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A Podcast Q+A with Kelly McGillis, much awkwardness and bizarre fawning to follow

By Adam Lippe

Here is a podcast q+a with Kelly McGillis (Witness, Top Gun), recorded during Philadelphia’s QFest (Queerfest), as Ms. McGillis was being given the artistic achievement award. Normally, this isn’t the sort of q+a I’d upload, but the whole thing was so strange, I figured I should share.

To give some context, Ms. McGillis was considered a “get” for the festival, though why she was being given the award is unclear, except for the fact that she came out of the closet last year, she was available, and she lived nearby. That may sound cynical, but the festival was severely under-attended, and the fawning by the small crowd (in a theater that holds 500), made up of about 40 butch lesbians (a fair assessment, specifically reinforced by one of the questions from the crowd), ten or so people from Ms. McGillis’ current home in Collingswood, NJ, and myself and another film critic, seemed to surprise even Ms. McGillis.   She was being interviewed by Philadelphia Inquirer critic Carrie Rickey, who had interviewed her for an article that ran a few days before the festival began. That would suggest an established rapport, but Ms. Rickey asked many of the same questions that had appeared in the article, to the point where Ms. McGillis says at one point, “do you want me to answer the same way I did before?” In fact, it happens twice, but only one of them is audible. Despite the familiarity with the questions, Ms. Rickey stumbled quite a bit throughout the hour-long interview, but I’ve cleaned it up to make her sound a lot smoother.

Ms. McGillis does pretty well throughout the interview, she runs the gamut from talking humorously about her Juilliard application and why she was fired from Bachelor Party, to seriously discussing her rape and tearfully describing how she blamed her lover at the time for the incident, to a bit of each talking about her dreadful experience on the set of Abel Ferrara’s mangled adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel Cat Chaser. From that point on though, the interview skims over seemingly important details as if it were as controlled and cleaned up as an episode of Inside the Actor’s Studio. A mention that her kids were taken away from her because she was a drunk, a hint of rehab, and what did she do after 1989, other than a few episodes of The L Word? Almost no other work is mentioned except during the questions from the audience. That’s where the interview really takes a strange turn, as the questions go from idiotic (“can you tell us what an ensemble is?”) to fawning (“you are pretty and sexy”) to I don’t know what (“if you could kiss anyone in Hollywood…”). You’ll hear me at one point whisper to the critic next to me, “did that really just happen?”

If anything, it helped me decide that it was inappropriate to ask the question that was originally the only reason I came to the interview at all. I would have gotten booed out of the theater. I did try to ask it one-on-one but was shooed away by a PR flack, even though Ms. McGillis did try to answer it. My question was based on this article in the film section of The Onion‘s AV Club. Character actor Bronson Pinchot was asked about his experiences on Risky Business and he went into a very funny story describing the way that Tom Cruise was acting in a completely bizarre and unmotivated homophobic way throughout the shoot.

He was tense and made constant, constant unrelated homophobic comments, like, “You want some ice cream, in case there are no gay people there?” I mean, his lingo was larded with the most… There was no basis for it. It was like, “It’s a nice day, I’m glad there are no gay people standing here.” Very, very strange.

So I wanted to know if Ms. McGillis experienced something similar on the set of Top Gun or was the macho Simpson/Bruckheimer tone of the film so overwhelming as to put a kibosh on it. It’s a strange situation, because here is this closeted woman trying to make a short, “sexually confused” male star look masculine, on the set of a movie that is one of the most notoriously homoerotic films of all time.

Anyway, Ms. McGillis said there was none of the anticipatory homophobia from Tom Cruise when she made Top Gun, although she admits during the interview that everyone was hung over on set when they’d show up to work, so who knows how aware she might have been.

As a whole though, I’m not sure whether this podcast is an overall commentary on how and why film festivals are going away*, hence the low turnout, and how the audience tries really hard to “overlove” the guest as a way to hold on to the experience, or just a celebratory experience for everyone in the room except for myself and the other critic, as we constantly try to reassure ourselves that we are not in fact dreaming.

* The fact that no one even seemed to notice the juxtaposition of the very emotional moments where Ms. McGillis discusses her rape with the inanity of the questions from the audience adds another layer of strangeness to the proceedings.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking below or downloading it to your computer.

Download the full interview.
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By Adam Lippe

Whenever there’s a genre parody or ode to a specific era of films, such as Black Dynamite’s mocking of Blaxploitation films or Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, the second half of Grindhouse, the danger is that the film might fall into the trap of either being condescending without any particular insight, or so faithful that it becomes the very flawed thing it is emulating.

Black Dynamite has nothing new to say about Blaxploitation films, it just does a decent job of copying what an inept [...]

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Featured Quote (written by me)

On Cold Fish:

Though the 16 year old me described the 1994 weepie Angie, starring Geena Davis as a Brooklyn mother raising her new baby alone, as “maudlin and melodramatic,” Roger Ebert, during his TV review, referring to the multitude of soap-operaish problems piling up on the titular character, suggested that it was only in Hollywood where Angie would get a happy ending. “If they made this movie in France, Angie would have shot herself.”

Well Cold Fish was made in Japan, where Angie would have shot herself and that would have been the happy ending.