RETRO REVIEW: TAB HUNTER: CONFIDENTIAL Traces a Star’s Journey from Teen Idol to Cult Icon

Posted on: Nov 18th, 2015 By:

tabhunterconfidential-posterTAB HUNTER: CONFIDENTIAL (2015); Dir. Jeffrey Schwarz; Starring ; Tab Hunter, Debbie Reynolds, John Waters; Opens Friday, Nov. 20Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Trailer here.

By Claudia Dafrico
Contributing Writer

TAB HUNTER: CONFIDENTIAL opens Friday Nov. 20 at the Landmark Midtown Arts Cinema. This enlightening and wonderfully fun documentary  chronicles the long career of actor Tab Hunter and the struggles he dealt with as a gay man in a time marked by intolerance.

In this day and age, people love to insist that celebrity culture has reached ludicrous levels of influence on our daily lives. They say that Kardashians rule the world around us, and this bastion of scandal- mongering and celebrity worship would never have been seen in “the good old days” before Twitter and TMZ. But as TAB HUNTER: CONFIDENTIAL shows us, that presumption could not be further from the truth. This compelling and charming documentary follows film, television, and recording star Tab Hunter from his highs as a teen heartthrob to the lows of family tragedy and a career crisis, all while being closeted for the majority of his working years. Now in his 80s, Tab gets to look back on his tumultuous experience in Hollywood and remind audiences that the cult of Hollywood was just as prevalent in the past as it is today.

tabhunterconfidential_002_Tab_ShowerBased on his memoir of the same name, the film showcases Hunter’s life from his childhood as the son of a German immigrant and an abusive, absent father, to his early (illegal) entry into the Coast Guard at age 15. After being discharged, Tab spent his time horseback riding, which led to him meeting Hollywood agent Henry Wilson and kickstarting his career in film. He served to be little more than eye candy in his first few roles in movies like ISLAND OF DESIRE (1952), which was lambasted by critics (Hunter himself acknowledges his lackluster performance in the film). He nonetheless continued to work, and eventually found success with BATTLE CRY (1955), a war drama based on a bestselling novel. As he went under contract with MGM, Tab quickly became a household name, and teenage girls became infatuated with him. MGM fueled this obsession by pairing him off with Natalie Wood, another MGM star. The two went along with the charade for their sake of their careers, but as Hunter playfully notes in the film, the “couple” had each other’s backs when it came to secrets: Wood was secretly dating bad boy Dennis Hopper while Hunter pursued his first long-term relationship with PSYCHO (1960) star Anthony Perkins.

Tab Hunter and Allan Glaser.

Tab Hunter and Allan Glaser.

The segment in the film that touches upon Hunter and Perkins’ relationship is both touching and heartbreaking. It’s clear from the way that Hunter reminisces that the two really did share a special connection, but the combined strain of homophobia and competing careers sadly prohibited any possibility of a successful romance. After he was nearly outed by a gossip rag in the height of his stardom, Hunter was put under immense pressure to keep his sexuality under wraps and continued to star in typecast roles for MGM. When these conditions proved to be too stressful for Hunter, he made the costly decision to break his contract with MGM, and his subsequent failure to establish himself in non studio productions led to his departure from mainstream Hollywood. He spent a number of years performing in dinner theatre shows and pursuing his love of horseback riding. He appeared in John Waters’ Odorama classic POLYESTER (1981) opposite the fabulous Divine (who he would later reunite with in LUST IN THE DUST [1985]), a move that brought about a resurgence in his popularity. Hunter met his long-term partner Allan Glaser (who produced CONFIDENTIAL) during the production of LUST IN THE DUST, and the two continue to share their lives together in California to this day.

tabhunterconfidential_006_Tab_SwimsuitThe beauty of Tab Hunter: Confidential lies within its refreshing optimism and the endearing nature of its subject. Even when discussing the struggles of his career, Hunter is joking and cheerful, and the portions of the documentary that touch upon his mother’s struggles with mental illness are laced with love and compassion. Hunter, unlike many of his peers who were in a similar situation of dealing with a homophobic Hollywood, ended up with a happy ending. It’s a real treat to be able to watch him express his love for life and remembrance of the past. And if you still believe that Hollywood is at its most scandalous today, be sure to check out this film to see how little has really changed since Tab Hunter’s heyday.

