on the front page of the sports section? The crime blotter? If thirty inches doesn't cut it in this town, exactly what kind of organ--but now I sound bitter.

The day was good. Lunch with long-lost Liz Lopez, Lowell '88, now Liz Lopez Anderson with a 3-year-old and a 3-month-old and a husband who teaches religious studies at nearby Wofford College. Perhaps Apparition has a future in Greenville. Shouldn't the film that introduced the word "blow-job" to church screen at BJU? With a Google News alert that the Mobile Register had posted their story, I felt justified in taking an hour to finally design a press page for It has three—count them!--features, and zero reviews. I’m looking forward to seeing what became of my interview with the Beaufort Island Packet, which I enjoyed doing, and with any luck I’ll pick up some more ink over the next ten days. Meanwhile, I have to thank Thomas Harrison at the Register for this line in particular:

"Festa, based in San Francisco, has put together 31 colorful interview subjects that likely would chase Ken Burns off the premises."

And if this film achieves nothing else...

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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

LA premiere postponed

Drag superstar Jackie Beat reacting to the postponement of the LA premiere of Paul Festa's film Apparition of the Eternal Church, in which she stars

On Sunday, I got a call from the organizers of the LA screening saying it had been moved back a day, from Saturday the 19th to Sunday the 20th. Monday came profoundly depressing email: Bill Viola would not be involved (this was presented as a scheduling conflict but it turns out he decided he just didn't have that much to say about the movie). This morning brought a third adjustment in the plan, which is that the screening is postponed indefinitely.

Having already gone through a half dozen stages of grief over the Viola news, I was more relieved than anything else by this morning's call. This whole event came about since the Jacaranda people got wind of the movie from Alex Ross's blog mention, in late September. We haven't had time to organize the event and publicize it properly, and I've been tearing my hair out and pulling all-nighters trying to finish the book in time. I'll still go down to LA and we'll have a small screening for people we'd like to involve in the project, and I'll bring my fiddle so pianist Mark Robson and I can take a first whack at the Fantaisie. My friend Billy Burgess invited me to this party Sunday night. Otherwise, I'm free in LA for most of five days. Let me know if you want to hang out.

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