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Pie in the Sky:
and Shelly Dunn Fremont
May 10 and 11 at the Hirshhorn
Museum and Sculpture Garden
In 1967, using the surname Polk, Brigid Berlin earned 15 minutes of infamy in Andy Warhol’s The Chelsea Girls. In an episode many moviegoers are still trying to forget, the stoned, corpulent Polk spewed a profane, vindictive rant, exposed her bloated breasts, and injected a syringe of amphetamine into her bluejeaned bottom. Over three decades later, she returns for another gasp of fleeting notoriety as the subject of Vincent Fremont and Shelly Dunn Fremont’s documentary Pie in the Sky: The Brigid Berlin Story.
The daughter of Richard Berlin, erstwhile head of the Hearst Corp., and his beautiful socialite wife, Honey Berlin, young Brigid rebelled against her pampered, ultra-right-wing upbringing by getting tossed out of a number of exclusive boarding schools, gorging herself with food, marrying a gay window dresser, squandering her inheritance, and associating with the drug-freak denizens of Warhol’s Factory. Somehow, Berlin managed to survive these transgressive exploits, and now, at 60, trim, only mildly ravaged and haunted by memories of her past, she inhabits a plushy, overdecorated Manhattan apartment.
An obsessive-compulsive who, in her Warhol years, taped all her phone conversations, took Polaroids of everyone she encountered, and compiled voluminous “trip books” containing, among other things, drawings of celebrity penises, Berlin now devotes her considerable energies to collecting pug-dog artifacts, keeping her house scrupulously spotless, and weighing every gram of food she ingests, a task intermittently undermined by Key-lime-pie binges.
Pie in the Sky intercuts home movies of Berlin’s privileged childhood, clips from Warhol films, handsomely photographed new Berlin interview footage, and talking-head reminiscences by Warhol chronicler and beau-monde barnacle Bob Colacello, Berlin counterpart Patricia Hearst, and self-enchanted filmmaker John Waters. In a particularly disturbing sequence, Berlin returns to her old haunt the Hotel Chelsea only to be stricken by a sudden depression that triggers another eating spree.
Like Grey Gardens, Albert and David Maysles’ 1976 documentary about Jacqueline Kennedy’s batty aunt and cousin, Edith and Edie Beale, Pie in the Sky offers a fascinating glimpse of the dark side of American aristocracy. Although Berlin is all too willing to expose herself to the Fremonts’ camera, viewers might feel queasy about the amusement they derive from this troubled woman’s exhibitionism.
There’s no need to feel guilty about laughing at One Night at McCool’s, director Harald Zwart’s black comedy written by the late Stan Seidel, to whom the film is dedicated. In Seidel’s interlocking narrative, three men recall their experiences with Jewel (Liv Tyler), a young temptress they encounter on the same night at the titular tavern.
Randy (Matt Dillon), McCool’s carefree bartender, recounts to seedy hit man Mr. Burmeister (Michael Douglas) how he rescued Jewel from a would-be rapist and escorted her to the tumbledown house he inherited from his mother. Once in residence, Jewel enthusiastically indulges in her favorite activities: round-the-clock sex and tacky interior decoration. Hankering for a dream home with a white sofa and a gold fountain, Jewel involves her savior in a series of robberies, one of which results in manslaughter. Pushed to the breaking point, Randy wants Burmeister to ice her.
Randy’s smarmy-lawyer cousin Carl (Paul Reiser), a family man with sado-masochistic tendencies, confides to his shrink (Reba McEntire, who appears to have received her psychiatric training at the Grand Ole Opry) that Jewel has been secretly fulfilling his whipping fantasies in exchange for free legal advice. Detective Dehling (John Goodman) confesses to his prurient priest that he’s smitten with Jewel, whom he views as an angel sent to ease the pain of his wife’s recent demise.
These characters intersect in a messy but intermittently amiable lowbrow farce. Zwart betrays his inexperience with clumsily staged action sequences, but he manages to sustain a freewheeling, comic-strip-like tone that prevents the sex- and violence-laden screenplay from seeming as callous as the glut of gruesome comedies following in the wake of Pulp Fiction.
Tyler lights up the screen with her luscious, un-self-conscious beauty. Although she lacks the hard edge to make Jewel’s amorality convincing, she sweetly projects the vamp’s consumerist fantasies. All she really wants from life is a respectable residence to decorate and to care for, and she isn’t too scrupulous about what measures she must take to obtain it.
One of the rare handsome actors with a gift for goofiness, Dillon clearly relishes the opportunity to play a dim, unambitious guy goaded out of his inertia by the unexpected appearance of a femme fatale in his bed. Reiser is suitably slimy as philandering Carl. Goodman exudes tenderness as the smitten cop, but the actor has swollen to alarmingly gargantuan proportions. (If he devours even one more mint patty, the only role left for him to play will be the gluttonous, exploding Mr. Creosote in a remake of Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.) Crowned by a Johnny Cash pompadour, Douglas, who also produced the movie, appears to be having the time of his life in the sort of eccentric-gangster supporting role usually assigned to Joe Pesci.
Nobody’s going to mistake One Night at McCool’s for a classic comedy, but it contains a sprinkling of belly laughs (a lethal DVD player, a silly Village People tableau) funny enough to ripple even Goodman’s gut. The best joke, pinched from a Road Runner cartoon, is saved for the final shot. Unfortunately, it’s excerpted out of context in the movie’s television ads, thus spoiling one of the most unpredictable comic codas since Some Like It Hot. CP