Being Julia, Stage Beauty, and Team America: World Police

reviewed by Steve Sailer

The American Conservative, November 8, 2004


In October, three films about stage actors debut. Annette Bening plays a leading lady of the 1930s West End in "Being Julia;" Billy Crudup portrays the last youth to appear as Desdemona before King Charles II legalized actresses in the 1660s in "Stage Beauty;" and Trey Parker of "South Park" notoriety provides the voice of the "best actor on Broadway," who uses his thespian skills to infiltrate terrorist gangs in the R-rated marionette movie "Team America: World Police."

"Being Julia" is based on the 1937 W. Somerset Maugham novel "Theatre." The plot was later borrowed by "All About Eve," although here there's a happy ending. An aging star who doesn't have much of a self when she's offstage idly begins an affair with a very young American social-climber, only to lose him, and her complaisant husband (Jeremy Irons), to a devious ingénue who intends to upstage Julia in their new production. Yet, while Julia may be over the hill in the bedroom, she remains the grandmistress on the boards. On opening night, she amusingly puts her young rival in her place.

"Being Julia" offers a flashy acting-for-the-sake-of-acting role that has Oscar written all over it. Sadly, I don't think Bening, who was nominated for "The Grifters" and "American Beauty," quite delivers. Perhaps that's because she's not very much like her competitive character. Certainly, many actresses are shallow, grasping careerists, yet a surprising number really are as womanly as they appear on screen, proving it by sacrificing their late thirties, when their careers would normally peak, to having children. The 46-year-old Bening, for example, gave her husband Warren Beatty four babies between 1992 and 2000.

Movie stars are normally terrible at playing the opposite sex because the reason they are stars is that they so exemplify their own sex. Remember "Tootsie?" A symposium on character acting by Bill Murray, Charles Durning, and Jessica Lange, but Dustin Hoffman couldn't pass as a woman in the eyes of the drunkest sailor in Subic Bay.

The delicately featured Billy Crudup isn't quite a star -- he's best known as the 1970s guitar god in "Almost Famous" -- but he doesn't make a persuasive woman either in the interesting but slightly quease-inducing "Stage Beauty." That the rugged Duke of Buckingham would find him an acceptable female substitute, even in Desdemona drag, seems unlikely. Part of the problem is Crudup is 36 while the historical figure he's playing, Edward Kynaston, was only 21 when the King ended his transvestite career.

John Derbyshire tells me that he constantly gets emails from homosexuals asserting that every famous individual in history was one of their fraternity: Johann Sebastian Bach? The only reason he fathered 20 children, honey, was to cover up his being as gay as a French horn.

Yet, much of the past homosexuality actually recorded by history appears to have been radically different from modern "egalitarian" homosexuality. It was opportunistic, exploitative, often pederastic, as it remains today in the Middle East. Indeed, many of the famous personages that homosexuals like to call their own later matured into heterosexuality, which contemporary gays claim is impossible.

Kynaston, for instance, returned to play Othello, married, and had children. In "Stage Beauty," it's pleasing to see Crudup reclaim the masculinity that his cruel apprenticeship had buried by making his comeback as the manly Moor of Venice. Still, for him to introduce Restoration audiences to Method acting by portraying Othello as a 17th Century Stanley Kowalski is a head-scratching anachronism.

In the puppet picture "Team America: World Police," young Gary Johnston is slaying Broadway audiences in "Lease: The Musical" with his show stopping protest number "Everybody's Got AIDS." A top-secret anti-terrorist commando squad recruits him to worm his way into a Chechen operation buying WMDs in Cairo. He succeeds, but his comrades, while in hot pursuit, accidentally blow up the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid. When Alec Baldwin, head of the Film Actors Guild, protests Team America's destructiveness, North Korea's sinister (but Elmer Fudd-like) Kim Jong Il invites the lefty members of F.A.G. to a Pyongyang "peace" conference to further his fiendish plot.

While quite funny, be aware that "Team America's" language is brutally filthy because the "South Park" guys graphically spell out the buried meanings of common obscenities, which originated in those bad old days of predatory bisexuality that poor Kynaston survived. Don't be fooled by the puppets: keep your kids away.



Steve Sailer ( is a columnist for and the film critic for The American Conservative.

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