Fans of hustler films, including the classic Midnight Cowboy, Cruising and My Own Private Idaho, won't have a hard time recognizing the premise in The Foxy Merkins, says co-writer and star Lisa Haas. But it isn't just a riff on a film trope.
"A friend of mine came out as a lesbian 20 years ago and she thought, 'I'll just hire a lesbian hooker. I have the right,'" Haas says from her Brooklyn home. "But that doesn't exist. Women don't pay for sex."
In The Foxy Merkins, lesbian hookers don't just exist, they're everywhere. Haas plays Margaret, a young lesbian who has moved to New York City and takes to a life on the streets. Prostitution is so prevalent that any woman standing alone on the street is presumed to be in the business. Hookers even cluster outside Talbots, where they're preyed upon by rich, repressed Republican women.
The Foxy Merkins screens in the inaugural OUTakes Film Festival, created by the New Orleans Film Society and cosponsored by Shotgun Cinema. Haas will attend both screenings of The Foxy Merkins (8:45 p.m. Thursday, 6:15 p.m. Sunday) as well as Valencia: The Movie/S (9:15 p.m. Friday), in which she plays a small role. The festival also presents John Waters' cult classic Female Trouble; Floating Skyscrapers, considered Poland's first gay film; and documentaries including the entertaining To Be Takei, about Star Trek star George Takei.
Haas, a small core of actors and director Madeleine Olnek also created Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same. Both films were made using a DIY approach, including using Kickstarter funding, shooting on the streets of New York and in unpermitted spaces and working around cast and crews' other commitments. Both films premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, and both revolve around lesbian themes and stereotypes. In Codependent Lesbian Space Alien, the presence of too much emotional happiness threatens to damage the ozone layer of the planet Zots. Its inhabitants are sent to Earth to have their hearts broken by Earth lesbians, so they won't accumulate too much hope or joy.
In Foxy Merkins, Margaret is a stereotypical heavyset, plain-looking lesbian, who only wears T-shirts and jeans and never touches makeup. One client's fantasy about having sex on the floor of her hallway is ruined by Margaret's allergic reaction to Pledge, which permeates the fussily clean and perfectly arranged home. Jo (Jackie Monahan), a more experienced street prostitute who takes Margaret under her wing, gushes that Margaret is the perfect lesbian whore, because all the repressed rich lesbians (who heavily populate the film) desire a woman who's so candid about her lesbianism.
The scenes of ragged hookers, uptight clients (Janes?) and acquiring street survival skills are hilarious, but the film loses steam as the encounters get weirder and it shifts to Margaret's and Jo's nonprofessional lives. But there are great scenes with other prostitutes talking about strange dates and fickle lesbian tastes, and lesbian stereotypes and identity issues drive the film. Haas also is a playwright, and she's currently working on a piece called In Heat: Is She Hot Under Her Collar or Under Her Skirt, about a woman who's reached her 60s and learned that lesbianism isn't cool anymore.
"It's like a cultural hospice," Haas says. "It was cool to be a lesbian for a while. Then it was bad, and then Ellen (DeGeneres) came out and it was cool again for a while. The female queer community has changed."
To Be Takei follows actor George Takei's career and emergence as an advocate for same-sex marriage. Some of the pleasures of the movie come from the appearance of other Star Trek veterans, including a minor controversy over William Shatner not attending Takei's wedding, and Takei greeting costumed fans at science fiction convention autograph sessions. But the film also covers Takei's family's strange odyssey as Japanese Americans who were placed in internment camps during World War II. When offered the opportunity to leave the camps by signing a renunciation of the Emperor of Japan, his father refused, because it effectively was an admission of a crime for which he wasn't guilty: disloyalty.
Takei's family endured post-war discrimination in Los Angeles, and George later embarked on an acting career. He immediately faced the predicament of being cast in stereotypical Asian roles, but he took them to start his career and performed in two films with Jerry Lewis. Eventually he made appearances on The Twilight Zone, My Three Sons and Mission Impossible and was cast as Hikaru Sulu on Star Trek.
Director Jennifer M. Kroot's film begins with Takei driving in Los Angeles, and he jokes that his role as the U.S.S. Enterprise's helmsman shattered stereotypes about Asian drivers. He has a charming demeanor and sense of humor, and the film follows him to the set of Howard Stern's radio show, where he famously denied and later discussed his homosexuality.
Though his pop-cultural fame is based on the never highly rated but beloved series Star Trek, Takei seems heroic for enduring the humiliation and hardship of the internment, immensely patient for persevering through small, horribly stereotypical roles and both eloquent and inspired in taking up the battle against anti-gay bigotry and discrimination. Also entertaining are the bemused responses of Shatner and Leonard Nimoy to the vast quantity of homoerotic art and fiction devoted to Capt. Kirk and Spock as an imagined couple. Apparently the series helped inspire exploration of other new frontiers.