The Fluffer

First Run Features
& TLA Releasing, 2001

Richard Glatzer
and Wash West

Wash West

Michael Cunio,
Scott Gurney,
Roxanne Day,
Deborah Harry,
Robert Walden,
Taylor Negron,
Richard Riehle

Unrated, 94 minutes

The Night Larry
Kramer Kissed

FilmNext &
TLA Releasing, 2000

Tim Kirkman

David Drake

David Drake

Unrated, 82 minutes

Performance Art
by Michael D. Klemm
Reprinted from Outcome, October, 2002


Unrequited love is often explored in the movies but never quite like this. The Fluffer tells the tale of Sean (Michael Cunio), a young filmmaker who has just moved to LA to pursue his dreams. He adores fine cinema, and he is first seen renting Citizen Kane at an all-night video store. Returning home, he curls up in his bed, under a poster of the classic French gay film Wild Reeds, and discovers that he was given the wrong tape. Its title is Citizen Cum, a gay porn flick, and Sean gets his first look at the man who is about to become the object of his affection: a beautiful chiseled hunk named Johnny Rebel (Scott Gurney).

Desperate to meet this man in person, Sean applies for a job at Men of Janus Video, stupidly turning down a position with a more legitimate film company. But Sean lucks out in a way he never imagined. Besides being hired by Janus as a cameraman, he also becomes Johnny Rebel's personal Fluffer.

Some of you are asking, what is a fluffer? A fluffer is the person who makes sure that a male porn star is ready to perform in front of the camera. You can use your imagination to fill in the rest.

But Johnny Rebel, whose real name is Mikey, is straight. Mikey exemplifies what the sex industry calls "gay for pay." However, regardless of Mikey's sexual orientation, the porn star is hardly boyfriend material. Addicted to crystal meth, Mikey disappears for days on drug/alcohol binges, and cheats on his longtime girl friend Julie, (Roxanne Day), a stripper whose stage name is Babylon. Blinded by his lust, Sean remains smitten by this modern Narcissus and longs to take their relationship beyond the fluffling stage.

The Fluffer begins by gently poking fun at the sex industry but then slowly develops into a tale about co-dependency. Sean rejects a relationship with a very nice gay man, who wants romance and commitment, in favor of worshipping an ideal. But Mikey is hardly that, as his scenes with Julie painfully dramatize. Julie's story parallels Sean's. Julie is living with a self-centered jerk who she seems to feel the biggest connection with when he is unconscious. Delusional, she hopes that her pregnancy will draw them closer but instead she finds that Mikey can't deal with becoming a father and wants her to have an abortion.

There are a few hints that perhaps Mikey might, in fact, be confused sexually. Why is it that only Sean can get him ready for the cameras when even a second Viagra fails? Mikey likes it when Sean tells him how beautiful he is while fluffing him, and there is an odd chemistry between them. But as soon as the fluffing is done, Mikey walks away, leaving Sean empty and confused. During a very telling scene, an old barfly buys Sean a drink and regales him with tales of seducing straight men in the days when most gay men were closeted. "It's the distance that gets you hooked," he tells the morose Sean, "but eventually it takes its toll."

While examining in depth the Sean-Mikey-Julie triangle, The Fluffer also takes a hard look at the adult entertainment industry. Mikey becomes Johnny Rebel because men make more money doing gay porn. Mikey is supplied with drugs but this is nothing new; Hollywood first hooked Judy Garland on pills in the 1940s. When porn stars are washed up, the industry spits them out just like the Hollywood dream factory does, and hustling is often the next career move. Writer and co-director Wash West actually worked in the porn trade and his attention to detail is commendable.

There is also much humor in The Fluffer. Sean attempts to provide "artsy" cinematography to the porn film he shoots and is told that "farmers in the midwest want to see more penetration." During an industry party thrown by noted porn director Chi Chi LaRue, Sean tries crystal for the first time. His subsequent warp-speed discourse about Hitchcock's Vertigo really being thinly disguised porn is a hoot. Gentle jabs at the peculiarities of the porn industry include the less-than-thespian acting in the movies they shoot, and videos with titles like Tranny Get Your Gun and The Iceman Cummeth.

