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, February 16, 2009

Paris Days 38 and 39 - masked ball

I have entered the mental illness phase of the writing process, which has gotten me thinking about Ovid. Ovid was a good writer, but he was too soft-hearted. He couldn't stand to see anything really bad happen to his characters. He'd sooner turn a nymph into a tree than see her raped. He couldn't bring himself to kill off Echo, so he turned her into a sound. Even when he tried to punish someone, he let them off easy. Narcissus, punished for not putting out for some smitten homosexual, was made to waste away pining for his reflection. How long does it take to starve to death, five or six weeks? Couple months? If Ovid really wanted to make Narcissus suffer, he would have made him stare at his own face into his late thirties.

I wrote in the last entry about the hallucinations we suffer looking at our own creative work. Recently, despite a severe apparent shortage of hallucinogens in Paris, the same phenomenon has been affecting various mirrors and my digital camera when my face drifts into them. Much of the time, I will catch a glimpse and give myself the usual props, hey handsome, looking sexy there, keep subtracting five years from your age online. But increasingly over the last few weeks I have caught visions of ruin, horror mask, tales from the French hospital for incurables, and I think, honey, you need to start adding.

Friday around noon there was a nice little pizza party for a new resident here at the monastery. The subject of this blog came up, and that led to a discussion of the wild nightmares I had my first few weeks here and my theory that I was sharing the psychic premises with the ghosts of prior residents who came here with consumption or gangrene instead of the second draft of a first novel (each of us has his cross to bear). Three of the lunch guests made reference to a story about room 326 - mine - that they all agreed was too awful to let me know before my residency is complete.

I find, by the end of my Sunday to Friday work week, that my 6-hour day deteriorates into something closer to five or four hours, and this Friday was no exception. I couldn't get anything done and so took myself on a long walk through unfamiliar neighborhoods, with a vague goal of winding up at the old opera house, which I'd never seen. I wasn't expecting it when I came upon it and the sight took my breath away:

On the walk home I took pictures of fierce mannequins that I'll save for a day I can't think of anything to write. Saturday I commenced my day of leisure by updating this diary, calling into question my use of the word leisure - chronic problem. At three o'clock I biked down to the Beaubourg for a coffee date with a Costa Rican mime, followed by a 4:30 tea date with a Welsh friend on the Rue Montorgeuil who has an amazing library of books relevant to the novel and loans them to me, followed by a 6:30 date near the Bastille with Martin's friend Sophie. As her complete noncomprehension of English became apparent, I thought, how am I going to get through this? Two hours later, I asked myself, do I speak French now? We'd been talking nonstop and it was nearly nine. Perhaps I'd cheated, gotten by sticking to safe topics, vocabulary covered in the first ten chapters of my French textbook - what will you have to eat and what is it that you do for a living. But for two hours?

I had one last social engagement Saturday, and here is the part of the blog where I must issue a warning to readers under the age of 14, blood relations, and anyone who considers him- or herself squeamish about stories concerning the reproductive organs, because as amusing as I find this story today it's actually kind of gross.

It all started on Facebook, of course, or maybe it started on Gmail when San Francisco friends furnished emails of introduction to Parisians and I struck up Facebook chats with one of them. He invited me to a masked ball Saturday night, the invitation for which read, in part:
A mask is required. And, gentlemen, I refer to a mask on your eyes [loup also means wolf]. Or a face mask, or whatever you want but something on your head. For the rest, you don't have to wear a thing - naked bodies are fine with us.

And here's the original, in case it's my translation skills that got me into trouble:

Un loup est obligatoire. Et, messieurs, je parle bien d’un loup sur les yeux. Ou un masque, ou ce que vous voulez mais quelque chose sur la tête. Pour le reste, vous pouvez ne rien mettre. Le corps nu nous va très bien.
Give me some credit: I didn't take them literally about going naked. I wore the stretch-tite silver sequinned hotpants that I got from Momo Le Moins Cher for my Beltane wardrobe, and for "quelque chose sur la tête" I wore a Vegas-style belt with beaded tassles that I picked up in the same place. Look, I didn't grow up in San Francisco, the son of a man who's placed in numerous Bay-to-Breakers costume contests, and give the dregs of my youth over to Trannyshack, and spend the last three years hanging out with the Radical Faeries for nothing - I have some basic drag skills. Maybe it's true, as some unkind person remarked, that I looked like I was wearing a lampshade. So what? Short on disposable income, I make do with available materials. Also, when you're experiencing novel-induced hallucinations about your face disintegrating before your eyes, it's surprisingly comforting to go to a party with a sort of bag over your head.

Not everyone at the party was pleased with my outfit, or with the behavior of various guests and even hosts in the presence of the outfit, especially toward the end of the 52 bottles of champagne we wound up putting away. The Facebook friend of a friend who invited me to the party in the first place only half-jokingly refused to acknowledge me when we were introduced. But if you come to Paris, and you're concerned about a party being dull, with a bunch of reserved Parisians
incomprehensibly murmuring this about Sarko and that about la crise, bust out with a little Showgirls drag. Because in the presence of some silver sequins and a little skin, these people turn into complete animals.

