Bruce Weber's movies are the upscale gay man's version of those Starbucks jazz CD's. There's something authentic in there somewhere, but in the making it's been banalized out of existence Everything in Weber-World reeks of white terrycloth bathrobes, running with terriers on the beach, cheekbones, white teeth, gaily laughing women in pajamas, and all the other images that are permanently encoded in our brain as Polo-specific. Weber can be photographing a thalidomide wino or the desiccated face of a seventyish Robert Mitchum, and somehow it all comes out like the glossy welcome brochure at an A-list hotel. CHOP SUEY purports to spread wider and dig deeper as it is Weber's record of his obsession with Peter Johnson, a high-school athlete Weber commemorated in torrential, Dantean detail. But Weber continues to pretend that he's only interested in "beauty"--and that his interest in Johnson stems from the wrestler's being what Weber could never be (beautiful, I guess). There's no sex in Weber's voiceover explanation of his Aschenbach-like dwelling on this gorgeous nobody, and thus Weber is able not to be homosexual. Weber plunges into denial as passionately as he falls into reverie. He means for the movie to be a fantasist's autobiography, and also a highly self-conscious arrangement of Weber in the history of American photography (quotes from Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon and Larry Clark abound). But what comes across is a guy who is trapped in an upmarket carnival of surfaces. Weber is more interested in his Josh Hartnettesque models' torsos and legs than even in their faces; for Weber, pornography is not a projection of a psychological state but simply a record of physical perfection. He seems to throw uglinesses at us in this movie as a means, again, of denying his own predilections. He may enjoy presenting us with an old, ugly female cabaret singer, or the mummylike visage of Diana Vreeland, but he certainly has no interest in copulating with them. So why put up this front of "romanticism"? There's nothing romantic about the movie--maybe partly because, unlike masturbatory artists from Genet to Larry Clark, Weber doesn't investigate or push or worry his desires. He doesn't even take them at face value. He fanatically perfumes them. This makes everything feel hollow, personalityless, and fake--just like the stuff Weber makes at his day job.
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