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Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss, "a Tommy O'Haver trifle"

Primary Cast

Synopsis

We start off with a series of Polaroid snapshots, as Billy (Collier) begins to narrate. "I am a homosexual... a photographer... a film buff... and an all-around nice guy." After this, he cues the drag queen title sequence, an amusing piece of camp — done in a single long take — that O'Haver himself describes as "groovy" (and the underlying title music is "Blue and Groovy" by the band Paraffin Jack Flash). In a Hitchcockian moment, O'Haver appears in the title sequence.

Billy (portrayed by a goateed Sean Hayes) is living in L.A., after having grown up in Indiana, and bitching about the unfairness of life with his best friend, Georgiana. Just about to give up on his dreams of ever having a gallery show of his own, Billy is given another chance when another friend, Perry, offers to be the patron for Billy's idea of recreating — with Polaroids, a drag queen, and a hunky ("is he or isn't he?") waiter named Gabriel — legendary Hollywood screen kisses (like that, say, in From Here to Eternity).

Unsurprisingly, Billy begins to fall for Gabriel (played by Brad Rowe, a dead ringer for Brad Pitt), but is unsure of the latter's sexuality. Gabriel has a "girlfriend back in SF," but demonstrates a sensitivity, vulnerability and at least a hint of interest that combine to keep Billy off-edge. After a night of drinking, they eventually even end up in the same bed, but with the same uncertain results. And, at the same time, Gabriel's friendship with Billy has brought him to the attention of an already-famous photographer (played by Paul Bartel), who begins to show his own interest in Gabriel.Eventually, Billy decides to crash a photo-shoot on Catalina Island, where Gabriel is working as a model, in order to confront Gabriel and bare his soul.

Billy's inner life is lived in black and white; he is more comfortable in the imagined Golden Age of Hollywood of his daydreams than in the modern L.A. he inhabits. We know that his expectations of idealized romantic bliss are destined for disappointment in the waking world, where relationships must take place between real people, with all their flaws, baggage and pain.

Awards and Nominations

  • Winner - Casting Society of America Award for Best Casting for Feature Film, Independent, 1999
  • Winner - Verzaubert International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival Rosebud Award for Best Feature, 1998
  • Nominated - Deauville Film Festival Grand Special Prize, 1998
  • Nominated - Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize, Dramatic, 1998

Background and Reviews

This was Tommy O'Haver's first full-length film, a low-budget independent production based on a short film of his called Catalina, about a photographer who goes to a party on Catalina Island with a Polaroid camera and becomes infatuated with a young man whom he can't decide is gay or straight.

The DVD, from Trimark Home Video, offers little in the way of extras, but it does include an interesting director's commentary by Tommy O'Haver, in which he admits that the movie and Billy's background are semi-autobiographical, though he notes that Billy is a "more charming version of myself, which is probably why Billy gets laid more often than I do." (I found myself developing a crush on the man just from listening to his witty, self-deprecating commentary). The movie is best experienced in widescreen. In fact, I can't actually imagine it succeeding in Pan and Scan: O'Haver shot the movie in Cinemascope using a Panavision camera with anamorphic lenses, and there are many scenes where it's clear that he's playing with this wide format.

This film was received very positively by the audiences at Sundance, where it was debuted, and at gay film festivals across the country. Its reception from the mainstream press, however, was a mixed bag, especially from those who complained that it lacked weight or significance. The filmmaker himself, though, described the film onscreen as a "trifle," underlining his own understanding of the film as a fun piece of campy, enjoyable, romantic fluff; Newsday, which got this, described it as "a feelgood, audience intoxicating fantasy."

Trivia

This romantic comedy-drama was the feature film debut of Sean P. Hayes, in the title role of Billy, prior to his being cast as Jack "Just Jack" McFarland in the television sitcom Will & Grace.

In a nice nod to independent gay film history, Richard Ganoung, who played the starring role of Michael in the 1986 film Parting Glances — one of the first films about AIDS and a seminal (excuse the pun} film in the genre of independent gay film — portrays Perry in this film. Parting Glances also marked Steve Buscemi's film debut.

The Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com) was consulted for the cast and award details.

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