I promised you a revolting story about my reproductive organs (kind of funny to call them that, considering their usual circumstances, but whatever) and as much as I would like to put this diary entry out of its misery a promise is a promise. After five hours of being manhandled by homosexual Parisians and a few of their girlfriends, I came home with the worst case of blue balls I have ever had - not because they hurt so much, although they did, and not because my balls were swollen to the size of Meyer lemons, as they were when I auditioned with Suppositori Spelling for John Cameron Mitchell's Shortbus workshop, but because they were so swollen that the left one seemed to have actually burst open and halfway given birth to a third ball. I sat there, palpating this monstrous seam, wondering, are even my fingers hallucinating now? You'll be happy to know that after sleeping with a bag of frozen peas tucked between my legs, I woke up with everything restored to its proper size and shape.

My peas got mushy. Co-sponsor my next trip to Franprix.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Paris Day 17 - bordel

One of the hardest things for a writer to get his mind around is the conflict, inherent in his calling, between discipline and experience. To write requires solitude and sobriety, a concentrated and sloe-eyed confrontation with the self and the world: picture Emily Dickinson, alone, laboriously pulling the universe through her ink well. For most of us, though, having something to write about requires society, recklessness, wool-gathering, cultivation of chaos, ruination of sobriety, screwing and screwing around, and the messier the better - what might be referred to around these parts as a bordel of a life. For the diary writer (and it's dawned on me in the last few days that this is not a blog, but something closer to a diary), the need for experience is even more acute, and having ventured, in an kind of Ambien sleepwalking rampage, out onto this limb of daily writing, I find myself living in fear that one of these days in Paris absolutely nothing is going to happen to me worth writing about and that limb will dry up and crack with my next step forward. In the 16 days of this diary I've had rainbows and I've had dog shit, but how long can that kind of luck last? This is how I justified going out last night.

It was another conversation date with Marc - the 23-year-old much better looking younger brother of Ryan Philippe. This time the setting was some kind of art opening at the Palais de Tokyo. I used to pass it all the time when I stayed with friends who had a place in Passy, and the place had been on my mind recently after another friend forwarded this choice piece of pornography in Butt Magazine. Late to meet Mark, I found, on the grand staircase facing the Seine, a pack of feral potsmoking fire dancers:

Marc liked the first one as an homage to Coco Chanel

The art opening itself was not what either of us was expecting, which might have something to do with the fact that we didn't read the invitation very carefully. It took place in an auditorium where chairs were set up in front of a big screen, but when the lights dimmed and the show started, there was nothing to watch. It was a pre-hearing of a radio broadcast, a collage of interviews and sound clips from Corsica, mostly in French but with smatterings of Spanish and Italian, English and German - my native tongue and all the ones I blew off in school. I had a hard time concentrating - I found the rapid-fire Italian much easier to understand than most of the French - and when I closed my eyes and tried to focus I kept drifting back to problems in the novel, ideas for La Création du Monde. When Marc made some impatient noises I suggested we blow the joint and get dinner.

Dinner wound up being
take-our Chinese back at his place on the other side of the river, and when our food was eaten and our after-dinner drinks drained, I said I needed to get back to the monastery as I hadn't finished my writing for the day. So I got up and gathered my things and went to the door, where we exchanged our first kiss on the lips - chaste and brief. And that would have been it if I hadn't turned back around to say something, and the opportunity presented itself, in that moment of leaving behind Ryan Philippe's much better looking younger brother, to kiss him again, and a few minutes later his cat was dodging us as we tumbled, stark naked, to his bed.

Look, I tried to leave. I could hear my novel calling to me from across Paris, demanding its promised share of the day. Three or four times I said I have to go, and each time he said just five more minutes. I kept feeding those minutes into the machine, but of course it was never satisfied. If both my desire to leave and Marc had been a little stronger, it might have turned into a dicey situation - I guess I've forgotten what 23-year-old male sexual need is like but at one point I was surprised to find myself prevented by a scissor lock of his legs from getting out of bed and at another he actually threw me back onto the mattress. Poor cat! Perhaps he's used to it.

Yesterday, at the used-bike shop in Montmartre, I struck up a conversation with an American girl who's in Paris for several months and we commiserated on the difficulty of learning French here. No wonder Americans are monolingual - geopolitically the empire may be crumbling but linguistically it seems to have a couple of centurions standing watch over every street corner on Earth. Even the other day, studying French in that little cafe on Libya Street, surrounded by locals, in walked Steve Perry on the radio with open arms. I know it's churlish and implausible to complain about finding myself in bed with an absurdly good looking young Parisian with a fiery sex drive, the strength of which at 38 I retain but a dim and distant memory, but the two of us can't speak French for more than three and a half minutes before giving up and switching to English, where we're apparently both more at home. As I wrote a few days ago when introducing Marc, James specifically said I should find a Parisian boyfriend in order to learn French. And he's right! I'm here to finish a draft of the novel, make a film, and learn the language, so what am I doing in bed with a boy who might as well be from Cleveland? When I finally succeeded in leaving Marc's apartment I felt like once again Steve Perry had waltzed in on the middle of my French studies. Well, there's always the judge, who keeps me honest with the French conversation, but he canceled today's tete-a-tete because of illness. At least I learned one word last night - I now know how to say thigh - and thanks to the context I'll probably remember it. Of course there's that other thing I'm doing here in Paris, which is keeping this diary, and as you can see my bordel of a date with Marc got me through one more day of that.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Paris Day 15 - me talk pretty Sunday

My conversation date was even prettier than this Marc Younan building in the Villeman Gardens behind the monastery

The work hours flew today. The work I'm doing is comparatively easy although increasingly demoralizing as I read through the second draft. Part III is the oldest, longest and worst of the four parts of the novel. This is the advantage of putting the novel away to mold for 18 months - when you pull it out you really know what stinks.

