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Chop suey. (film review) (Now, voyeur: pinups, poodles, and Frances Faye are just a few of the obsessions Bruce Weber explores in Chop Suey).

Chop Suey * Directed by Bruce Weber * Zeitgeist Films

Whatever they are payingBruce Weber to shoot those soft-core Abercrombie & Fitch catalogs, it's not enough. The streets of America are suddenly crawling with willowy hunks in Abercrombie-logo sweatshirts that seem to announce, "I'm not really a supermarket bag boy, I'm the next Jeff Aquilon."

Stranger things have happened. In his autobiographical potpourri Chop Suey, Weber shows us how he plucked a heartbreak-handsome teen from a Wisconsin wrestling team and turned him into a superstar model. Pinup boy Peter Johnson easily trounces raindrops on roses in Weber's scorecard of favorite things, a list that also extols late lesbian cabaret storm trooper Frances Faye, world explorer Sir Wilfred Thesiger, and queen fashionista Diana Vreeland. Yeah, but guess which one we get to see butt-naked?

Chop Suey is a scattershot indulgence: a personal notebook in which homoerotica, camp showbiz, and family values bump up against one another with an ease you have to schlepp to Province-town to find. Fluidly edited to demonstrate the connectedness between each of Weber's passions, Chap Suey manages to fix on a craggy, warbling Robert Mitchum and a nubile Jan-Michael Vincent in the same visual breath.

Weber riffs on everyone from jujitsu master Rickson Gracie to a rock-and-roll surfing family who lived next to the Nixons. But the keys to his psyche are held by Faye and Johnson. As we glimpse her through old Ed Sullivan clips and engaging interviews with her surviving partner, Teri Shepherd, Faye comes across as both the outrageous mother Weber probably wished he had in his country-club youth and the rampaging queer he wishes he could be.

Johnson is Weber's wish-fulfillment surrogate, the gorgeous athlete he couldn't romp with in the shower in grade school because he was too shy. Tellingly, Weber prefers the image of fashion photographers represented by David Hemmings in Blowup to the Astaire kind in Funny Face. To Hemmings's character, a photograph was a sexual conquest. And there is no denying the gratification that Weber takes in fetishizing Johnson with turbans and costumes or stripping this heterosexual wrestler and having him surrender to the homoerotic fantasy implicit in his sport. Weber's nudes have the masturbatory frisson of a power play in which gay men pin straight men to the mat. In Chop Suey one wishes the guy on top would stop talking long enough to let the guy on the bottom explain what all of it means to him.

Find more Chop Suey and the films and photography of Bruce Weber at www.advocate.com

Stuart is film critic and senior writer at Newsday.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Stuart, Jan
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Movie Review
Date:Nov 6, 2001
Words:432
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