This is a lush and sometimes loud film by the photographer who brings you the A&F catalogue every 3 months, Bruce Weber. His previous subjects were the jazz "great" (my own anti-jazz bias) Chet Baker and the obscure if not downright lost film "Backyard Movies" that I've lusted after since seeing it one bleary night in Minneapolis, when, 1992?
Mr. Weber's unerring eye for beauty and culture are pleasantly shared, as is his fantastic photo collection, his historic archival footage with the likes of Diana Vreeland, editor of Vogue magazine, the slacker surfing champions that are "Nixon's Neighbors," an obscure English adventurer, and his own personal and professional anecdotes.
And, oh yeah, he shares Peter Johnson with us. (A man/boy with two names for "penis," though that cheap joke shortchanges his phenomenal looks and carriage.) Mr. Johnson is alternately the direct subject and the audience for the stories in Chop Suey.
The book "Chop Suey Club," already a collector's item, is so obviously a labor of love, and the movie lets us in on some of Peter Johnson's allure and charm. Still, Johnson is not exactly a presence to be reckoned with, though his modeling is clearly in the heart-stopping/stellar range. It's slightly embarrassing to watch the young Wisconsin father sit through old stories told by aging queens, until he whips out the atrocious aplomb apparent in his still photos by dancing with a big black poodle.
Mr. Weber practically comes right out with his infatuation for Peter Johnson, telling the story of a parallel gay editor/straight model relationship, "...nobody loved you better." Then in the narrative, "...sometimes we photograph what we're afraid we missed." "Chop Suey" wants to keep history alive while extolling keeping history alive; as told through a survivor in a 31 year lesbian partnership, "I thought I lost my best friend, but I have all these photos and memories and she's still with me. That's the way it's supposed to be."
I longed for quiet in some of the more lyrically poetic image sequences. I thought the underwater shots of swimming dogs and boys in gowns, or the boys sleepy in the back seat of a car, black and white film stock creamy, movement slowed to a languid, trippy pace, invited a more sparce aural accompaniment, images lingering slightly longer.
I would give this film a full ten out of ten if it didn't feel so much like a vanity project. A generous vanity project to be sure, but still, I tend to feel somehow duped or guilty if I overly enjoy watching such blatant narcissism.
I saw it 3 times.