Fixing it will be a bitch, but for now all I have to do is criticize, analyze and outline. Karenin could do this work in his sleep. I intend to get working on the hard part in my sleep, mulling intractable problems before bed and waking up to find beautiful solutions drooling peacefully at my side.

Relief from all of this came in the form of a conversation date with a 23-year-old Parisian named Marc whose photo had to be inaccurate - nobody is that good looking. Actually it was inaccurate for a different reason - he was even cuter in person. I had to wait five hours to discover this, as he was late to our two-thirty rendezvous and at two-fifty I gave up and exorcised my disappointment at the nearest boulangerie. I'm cell phone-free and loving it! By email we reset the date for after dinner, met at le Chat Noir in the Eleventh and spent at least six minutes speaking French - his English, learned from American TV, makes him sound like he was born and raised in Cleveland but maybe had some dental work two or three days ago. This devoted subject of the Empire seemed to think in American English - twice he had to struggle to remember how to say something in French, but not once in the language of Jerry Seinfeld. In any case it was painful to look at Marc for 90 minutes (think Ryan Philippe's much cuter younger brother), and while we left the door open for a second date I would feel guilty if anything developed with him. James specifically said I should find a Parisian boyfriend to help improve my French.

Sunday I see the judge around lunchtime, and will speak French whether I like it or not.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Nerve birthday essay: No End In Sight

The white tennies and bald spot in the clip art I can live with,
but what on earth is that thing hanging from the doorknob?

To celebrate my birthday, I filed this Nerve story on the joys of becoming a middle-aged gay man. To read, click the picture.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Wednesday and Thursday

When I lived in New York in the early 90s, one of the downtown acts that made the biggest impression on me was the chanteuse Joey Arias. She didn't just channel Billie Holiday, she sometimes surpassed her. Earl Dax has her in town tonight with some local talent and you should not miss this show:

Tingel Tangel Club
Wednesday March 26th, 2008 10p - 3a
The Bubble Lounge, San Francisco
714 Montgomery Street (btw. Jackson & Washington)
Admission is $10
Live performance by JOEY ARIAS!
DJ Johnny Dynell (Jackie 60, BoyBar)
Hosted by Chi Chi Valenti (Mother, Click + Drag)

I'm reading with Violet Blue, Amy André and Melissa Gira from Best Sex Writing 2008
March 27, 2008 07:00 PM - 09:00 PM
Center for Sex and Culture1519 Mission St., Suite 2San Francisco, CA 94103

I'll be reading my essay "How Insensitive," about my experience volunteering for a study that set out to measure just what is lost in male circumcision.

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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Best Sex Writing 2008 interview (and diary)

Best Sex Writing 2008 is out, and editor Rachel Kramer Bussel is posting interviews with those of us in the anthology. Here's mine, about my Nerve story on volunteering for a study to determine how much sensation men lose after circumcision.

By the way, I feel I owe the readers of this blog (whoever's left) an apology. I've been under one of the nastiest deadlines of my life trying to complete the Messiaen book in time for January screenings, tentatively scheduled to begin in LA Jan 19th! I spent the week of Thanksgiving preparing the transcript, the subsequent weeks pulling stills from the movie (watching much of the film frame by frame, and that's 30 per second for 52 minutes), another week arranging text and image in Photoshop, which I sized improperly so it all has to be done over once I have the director's commentary finished, and that's what I've been doing nonstop for the past eight days. Meanwhile I also ordered a 15-page proof so I can see how colors and layouts look on the page. So I've been busy! And stressed out! Behind in email and other commitments! I have managed to get to a couple of holiday parties, however, including an elk feast prepared by Martin's brother Friday night and the Underworld Party at Space 550 last night. Remember that public-speaking strategy for not getting nervous, to imagine everyone in their underwear? I wasn't nervous all night.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Foresight: Can recent studies about the health benefits of circumcision be trusted?

Check out my latest story on Nerve:
Foresight: Can recent studies about the health benefits of circumcision be trusted?

My favorite part of the story is the first comment: "
I'd take this guy's analysis of medical literature a lot more seriously if his bio picture had hair and a shirt."

There's something special about the puritanism of a sex magazine readership. In any case, I long ago gave Nerve this lovely picture of me by Greg Gorman, not because it has both hair and shirt (see lower right corner), but because it is about a decade fresher than the one on file:

Portrait of the essayist with hair and shirt.

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