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Book review: Butt Book

Grab a thick slice of cocky artistry

DUTCH TREATS. Pop icons, porn doggies and fashion divas get retro raunchy in the Butt Book.

What is Butt Book? You’ve maybe heard of Butt magazine, and even seen it on certain store shelves definitely not next to Chatelaine or PC World. You may even have bought an issue or two for their arty-savvy erotic impudence — a slightly retro blend of Andy Warhol’s Interview, Boyd MacDonald’s Straight To Hell and (for you over-50s) the swank and tarty After Dark magazine.

Since May of 2001, when Butt first sashayed out of Amsterdam in the care of Gert Jonkers and Jop van Bennekom, it has drawn a dedicated international readership. Last fall’s Butt Book antho-logy sold out in a few months in Toronto bookshops. A reprint is due out in April. Meanwhile, there are copies available from the publisher at Taschen.com.

Of the 17 Butt issues so far (three per year), some have appeared with the alternate titles Faggot Magazine or Fagazine. A compilation of the “best of,” Butt Book is utterly by and about men. There is hardly a glimmer of queer inclusiveness, with the notable exception of REM star Michael Stipe, who’s billed as a “nongay queer” in the interview title.

In an intro heavy on celebrity namedropping and ironic bursts of queer studies academese, Bruce LaBruce misses the mark with his tossed off “Butt [is] a publication whose motto might be ‘Fats and femmes, please.'” Happily, he’s on target with a later thought: “Call it meetings with remarkable fags.” And lo, The Bruce proves to be one of them, interviewed over roast goose in a faux hunting lodge eatery in former East Berlin (pics of taxidermic decor included). The celebrated porn flick auteur from Toronto is articulate on the dilemmas of making movies that live in a foggy zone between feature-length storytelling and pure plotless smut. Still love that aviator eyewear, Bruce.

Interspersed with the interviews are raunchy/amusing excerpts from Buttstuff, the mag’s reader content section. Echoing the classic dirty candour of Straight To Hell, the scenes read like conscious homage to the days of risk-free debau-chery. Wisely, the editors use the predictable hardcore stuff as a garnish for the book’s main course, which is the often fascinating Q&As between gay/queer celebs, each interviewee captured with a photo or two ranging from vanilla to raunchy to (depending on your tastes) outright appalling.

John Waters is pictured walking down S Carey St (“aka Scary St”) in his hometown of Baltimore. The interview head: “Baron Of Bad Taste… Is Obsessed By Michael Jackson’s Polka Dot Penis.” How can you not read on? We learn that Waters’ living room sofa sports a pillow graced with an embroidered image of an electric chair — a handcrafted gift from his mother. Waters and interviewer Wolfgang Tillmans talk more about sex and relationships than the indy film world, but for those who haven’t yet seen his 2006 fetish flick, A Dirty Shame, there are some teasers: floor lickers, adult babies and (a new one on me) sploshers — they smear food on their poles and holes. Says Waters: “It’s safe. You can’t get AIDS from sitting on a pie.”

We also hear that Divine got a mere four percent royalty share from his starring roles in Pink Flamingos, Hairspray and other Waters films.

(On a personal note, it turns out that the man who feeds liberal doses of dirt to actors and audiences has a valley-girl gag response to stick deodorant. “The stick itself, doesn’t it retain stray underarm hairs? Ew… I like spray deodorant.”)

Interviewed by LaBruce, Gus Van Sant offers a revealing story about River Phoenix on the set of My Own Private Idaho. Phoenix and Keanu Reeves essentially rewrote the famous campfire scene in which two supposedly straight hustlers edge closer and closer to a clinch. Van Sant describes Phoenix coming to him with new dialogue scribbled on some cocktail napkins. “River decided to make the character gay and proclaim his love for Scott.” For me the scene is still one of the best film moments of blossoming homo desire — not equalled until some similar campfire moments in Brokeback Mountain.

Among other highlights: Edmund White talks touchingly about the night at age 12 when he came close to fulfilling his fervent wish to have sex with his father. General Idea artist AA Bronson displays a newly cultivated talent by giving interviewer Jop van Bennekom a deep sphincter massage. Rufus Wainwright talks with Dutch fashion designers Viktor and Rolf about vanity (“My gorgeous hair. Ha ha”), opera (“Ha ha, I adore opera”), teenage fans (“They’re not necessarily into rape. Ha ha!”), stereotypes (“Ha ha! You guys are so Dutch. Money, money, money!”) and finally, how famous he’ll be after he does his Judy Garland tribute at Carnegie Hall.

Wainwright’s blather is also the expressive mode for a few other star-turns here. I’ll admit I’m not especially keen on the pop icons, porn doggies and fashion divas. But the real value of Butt Book is less its highbrow smarts than its broad cultural reach. It’s rude and retro and full of surprises, a thick slice of cocky artistry and attitude that will fill a hole on any queer bookshelf.