The Fluffer is nicely directed and moves at a good clip. In keeping with Sean's film roots, there are several visual references to classic movies. A clever nod to The Graduate [see picture top of page] during Sean's job interview is the most obvious. Ingmar Bergman's Persona is evoked during a bizarre dream sequence in which Sean faces Johnny Rebel in a mirror and reaches longingly towards the glass. Sean remains a likable and sympathetic hero, even if you want to slap him and bring him to his senses. The acting is quite good, and the three leads are surrounded by a stable of recognizable character actors, (and a few adult film stars), who provide fine support. Blondie's Deborah Harry has a notable cameo as Julie's hard-nosed but sympathetic lesbian boss at the strip club.

Boogie Nights presented a porn studio as a happy, if dysfunctional, family, while The Fluffer exposes the darker elements of the trade. The third act is a tad melodramatic but it makes sense and doesn't come out of nowhere. There is both comedy and tragedy galore to be found in The Fluffer and it is well worth a look.

The DVD that I viewed was the unrated version and, as usual, I am at a loss to explain why Boogie Nights got an R-rating but not this one. The R-rated version available for rent reportedly contains some re-dubbed dialogue and alternate camera angles of the steamier moments. The DVD includes deleted scenes and a director's commentary.

It's always gratifying to see a superb performance archived for posterity on film. The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me, now on home video, made its Off-Broadway debut in 1992. David Drake starred in his one-man show for over a year to great acclaim, winning a Best Performance Obie Award in the process. A favorite on the black box theatre set, it was mounted by Buffalo United Artists here in Buffalo for PrideFest back in 1994.

Re-creating his stage-role, Drake takes the audience through a series of monologues, from his sixth birthday (which coincidentally is the date of the Stonewall riots) to his coming out during the early days of the AIDS crisis. Using humor, as well as anger, Drake strips his soul bare onstage. The title's kiss refers to the night he saw Larry Kramer's seminal play The Normal Heart in 1985 when he was 22. The agitprop of Kramer's drama propelled the young Drake to join Act-Up, and some of these experiences are documented in his play.

The whimsy of the first episodes dissolve into a series of almost-tribal raps on gyms, gay bars, dating, and protest marches, each punctuated by threats of homophobia from without and within. A candlelit vigil for friends who died of AIDS is the longest and most poignant segment, followed by a hopeful conclusion in which he and his partner celebrate a future New Year's Eve. Here, he reminisces about the great revolution that brought about equal rights, a cure for AIDS, the assassination of Rush Limbaugh, and his experience watching the remake of The Way We Were starring Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.

Drake's performance is electric and commands your attention throughout. Using his voice and expressive body movements that combine elements of dance and mime, not to mention enormous sex appeal, his various characters are alive and vibrant. With the exception of a few cutesy moments (like saying "God bless the Village People" during a childhood prayer), none of the material is empty self-indulgent fluff. A monologue on the tribal rituals of a gym oozes with sex until it climaxes with his buff body doubling as a weapon against gay bashers. "The truth will set you free," Drake declares at the end, "But first it will piss you off."

This is not a conventional movie; it is a filmed record of a remarkable performance piece which manages to sustain the same electricity on celluloid that was once generated on stage. The trouble with such films is their often static nature. The best cure for insomnia is a movie where the camera sits in one spot and just captures the actor. This is not the case here; camera movements, editing and lighting effects accent, without overpowering, the spontaneity of Drake's performance.

The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me was filmed by Tim Kirkman (the director of Dear Jesse, a documentary about everyone's "favorite" homophobic Senator, Jesse Helms). Kirkman wisely avoided the temptation to "open up the space" by setting Drake's monologues in more realistic surroundings. Besides matching the rhythm of Drake's raps to the editing, he also knows when to relax the pace with uninterrupted takes.

Aside from updating a few cultural references for the film version, Drake's original text remains intact. To some, certain elements may seem a bit dated today. Still, a time that needs to be remembered is captured here for future generations. AIDS and homophobia still exist, so there is nothing irrelevant about Drake's ground-breaking performance art.

The supplements on the DVD are just what this medium was created for. TWO alternate versions of the final scene are included, one videotaped in 1990 when the play was still in workshop, and one from its stage run in 1994). Also included is a text history of the play, and an illuminating audio commentary by Drake and Kirkman. This one is a must for queer viewers with a taste beyond the mainstream


More On Tim Kirkman

David Drake also appears in:
Longtime Companion

Richard Riehle also appears in:
Choose Connor
The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green
Mysterious Skin
Bear City 2: The Proposal

David Pevsner also appears in:
Adam & Steve
Pornography: A Thriller


A Portrait of James Dean: Joshua Tree, 1951
Old Dogs & New Tricks


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