Feb 10, 2014

The Drift (1989)

Although I cannot say I have read a single word written by southern sodomite playwright Tennessee Williams, I don’t think I have ever seen a bad film adapted from one of his works and I say that as someone who hates old school Hollywood as much as contemporary Hollywood. Needless to say, I was quite glad to discover that self-described ‘aesthetic nihilist’, archivist, and auteur John Aes-Nihil (Manson Family Movies, The Goddess Bunny Channels Shakespeare) adapted two of Williams’ plays in acutely aberrant art-trash hysterical-camp form, which include The Drift (1989) and Suddenly Last Summer (2008). While Suddenly Last Summer is a sort of iconoclastic ‘anti-remake’ of Joseph Mankiewicz’s 1959 Tennessee Williams’ adaptation of the same name, The Drift is a take on the playwright’s less revered first novel The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1950), which was also adapted by José Quintero in 1961 as a British production starring Vivien Leigh and a rather young Warren Beatty and later adapted in 2003 by Robert Allan Ackerman as a TV movie starring Helen Mirren and Anne Bancroft. Needless to say, with its combination of paraplegic, Amazonian, and Latino trannies, as well as no-budget camcorder aesthetic and classical European architecture, The Drift is easily the most innately absurdist, aesthetically repugnant, and melodramatically preposterous take on a Tennessee Williams work that I have ever seen. Indeed, not unlike the late great German Renaissance man Christoph Schlingensief’s film Mutters Maske (1988) aka Mother’s Mask—a radically ridiculous ‘freeform’ remake of Veit Harlan’s classic high-camp National Socialist melodrama Opfergang (1944) aka The Great Sacrifice that takes the conventions of high drama and throws them through a sadistic scatological celluloid blender—The Drift is a savory yet sickening sardonic take on Williams’ novel that wastes no time in deconstructing and debasing the ‘cryptic’ gay subtexts of its source material. Like the work of Tennessee Williams as molested by Paul Morrissey’s Women in Revolt (1971), John Waters’ Polyester (1981), and Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia (1938), The Drift seems like the result of what an elderly old rich Anglophile with dementia who used to be a fan of the so-called ‘Woman’s Film’ might visualize as her brain rots away in a multicultural old folks home. A decidedly deranged depiction of demented man-divas of the physically and emotionally misbegotten sort, The Drift is the sickly sassy tale of a famous theater star who quits acting for her billionaire industrialist hubby, only for said billionaire industrialist hubby to die shortly after and leave her a widow and the prey of her scheming shebitch friends. A divinely nightmarish and nihilistic work from the apocalyptic aristocratic gutter, The Drift depicts everything that is repellant about the bombastic bourgeois bitches, albeit portrayed by poor tranny proletarians. 

 After giving up her dead serious career in theater, Karen Stone (portrayed by gay Christian punk musician Glen Meadmore, the foremost proponent of cocksucking ‘cowpunk’) also loses her stinking rich billionaire industrialist husband to a heart attack and thus loses everything she has aside from, of course, her giant fortune. Deciding to stay in the ancient European paradise that is Rome, Mrs. Stone has no idea that her life will ultimately take a tragic turn for the worse after becoming the more than willing pawn of a male prostitute puppet and his tranny pimp puppet-master. While Mrs. Stone has self-deluded herself enough to believe she really loved her dead hubby, her best friend Meg Bishop (Daniel Hernandez aka ‘Cosmic Danielle’) believes otherwise and has no problem matter-of-factly stating to her friend, “Oh, you can’t fool me darling…You can’t tell me you love that fat little porky man with the little penis…You loved his money. You can’t fool me. We have been friends far too long, darling.” Meanwhile, enter the queen bitch madam ‘The Countessa’ (portrayed by the ever elegant and the one-and-only, ‘The Goddess Bunny’ in what is his most elegant role). A ‘matchmaker’ in the most wickedly Weiningerian sense, the Countessa has a sinister talent for hooking up young ambiguously gay gigolos with lonely wealthy old widows. Needless to say, Mrs. Stone becomes the Countessa’s latest victim, or as Meg states, “romance…that dreaded disease…rears its ugly head in the form of that dreaded Countessa.” When the first male hustler attempts to ask for money under the dubious pretense that it is for his friend’s kid with multiple sclerosis, Mrs. Stone becomes exceedingly offended and states, “How dare you! I have never ever been so insulted.” When Meg encourages Mrs. Stone to get back into acting, the widow acknowledges she was a non-talent hack actor, to which her friend cleverly replies, “Talent is merely the ability to pull wool over somebody’s eyes.” Of course, Mrs. Stone is nowhere near as talented of an actor as a handsome hustler named Paulo (Michael Kleats), who makes the lonely widow fall under his spell. While Meg warns her friend, “Darling, I simply must tell you, you’ve got to be careful. I mean, scandal can ruin a name and in this town it will drive you down faster than the Titanic,” Mrs. Stone has already been touched by the kiss of death that is love. As the Countessa sinisterly confesses, “To have something on Mrs. Stone is my ultimate number #1 thrill” and, indeed, with the help of her underling Paulo, she manages to get pornographic footage of Mrs. Stone and her bought beau, which is projected at a tea party hosted by the hostile madam. On top of that, Paulo cheats on Mrs. Stone with another woman (portrayed by Paula P-Orridge, the ex-wife/baby-mamma of tranny aesthetic terrorist Genesis P-Orridge). Pathologically lovelorn and suffering from the worse fate a woman can meet, a ruined reputation, Mrs. Smith wanders around the European countryside like a ghost searching vainly for some sort of intangible love. In the end, Mrs. Stone enters a villa (in a scene which was actually shot at the Los Angeles Movie Palace on Broadway) and a gunshot is heard shortly after, but like Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Chinese Roulette (1976), it is left up to the viewer’s imagination as to who was actually shot. 

 With the possible exception of Suddenly Last Summer, The Drift has to be auteur John Aes-Nihil’s most infectiously campy work to date. Described by pioneering lo-fi queer auteur George Kuchar (The Devil’s Cleavage, Symphony for a Sinner) as being “really quite hypnotic and riveting. It's hard not to see the whole thing in one sitting but once you're caught in that web of decorated decadence it's impossible to budge the buttocks toward more saccharine seating,” The Drift is certainly the cinematic equivalent of a sleazy mass market romantic page-turner as found in the porn collection of Werner Schroeter. Starring a humungous he-heroine who is literally twice the height of her friends and two real-life rivals, the Goddess Bunny and the Cosmic Danielle aka Cosmic Daniel, playing cinematic rivals, The Drift is undeniably equipped with an unhinged universe that delicately defiles the viewer’s soul with egomaniacal tranny glamour. Featuring exquisitely delivered jokes about lesbo-on-lesbo rape, crack-addled paraplegic welfare receipts portrayed by cunning yet cultivated aristocrats and Hispanic trannies portraying gay twink-loving German barons (Cosmic Danielle plays a second role as a character named ‘Baron Waldheim’), preposterously pompous anti-American micro-tirades (“Americans, trash trash”), cultivated goombah-bashing (“Not all Italians are dirty filthy things”), and classical European music and architecture, The Drift is a hysterical hodgepodge of the aesthetically high and low but always camp and uniquely underground.  Interestingly, The Drift was once screened at the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival in Massachusetts. That being said, my only complaint regarding The Drift is I will never get to hear Tennessee Williams' thoughts on the film.

-Ty E

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