Anthem: Homunculus

My husband and I spent Sunday at the Austin Film Society with John Cameron Mitchell listening to every episode of the first season of his podcast, Anthem: Homunculus. My husband and I agreed, when we bought the tickets, we’d just stay for the first few episodes and leave during an intermission. We couldn’t imagine listening to a podcast for 7 hours! Once we were there, however, neither of us wanted to leave. We happily stayed through all 10 episodes. It was riveting! (Almost everyone in the audience stayed the entire 7 hours, too.)

Mitchell first wrote the Anthem as a sequel to “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”, but said it was too complicated (like trying to put a wig on a wig) so he changed the approach to thinking about what life might have been like had he never left Junction City, Kansas, the town where he grew up. (Mitchell was a military gypsy so it is only one of the small towns where he grew up, but it is where his family remained the longest.)

He and Bryan Weller wrote the first several episodes in the home of William Burroughs (they were invited by Burroughs partner, James Grauerholz), intending the story to be for television. Not surprisingly, it fell too far outside of the typical television genres to be picked up by anyone, so they decided to try a podcast.

Mitchell says that a lot of artists are using the podcast format to tell their stories because it doesn’t have the genre constraints of television. It is apparently a good format for creative works that are ahead of their time, even though it is reminiscent of old-time radio shows. The difference, I suppose, is that you can listen on any device, anywhere and whenever you want, including large movie theaters with lots of fellow listeners.

The story is about Ceann (played by Mitchell) who has a brain tumor. He can’t afford the medical costs to have it removed, so Ceann creates a podcast where he relays the complicated details of his upbringing and relationships while asking for donations. His friends and family are played by a large, impressive cast: Glenn Close, Marion Cotillard, Laurie Anderson, Patti LuPone, Cynthia Erivo among others… The story is accompanied by 31 songs written by Mitchell and Bryan Weller.

At the “Listening Party” on Sunday, I thought Mitchell would introduce the podcast, give a short performance with Weller and they’d be on their merry way, but I was wrong. Besides the introduction and beautiful performance, Mitchell sat through all 10 episodes with the audience. He introduced each episode before it started and provided concluding remarks at the end of each about how the fictional details coincided with his actual life. He was so gracious and so excited about his podcast that it felt like being with a personal friend who couldn’t wait to share his new creation. It is one of the most unusual (and unexpectedly enjoyable) events I have ever attended.

Mitchell and I are 4 months apart in age. Despite being a suburban housewife which is as far as you can get from the life Mitchell has lived, his stories of loss feel incredibly familiar. I could have sworn the characterization of his mother with Alzheimers was based on my mother! Also familiar: the loss of God after being zealously religious in my younger years, the loss of friends and lovers, and knowing the end of my own life isn’t terribly far off. There is such a strong experience of loss and decline as you get older, but there is also a greater capacity for acceptance and forgiveness which is oddly rejuvenating.

I highly recommend Anthem: Homunculus. It is available through Luminary Podcasts. The first two episodes are free and if you are hookeed, which you probably will be, the rest require a Premium Plan. There is a 7 day free trial and then the cost is $4.99 per month or $34.99 for the year. I know subscriptions are frustrating, but that’s a very reasonable price for originality, quality, excellent performances, and a wonderful, moving experience.

And proof that John Cameron Mitchell is perfectly capable of wearing wigs on wigs, here is Hedwig in her trailer home in Junction City, Kansas…

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

My husband and I went to a late night showing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” on Saturday. Although there were several “veterans” in the crowd and we were prepared with props, it was a pathetic audience compared to the audiences I was part of during my college days. Very few of us remembered the callback lines and those who did kept it a little too clean.

When I was in college, my neighbors across the hall in the freshman dorm thoroughly prepared me for my first show. They had the soundtrack and went through a large number of the callbacks with me so I was ready to yell at the screen with the best of them. I should have reviewed the callbacks for the Saturday showing. Next time…

Rocky Horror Picture Show began as a musical on stage in London in the early 1970s. Richard O’Brien (Riff Raff in the movie) wrote the play. He said he wrote most of it one winter when he was bored. The inspiration was the unintentional humor in Sci-Fi and Horror B-rated movies. The glam era was popular in Britain at the time so he used that as the backdrop.

The play made it’s U.S. debut in Los Angeles in 1974 and then made it to Broadway in 1975. Little Nell, Patricia Quinn, Tim Curry, and Richard O’Brien who are in the film were also in the original stage show.

Little Nell, Patricia Quinn, Tim Curry, and Richard O’Brien

The film began production in 1974. It was directed by Jim Sharman who had recently directed the popular stage play, “Jesus Christ Superstar”. A lot of the film was shot in 1974 at a country house in Berkshire, England built in 1857 in Victorian Gothic Style. Most of the actors were British and had been in the play, but Sharman insisted on having American actors play Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon).

Oakley Court

Androgyny is a major theme. When I first saw “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”, I was attending a very conservative private Christian college and was completely shocked by Frank N. Furter’s bi-sexuality. Despite growing up in the glam rock era, it was a very new concept to me. When my kids were growing up, it wasn’t shocking at all. (I think my daughter first saw the movie with a group of kids when she was 12.)

It’s still such a fun movie and while I couldn’t remember all of the callbacks, I remembered quite a few. And I remembered almost every single word to every song. Next time I go, I’ll find an area in Austin where the crowds get more involved and I’ll make sure to review the callback lines.

Here is Tim Curry in his Frank. N. Furter glory…

Ghost Quartet

“Ghost Quartet” is a musical play written by David Malloy that is described as “a song cycle about love, death, and whiskey. A camera breaks and four friends drink in four interwoven narratives spanning seven centuries.”

My husband and I saw a local performance tonight which was very good, but it was extremely confusing. I was familiar with most of the interwoven stories (The Fall of the House of Usher, Arabian Nights, the Brother’s Grimm tale of “Snow-White and Rose-Red”) so could distinguish the different layers, but I was still extremely confused.

There are four characters (the quartet) who play one or more characters within each of the four interwoven stories. Malloy’s original show was truly a quartet. Each of the four actors was responsible for several instruments which were associated with different characters. The show we saw tonight included a band, in addition to the quartet. The band played several of the instruments the actors would have otherwise played. That may have added to the confusion.

In the second scene, when Rose visits the camera shop and talks with the camera owner, we thought she was still at the whisky bar talking to the bartender. We had no idea there had been a scene shift. There were several confusing shifts like that. I don’t know if it was because certain areas of the set were too heavily defined, not defined enough, or we just haven’t seen enough plays to keep up.

Confusing though it was, we enjoyed it. I imagine it was an extremely difficult show to pull off.

The following videos are from Malloy’s original Ghost Quartet. (Notice in the “Any Kind of Dead Person” video: If you were an audience member seated on the floor, you might have been required to play an instrument. It looks so fun! Apparently whiskey was passed around, too.)