Swelter 30

While rampant dementia might be tough on the citizenry, insanity does lend pungency to the more popular cultures, and soon enough there'll be no limits whatsoever. Samuel Beckett will cash in and approve Endgame as a comeback vehicle for Gary Coleman. The silicone warriors of Baywatch will remake Waterworld as a very special season opener; by then Pamela Lee should have the invincible stature of Greta Garbo. Richard Simmons, queen for every day, will buy MGM and stretch as a personality, starring with Urkel and Dr. Ruth in a let's-learn-from-history salute to Lytton Strachey and the glory of Bloomsbury. And with any luck, I'll be chasing their limo at the premiere, desperate for a few good quotes.

In the more modest reality of the present, Richard Simmons shows up in town as a goofball-for-hire at the Miami International Women's Show, laughing all the way to the bank. Although the standards-are-standards line has to be drawn against tired infomercial creatures, there's always time for movieland, the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival bringing in everything from the hyperalienation of The Low Life on down to Catwalk's supernova supermodels. In accord with cinematic historical inevitability, the saga of fucked-up French poet Arthur Rimbaud becomes the Leonardo DiCaprio-as-dreamboat vehicle Total Eclipse, Rimbaud still serving as an inspiration for countless misunderstood rock-star drug addicts. And then there's the curious contradiction of Cannes-esque chic infiltrating Broward County, a region normally associated with discount strip malls, heroic drinking, and beach-and-boobs movies.

Accordingly, making the pilgrimage up to the opening-night festivities for Live Nude Girls, the Design Center of the Americas being an unfortunate mise en scene plunge from the French Riviera. With no roped-off VIP areas, the stars freely mingling with regular folk and the press, fighting their way to the liquor and food on various movie-theme tables. In sync with the democratic wallow, Kim Cattrall of Live Nude Girls digging right in for a lamb chop, ignoring the actor aping a corpse draped across the Silence of the Lambs buffet table. Her just-us-gals colleague, Dana Delaney ("You might call Nude Girls a new-fashioned women's movie, considering all the sex talk"), wondering if there might be a less-agitated bar in a parallel universe.

No such luck, although actors of other dimensions kept materializing within life's rich tapestry. Stuart Whitman, of old Hollywood, milling around with Lumi Cavazos, his costar in Land of Milk and Honey. Robert Wuhl, writer, director, and star of the poorly received Open Season, experiencing a Player-style moment with some industry type, Wuhl suddenly erupting in righteous umbrage: "And so I told the guy, 'The deal's fine -- but what about the aesthetic stuff?'" At that point, I took refuge with the Pepsi Generation, focusing on the very immediate Meredith Scott Lynn from Girl in Watermelon: "Oh my God, it freaks me out to have my picture taken. Come on, let's do the Lindy instead. Hey, can't you dance?"

In my defense, it's difficult to Lindy Hop while balancing two cocktails, three plates of appetizers, and a mood. Alas, fun and I have long since parted ways, the usual creative-differences story. As a professional purveyor of other people's dreams, delusions, and memories -- sort of a low-tech Strange Days number -- slouching toward other pop Bethlehem encounters at the premiere, winding down with movie star impersonators and the regional pulchritude pool. A dead ringer for John Wayne and a woman who had crystallized the autumnal Liz Taylor look, the guest turning out, unfortunately, merely to be playing herself. Over time, the Baywatchian babes of don't-even-think-about-it hauteur adorned in cutaway Joey Heatherton jump suits coming off as the human equivalent of airplane glue. A whiff will make you giddy, an hour induces a headache, and constant exposure guarantees brain death.

And then it's on to other mind fevers, disciplines, caste systems, and nutty holograms of gossip. New York City's fashion week, Gianni Versace celebrating another triumph at Twilo, Donatella Versace evacuating the club's ladies room for a private chat with a local hook-up artist. Just for trash values, Pure Platinum hosting a party called fashion flesh: Helena Christensen, Yasmin LeBon, and Russell Simmons -- surprise, surprise -- slumming with the new cult stars, lap-dancing strippers. In the olden days, strippers were the bottom feeders of show biz. Now they're all empowered sexual creatures going legitimate, probably destined for the White House one day.

In the political-international arena, a paparazzo photograph of Hillary Clinton's undies makes her an advertising star in Brazil, a country that serves as an ominous portent of the low-rent American future. In Argentina, Buenos Aires disco culture has gone brave-new-world ballistic. Entire families, from Grandma on down to small children, dining at two a.m. Teenagers customarily heading out for the night around three or so, dancing at places such as El Living disco until well after dawn, civic officials denounced as fascists for trying to establish a four a.m. closing time. As if things aren't bad enough to cry about, Madonna's starring in the upcoming Evita movie, and the shining moral example of Miami makes the wire services in an unflattering light. One of her boy toys, in an effort to escape the gilded cage, takes a job: drug dealing, actually, but at least it's a step toward getting off the glamour welfare rolls.

On the cult-of-Cuba rounds, Fidel Castro manages to be the toast of New York simply by not being invited to the right parties, a neat trick I'm still trying to figure out. Another Havana social equation, this one involving local promoter Tommy Pooch; harmlessly detained by Cuban customs officials during a recent visit, Pooch declaring rum, cigars, and a spendthrift nature: "They picked me out of the crowd, maybe because I'd been throwing money around down there. The Third World depressed me so much I gave everything away to everybody." In a when-worlds-collide coincidence, Thomas Miller -- a specialist on Cuban affairs and author of Trading with the Enemy -- briefly detained at the same time. Miller's news clips in his luggage inspiring additional customs controversies, the Pooch bonding with Miller and buying one of his books at the airport. Free the two Tommies: Let's all live and let live.

All roads, as usual, leading back to South Beach, always in step with the neon apocalypse. Lately the last resort has taken on the lifestyle qualities of Dodge City: Citizens and marshals are getting plugged right and left, while everyone dithers about property values, propriety, and parking. The sad gasp of a Tuesday-night quest for more Halloween divertissements particularly dispiriting, outlaw kids roving up and down Washington Avenue like jackals, yelling at stout-hearted drag queens; White Party weekend should be a riot. Everyone talking about a special undercover police squad, working clubs and searching for minors, drugs, and public sex -- geez, why else go out? -- the cops missing the bell curve of decadence with the canceled foam parties. Channel 7, always in step with the shocking, doing a series on the dark underbelly of clubs. For some reason, no TV creature called me, even though the rank is something of a personal specialty.

The shabby new landscape of nightlife, and still clubs keep coming on strong. The Vault opens with the strange-bedfellows mix of press and politicians, along with entertainers and twin caged tigers -- rank doesn't begin to fully capture the aroma of tiger piss. In a month or so, the Ruins set to become Circus under the creative tutelage of new owner Stephanie Harris, agog with possibility and aiming for an intelligent cabaret/dance club/three-ring circus. It's a long journey from Manhattan's glory days -- Area's installations with hanging sides of beef and such -- to an average party-till-you-puke night of Deco degradation. But any effort to raise the district's tone is to be mightily encouraged. And Harris seems to be on the right philosophical track, a woman after my own heart: "Rather than give in to the more brutal aspects of sex, I'm trying to raise the thinking out of the cellar, to go for a more artistic outlook. Sex has become the local cottage industry, like rug weaving in Iran, but the quality level of this particular village seems to be just slightly above vulgarity.

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