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in Filmmaking
on May 2, 2006

Anne Thompson has written a long post reporting on her weekend at the LAT Festival of Books. I’m grateful for her write-up because I was naturally intrigued by the idea of the “Pushing the Envelope” panel, which paired transgressive pioneers Karen Finley, Dennis Cooper, and Susie Bright with TV’s Craig Ferguson. (It was moderated by author Diana Wagman.) I had heard that Finley and Ferguson dusted it up but didn’t really know what about. Here, Thompson explains:

With George and Martha, Finley said, she included illustrations showing George W. Bush and Martha Stewart having sex. “For me it’s powerful to imagine the sexual politics of George Bush. I imagine I’m holding George’s balls.”

“The politics of this country allowed me to write this book,” countered Ferguson, who hails from Scotland. “I did not set out with the intent to offend anyone. I’ve noticed that that being authentic to myself seems to offend everyone. That’s too fuckin’ bad. I’m too old and too rich to give a damn.”

Finley admitted to being inspired by 1963’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. “I tried to understand George’s psychotic psychology in his decision-making and how we are all George and Martha now living in a time of crisis, to have a Greek or Shakespearean understanding of where we are in this drama,” she said. “There’s lots of ways to penetrate the soul.”

The American culture is taught that if you buy the next thing, “the dildo carrot,” said Bright, “you will have sex. But no one ever gets sex.”

At this point Ferguson said, “I think I’m on the wrong panel. I have a lot of sex. Sometimes with other people. I did not set out to write about sex. I couldn’t help myself. Sex has a great polemic. It exists between me and women. It’s the only thing we share 100 %. There’s a great liberation to American sex. There are many places in the world where this discussion is prohibited.”

Enraged, Finley retorted, “In history where sex has become polemical, the government will use sex to limit and censor people. Right now sexual torture is used by our government.”

Ferguson responded, “I write about consensual sex, it’s wonderful. Brutalization is not sex, it’s violence.”

Too bad that Ferguson came off as “old and rich” — I like his show a lot.

Elsewhere in the piece, Thompson listens in on Arianna Huffington, Carolyn See, Gore Vidal, and, finally, Peter Biskind:

I ran into Peter Biskind in the authors’ lounge, who said he was still plugging away on his Warren Beatty book. He participated in a Sunday film panel about indie outsiders with LAT critic Ken Turan and Schreiber Theory author David Kipen, who got applause when he said, “There’s nothing wrong with Sundance that moving to Playa del Rey wouldn’t cure.” He also blamed the foreign market for what was wrong with movies today–making films about the American experience is no longer possible, he said. “Politics is out, and baseball.” Biskind cited Syriana and other recent political fare as the counter-argument. “Small movies are being made,” he said. Brokeback Mountain cost $14 million and easily made its money back in ancillaries. Turan pointed out that “absent the studio specialty divisions, we would not be seeing these films.”

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