Film and TV

Pirate Booty

Considering the unexpected amorous complexities of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, perhaps it was auspicious to take a couple of lesbians to see the Disney romp.

After all, the last thing you expect from a movie based on a theme park ride is a gender-busting love triangle. But that's just what seemed to be happening in this overlong, special-effects-bloated tease of a film.

"It was the worst kind of foreplay," said Angela Pulliam, the entrepreneurial manager of Lezbosagogo, a local lesbian burlesque troupe. "The film asked you to follow along, but it never gets you off," she said with a naughty smirk.

Pulliam stood out in an audience at Tempe's Centerpoint theater that seemed stacked with wholesome suburban types. Not just for her butch appearance, or for her black skin. But the nascent entertainment mogul has more face piercings than any of the pirates on screen. And twice the sense of humor, too.

First profiled in these pages in March, Pulliam's a remarkable woman who's gone through a stunning turnaround on her way to promoting Lezbosagogo. Waiting for the movie to start, Pulliam pulls out a photo of a grim-looking person -- an angry-looking version of herself, just a few years since it was taken. "I used to live under a bridge," she says. "It's a mug shot, of when I lived in Tampa. I was totally crack addicted."

Asked why she carries around the reminder of such a screwed-up existence, she grins. "It's a healthy reminder of choices," she says

Pulliam's lived in the Valley for two years, and these days she's busy herding the five women who've performed at events like the Dinah Shore Weekend in Palm Springs. Tonight, she's brought along one of the dancers, India, who says she's looking forward to the troupe's next big gig -- a women's festival in Key West. Pulliam explains the appeal: "People in the gay scene are getting tired of guys in dresses as entertainment," she says.

Managing the women can be a chore, Pulliam admits. "It's difficult, trying to be tough on them after we've had a slumber party the night before."

She also found Pirates of the Caribbean to be a bit of a chore as well. It was Pulliam's first pirate movie, and she said afterward that she didn't expect so much complexity to keep track of. But at least the complicated lines of seduction were intriguing, she said.

She was talking about the ménage that's introduced nearly from the beginning of the humorous pirate story.

It's quite obvious that lowly blacksmith Will Turner (Legolas, er, Orlando Bloom) is smitten by Elizabeth Swann (scrumptious newcomer Keira Knightley), daughter of Port Royal's governor. And we know that in turn, she must eventually fall for the good-looking if penniless smith, even as she's being hotly pursued by dull-as-dishwater Commodore Norrington (Jack Davenport). It's the sort of setup we've seen in plenty of squeaky-clean adolescent movies, and we know that eventually Turner will convince wealthy Miss Swann to give up the bling-bling for true love.

But avast! There's a complication that comes in the form of pirate captain Jack Sparrow (wonderfully overplayed by Johnny Depp). Depp's performance is so over the top, post-film debate centered on whether his character was deranged, gay, or simply drunk. But one thing was clear, Pulliam insisted: She was rooting for Sparrow to end up with the girl the entire film.

"Jack would have been a great partner. As dirty as he was, he was sexy," she said. (Depp seemed to be covered in several layers of grime throughout the film, but somehow it only enhances his looks.) "He would have taken her places, shown her interesting things, gotten her drunk and laughed about it. I was rooting for him, period," Pulliam said.

Poor Turner is no match. Time and again, the film seems to force the audience to see that the indigent blacksmith's the only satisfying choice for the governor's daughter, but Sparrow is clearly the more exciting alternative. The two -- the lascivious but lovable pirate and the chaste young woman -- even end up stranded on a desert island together, and a full-blown seduction scene appears imminent. But, to Pulliam's delight, Knightley's damsel turns out to be no lightweight. "I liked her cunning," Pulliam said. "She was able to get him drunk to get what she wanted, and turned the tables on him. I loved it."

Both women said they were enchanted by Knightley's comeliness. Particularly, Pulliam said, in a gender-bending scene when Knightley slipped into a soldier's uniform. "I thought it was sexy when she got into the military outfit. She was beautiful."

The two women also enjoyed a sequence in Tortuga, which is made to look like a pirate's paradise.

"The drunk women seemed really loose with the pirates," India said with a laugh, admitting that she didn't expect to see an island devoted to outright hedonism in a Disney film.

"It looked like a big party to me," Pulliam added. "I'd hang out there for a while."

But if Depp's grimy buccaneer and his free-living friends stole the show, Pulliam and India wished Pirates of the Caribbean hadn't been cursed with its Curse.

Whatever charm the film builds in its first hour is almost completely lost in endless chase scenes involving computer-generated skeletons. Really, did the entire movie have to go back to the same pirate island and stash of Cortez's gold twice? Was it really necessary to build a two-hour-plus movie around some forgettable crime some forgettable pirates led by hackneyed Captain Barbossa (scenery-chewing Geoffrey Rush) had committed sometime in the past and were now determined to undo?

Pulliam and India admitted they were stumped why the film's climactic scenes required Orlando Bloom's blood to be spilled on a piece of jewelry. Not only did it make little sense, it simply wasn't interesting, not while a far more compelling tale had been developing about an uptight commodore, penniless but hunky blacksmith and a booty-licious pirate all vying for a young heroine.

But surely Disney wasn't about to subject its underage target audience to something so titillating. No, for the small ones, there's only one appropriate entertainment, Hollywood types seem to think -- and that's unadulterated mayhem!

"I wouldn't let a kid see this," Pulliam said in some astonishment afterward. Though there was a cartoonish flavor to the pirates-as-walking-dead battle scenes, there was also plenty of good old carnage.

And some of it was just pointless. Barbossa and his comrades, see, are under a curse that makes them undead. Under the light of the moon, their true skeletal nature is revealed. Eventually, one of our heroes also falls under the curse and becomes a walking cadaver. A sword battle then ensues between Barbossa and this hero that must have seemed like a special effects tour-de-force to Disney filmmakers -- but did any of them stop to ask themselves why two creatures that couldn't be killed would fight each other?

Pulliam just shook her head remembering the endless scenes of thrust and parry. The skeletons, she said, just didn't work for her.

"I've looked that way before," Pulliam cracked. "It wasn't really very impressive."

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tony Ortega
Contact: Tony Ortega