JASON AND SHIRLEY: A PORTRAIT OF A GREAT PRETENDER ON THE LGBT FRONTIER

JASON AND SHIRLEY LAYS BARE THE TORTURED SOUL OF AN EMOTIONALLY HAMPERED GENIUS

Dwight Casimere | 10/20/2015, 3:58 p.m.
Theatrical Premiere: The Museum of Modern Art, October 19, 2015 Jason and Shirley is a cinematic recreation by NYC-based filmmaker ...

Director Stephen Winter (r) on the set at the Chelsea Hotel with actor Gordon Beeferman

The film is set primarily in the claustrophobic world of Clarke’s penthouse apartment in the Hotel Chelsea. Before you get too carried away with an image of unbridled lavishness and wealth, consider that the ‘penthouse’ has beaded curtain room dividers between the living room and the kitchen (a totally hippy-ish glamour touch) and, by her own admission, wrinkled bed sheets on a pull-out bed covered with Madras-print pillows in the living room. The nicest thing in whole apartment is the faux fireplace mantle with its fake lilacs in a vase and an African mask on the wall.

A director friend who loaned her the camera equipment, who turns out to be a virulent racist and homophobe, first suggests throwing it all out, but once he learns the drill, feels the tacky backdrop may be just right. Too bad he couldn’t stick around, he might have made an excellent source of running conflict throughout the film, but the tension between Jack and Shirley proves to be enough.

Early on, the director has to practically beg her son and boom mike operator, Nico, to straighten up the place (played with appropriate reluctant uneasiness by Eamon Fahey, who is, at times, the queasy object of Jason’s wandering gay eye “Ohh! You cookin’ up some juicy chicken meat up in here!” he declares upon entering Clarke’s apartment and spying her young son).

Bryan Webster is absolutely delightful as the dope dealer friend Candy Man, whose long-awaited arrival propels the film to its denouement. He does his best to look like a barefoot Ray Charles, delivering the much-demanded dope that Jason says he needs in order to relax and ‘be real’ on-camera.

In the film, Jason, in his exaggerated manner of speaking through his alcohol and drug fueled haze, spins extraordinary tales about his a career as a quasi-drag nightclub entertainer, which appear to be more imaginary (especially when he’s high) than real. In real life, there’s only one known performance of his cabaret act in a one-night-only performance in the theatre district.

His confrontations with his father; growing up in Trenton is at the center of his internal conflicts. He describes in creepy detail one encounter with his father as a toddler that may or may not reveal the origins of his sexual preferences. He is similarly vague about the sexual encounters that occurred later in life when he was arrested and imprisoned at Rikers Island and was, presumably, raped and driven to the point of attempted suicide.

The one thing he is perfectly clear about is that he is a hustler, who is not above sex play-for-pay and who willingly lowers himself to work as a sex slave/servant to wealthy white women who are thirsting for companionship.

“We’re all ‘niggers’ Jason declares more than once, taunting director Clarke because of her Jewish heritage and wealth. In his derision, he also makes his point about the role-playing and masquerading that everyone does in one way or another to keep the grist in their mill.