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Fatty Claus Got Run Over By a Reindeer: A John Waters’ Christmas Finds Cheer in the Season’s Kookiest Carols and Whacked-Out Stories

Posted on: Dec 11th, 2013 By:

Forget a War on Christmas! A John Waters’ Christmas, Thursday Dec. 12 at Variety Playhouse, prefers X-Mas and puts a refreshingly raunchy “X” into it with a darkly comic adults-only one-man show of holiday mayhem and mischief. The variety show pays homage to the tradition both of the holiday album and the TV special, but for those who cringe at listening to Christmas carols, Waters digs out the most cringe-worthy of holiday tunes. But he delivers the kitsch with the mastery he’s known for as a twisted storyteller and showman, sharing anecdotes as much as music – offbeat stories drawn from his personal holiday experiences and a voracious appetite for scouring the media. From all accounts, the result is the absolutely perfect  glam/gross-out gift we expect from the director of PINK FLAMINGOS (1972), the odoramic POLYESTER (1981) and the knock-it-out-of-the-closet hit HAIRSPRAY (1988).

In a recent TIME Magazine interview about the tour, Waters laments so many lost opportunities for Christmas albums from Pussy Riot to rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard. He seems genuinely giddy that Johnny Mathis has a new one out! But that’s Waters’ charm–his absolute enthusiasm and embrace of the tacky, the trashy and the odd–and sometimes even the insanely mainstream. If Pia Zadora ever recorded a holiday tune, you know Waters would be proudly playing it. And since she’s now torch-singing in Vegas, who knows?!

Waters’ Christmas live show takes off from his own 2004 compilation of hellacious and hilarious holiday tunes, from ditties that celebrate Santa’s weight like “Here Comes Fatty Claus” by Rudolph and Gang and the jazzy, jingly “Fat Daddy” by Paul “Fat Daddy” Johnson, Baltimore DJ and the “300-pound King of Soul,” to the twangy, whispery  “First Snowfall” by Chicago lounge-core band The Coctails. There’s also “Little Mary Christmas,” by Roger Christian, who co-wrote Jan and Dean’s “Dead Man’s Curve” and several Beach Boys tunes,  head an excruciating sentimental and horrible tale of a crippled orphan named Mary who finds new parents on Christmas Day. Tiny Tim, perhaps the most frightening pop star ever, creepily croons the worst ever warped version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and Waters, never afraid to push our racial comfort boundaries, also includes the chirpy and controversial “Santa Claus is a Black Man, a soulful revision of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” sung by AKIM, the daughter of  Grammy Award-winning songwriter/producer Teddy Vann with his Teddy Vann Production Company. It wouldn’t be Waters, without indulging his inexplicable love for the ear-shatteringly squeaky with Alvin and the Chipmunks‘ “Sleigh Ride.” Oh, and nothing may be more horrifying than Little Cindy’s “Happy Birthday, Jesus (A Children’s Prayer). Little Cindy apparently also released such singles as “If Santa Was My Daddy” and the B-side “It Must Have Been the Easter Bunny.”

What else can we say about John Waters except that we’d be happy to listen to him read the phone book! Because we know by the 10th name, he’d have an anecdote to unleash which would make us laugh and maybe gag, too. After all, this man is the master of the gross-out from his one-time comment that every filmmaker can afford a barf scene to Divine devouring dog poop. With that in mind, to get you into the Merry Mondo spirit, here are five more things you may or may not know about John and Christmas!

1) His favorite Christmas movie is the B-horror CHRISTMAS EVIL (1980). From the TIME interview: “It’s about the guy who is so obsessed with Santa Claus that he gets a job at a toy factory and spies on all the children to see if they are good or bad. And then he gets stuck in a chimney on Christmas Eve. It’s really good. It’s hard to beat CHRISTMAS EVIL.”

2) For the past five years or so, he’s tried to make a kids’ Christmas movie called FRUITCAKE which had Johnny Knoxville and Parker Posey attached to star.

3) John hates the Easter Bunny. (Source: The Gothamist).

4) Don’t give John a fruit basket for Christmas. “I can buy a pear, you know? It’s not so hard to find a pear. I think gift baskets should be drugs or cigarettes, things you’d never buy for yourself. I don’t take drugs or smoke cigarettes anymore, but I think a gift basket filled with them would terrific.” (Source: Oh, No, They Didn’t)

5) He sends out lots of Christmas cards. Over 1,700 according to TIME!

ATLRetro hopes to see you Thursday at the Variety! For $35 general admission or $100 VIP tickets, click here. Oh, and don’t forget to wear a “nice” sweater!

