Out of Focus

Bruce Weber wrestles with the fashion beast he helped to create

Donald Sterzin, GQ magazine's art director at the time, seemed even more infatuated with Aquilon than was Weber. "When Jeff first got married in Boston, half the pews in the church were filled with proper Bostonians and the other half were filled with hairdressers, makeup artists, designers, and models," Chop Suey relates. "When the minister asked if anyone here wanted to speak now or forever hold their peace, all the fashion people started laughing and turned to Donald. Donald looked up at the minister and said, 'Why the hell is everybody looking at me?'"

Following Sterzin's death after a long illness, Weber turned to Aquilon and said of Donald: "No one ever loved you more." Set to a fading sunset, it's a heart-rending moment in the film, one whose sense of unrequited longing seems to encapsulate many of the emotions at play throughout Weber's own work. To some, however, it's also infuriating.

When Chop Suey premiered at last year's Miami Film Festival, not everyone was ready to join in the congratulatory backslapping that unfolded in the Gusman Center's lobby afterward. One gay New York City director stood scowling. "That line -- “Nobody ever loved you more' -- made me physically ill," the director groused to Kulchur. "I'm just so sick of all that sublimated desire. It's more than 30 years since Stonewall. Haven't we moved past all this lusting after unattainable straight boys?"

Weber at the Rascal House: "The only sadness I have about Miami now is I miss that combustible thing of young and old people together"
Steve Satterwhite
Weber at the Rascal House: "The only sadness I have about Miami now is I miss that combustible thing of young and old people together"
Peter Johnson, featured in Chop Suey
Peter Johnson, featured in Chop Suey

Back at the Rascal House, Weber frowns upon hearing this complaint repeated to him. Still, while he's always been open about his own homosexuality, Weber concedes that criticism from certain gay quarters is nothing new. "I hope in my film I show that I have a certain kind of love for Peter, and an attraction to him, so that I was able to go out and make a film about him," he explains. "But it wasn't important to me whether he was straight or gay. It was important to me that I had a connection to who he was or who I wanted him to be."

Disparagement of the platonic relationships he has with some of the straight young men he photographs reveals a double standard, Weber argues, one that only seems to come into play when the male gaze falls upon another man. "If you open up a Playboy magazine, there are all these photographers out in Chicago photographing all these beautiful nude girls," he points out. "Yet they're not getting laid by them. They don't have a chance with those girls, unless maybe one of them thinks it could help get her a job." But, he adds, there's little public criticism of Playboy's lensmen.

Weber pauses for a sip of soda. Beneath his nonchalance he appears perturbed at the notion that his film is perpetuating a stereotype of the tragic homosexual, doomed to a loveless existence. Finally, with audible frustration, he says, "I just can't imagine another person who considers himself gay could look at my film and not say to himself at least: “Okay, I don't like this film, but I definitely dealt with those issues.'" After pointing out that he himself was a former Stonewall patron, he returns to the theme of rough trade. "Truman Capote always said if you're connected to yourself at all, you can get practically anyone in the world to fall in love with you. I have a great belief in myself and my work, and who I am. I don't look at something and say, “Oh, I'll never attain that -- that's unattainable.'"

Weber leans back in his chair, a coy smile spreading across his face, and arches an eyebrow: "I always think that if I want it so bad, I'm probably going to get it."

Next week: Bruce Weber, Part 2: The men don't know, but the little girls understand.

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