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Retro Review: The Sweet Scent of POLYESTER: Blast-Off Burlesque Taboo-La-La Presents John Waters’ Most Odor-ific Cult Classic

Posted on: Dec 1st, 2012 By:

POLYESTER (1981); Dir: John Water; Starring Divine, Tab Hunter; Plaza Theatre, Saturday, December 1 at 10:00pm; presented by BLAST-OFF BURLESQUE’S TABOO-LA-LA in ODORAMA. Trailer here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

Let’s start with a question. What if I told you that, on Saturday night at the Plaza, you had a chance to experience a film in ODORAMA, a process that lets you scratch-and-sniff a card to experience with the, um, aromas of the movie you’re watching, aromas that include such delights as model airplane glue, skunk and flatulence? Does that sound like your idea of a fun weekend night?

Those of you who said “yes, please!” already know John Waters and his film, POLYESTER, playing as part of the regular TABOO-LA-LA series presented by Blast-Off Burlesque. You guys are going to be there anyway. For those of you who *ahem* politely declined, the burden now falls to me to change your mind.

John Waters is kind of a maniac, but movie nuts and those with a taste for the trashy have long considered him their maniac. Waters is a true indie, a guy whose tastes and warped sense of humor never stood a chance of playing in Hollywood, and so he made his own Hollywood in Baltimore, churning out a handful of homemade movies starring his friends, a company of actors who took to calling themselves the Dreamlanders. Perhaps the most famous Dreamlander was Divine, an actor who performed in drag and rose to fame as Waters’s muse, due equally to Divine’s incredible charisma and willingness to waltz into the darkest corners of Waters’s imagination. Divine starred in all of Waters’s early Baltimore films, never more famously (or infamously) as in PINK FLAMINGOES, which uses as its money shot a scene where Divine consumes dog shit. Did I mention that John Waters movies aren’t for the weak-stomached?

Baldly nasty content is what earned all of Waters’s early films an X-rating, when he bothered to have them rated at all. Waters sold himself as a master purveyor of camp, trash and kitsch, and his films can be endurance tests for the timid. So, Waters had to seek his audience, growing them like a culture through word of mouth. Many people watched Waters’s films with jaws dropped and raced from the theatre to tell friends who, of course, could never believe such filth existed at the cinema… and so they bought a ticket to find out for themselves. A passionate few liked what they saw and became fans for life. Waters’s movies owned midnight crowds back when late-night movies were for the deranged and the dangerous, but then a funny thing happened somewhere along the way: once the shock value numbed, fans noticed the actual craft and talent present both behind the camera and in front of it. Despite his image as the gleeful outsider with the pencil-thin moustache looking to tear down the system, Waters was the real deal, and as experience improved his work, his films became less pointedly offensive and more simply on-point. It was time for John Waters to go mainstream.

Enter POLYESTER, the film universally recognized as the transition from Waters’s early days with the Dreamlanders to an artist whose work could eventually be mined by Broadway (his hit 1988 film HAIRSPRAY eventually became a Broadway show, and then a movie musical, with John Travolta in the part originated by Divine. Times, they do change.) POLYESTER is John Waters’s take on the suburban aesthetic and weepy melodrama of Douglas Sirk, with Sirk’s painterly Technicolor tossed aside for garage-sale chic. Divine stars as a housewife named Francine Fishpaw whose marriage falls apart while her kids spin off in a variety of unsavory directions. To fully describe the plot would risk giving away many of its lightly-shocked laughs, but the movie isn’t afraid to explore. The more over-the-top the tragedy—and believe me, this clears the top by a half-a-foot–the more laughter Waters drags from the audience.

POLYESTER was the first John Waters film that could sit comfortably at the multiplex, and his first to receive an R-rating, bringing his work and his fans reluctantly blinking out into the sun. No matter which version of Waters you enjoy the most, generally everyone can agree that POLYESTER is one of his best and most accessible. In fact, The AV Club named POLYESTER as the ideal gateway into the director and his work.

And then there’s ODORAMA, the gimmick Waters cooked up to let his fans know that mainstream success wasn’t going to change him. In a nod to the showmanship of the great huckster William Castle, viewers of POLYESTER were handed scratch-and-sniff cards to keep up with the overactive olfactory system that helps Francine through the film’s plot. Now you can smell what Francine smells, and although the odors are rarely pleasant, the whole idea is just on the right side of wacky to lend the proceedings a heaping helping of charm. It’s Waters saying that it’s OK not to take his movie so seriously; he certainly doesn’t.

Blast-Off Burlesque is handing out ODORAMA cards for Saturday night’s viewing of POLYESTER, and they’re sweetening the deal with their usual variety show of burlesque performance and contests. The Dreamlanders would be proud.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game writer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He writes at www.thehollywoodprojects.com and hosts a bimonthly screening series of classic films at theaters around Atlanta.

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