For consistent readers of my work, it should come as no surprise that I spent the better part of the early 90s worshipping at the altar of Rhonda Shear. Through Shear’s hosting of USA Up All Night, I was introduced to a plethora of cult treasures and filmic trash, the likes of which helped mold me into the creepy creature I am today. Some of those movies, such as Night of the Creeps and Friday the 13th took on lives of their own due to their ever-expanding roles in the zeitgeist. Others, like Vice Academy and Nightmare Sisters, had a decidedly delicious late night flair, forever linked to those hours when I would stay up to watch all things filthy and forbidden.
In their way, each of the movies screened on Up All Night were pleasing because they defied convention and bucked the establishment. No matter what Rhonda had lined-up that week, it was sure to be something your parents would look at with utter disdain.
However, of all the films shown during Rhonda’s tenure on that late night institution, I can think of none that were more fresh, unique, or taboo than Vegas in Space.
A Technicolor fever dream of a film, Vegas in Space was the kind of science fiction picture that celebrated adventure stories of a bygone-era. Bold astronauts, colorful villains, and a pastel planet that has to be seen to be believed, the world of Vegas in Space seems to come right out of the Flash Gordon handbook. However, there is the slight difference that, on this planet, everyone is a fabulous drag queen.
Made in an era when drag pictures were nigh nonexistent, the cast and crew of Vegas in Spacedared to make a movie that boldly represented the bohemian San Francisco world they came from, yet also celebrated the things they loved about art and cinema. Spearheaded by legendary drag performer Doris Fish, the project was an undertaking of momentous proportions. Eight years of production, personal tragedies, and horrible losses besieged the film, yet the creative team worked tirelessly to complete the labor of love for a world that, at the time, was not really ready to embrace a motion picture of this kind from the gay community.
Recently, I revisited Vegas in Space. I was shocked and pleased to discover that all these years on, the film’s outrageous creativity and subtle social message is as effective now as it was all those years ago. Also, upon further investigation, I discovered that this year, 2011, marked the film’s 20th anniversary. For a film of such groundbreaking and unheralded magnitude to the LGBT and midnight movie communities, I decided it would be a criminal act to let such an occasion pass without a moment to celebrate and honor such a fine film. What follows in this piece is my attempt, in some small way, to log a bit of the history of Vegas in Spaceand pay it the homage I think it is so justly due. It is a story of triumph, tragedy, and fabulous make-up, and though I could never truly be as comprehensive as I wish I could be, I hope that this article, in some way, inspires you to discover the majesty that is Vegas in Space.
To begin my celebration of the film, I knew I need not go far. Trucking down the halls of Midnight Mass HQ, I caught up with my dear ghoul-friend and cult leader, Peaches Christ, to talk with her a little bit about Vegas in Space. I knew Peaches was as inspired by the movie as I was, and thanks to her status as a San Francisco icon, had interacted with many of the film’s stars over the years. Furthermore, Peaches was the only other person of which I was aware that had previously mounted a large celebration of the film, hosting a 15thanniversary for Vegas in Space at Midnight Mass. I was delighted to hear that Peaches’ own discovery of the film was not all that dissimilar to mine.
Peaches Christ: I first discovered Vegas In Space as a teen growing up in Maryland when Rhonda Shear hosted it on USA Up All Night. I used to love watching her and the movies she’d screen, and once in a blue moon she’d show something that was transformative for me. Get it?!? TRANSformative?!? I was a video store junkie and would rent everything I could. I devoured old exploitation films and cult movies, always looking for that next gem, that secret treasure that nobody could possibly have appreciated as much as I did. Well, when Ms. Shear screened Vegas In Space, it was one of those TRANSformative experiences. At this point, I’d already become a devout drag fanatic thanks to Divine and Frank-N-Furter. But besides the John Waters movies andRocky Horror, it wasn’t easy to find really great drag in movies (Tootsie was a highlight, if that tells you something). So, when I discovered this film about an entire galaxy of outrageously creative queens, I just couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t get enough! I eventually learned that Tower Video in Maryland had a copy of the movie for rent, and I single-handedly wore that damn VHS tape out. I was obsessed with the acting style in the movie, the art direction, the costumes, and, of course, the MAKE-UP!!! Oh my god, the makeup is so great, and it really opened my eyes to the idea that drag could be anything and it could go anywhere. Miss X’s eyebrows, Ginger Quest’s green skin, and, of course, Doris Fish’s uber-white teeth and perfectly painted face were all great inspiration.
Michael Varrati: You eventually were able to connect with the cast when you hosted the 15th anniversary event at Midnight Mass, correct?
Peaches Christ: I knew that the movie was made in San Francisco, so when I moved out here years later, it was always a thrill to spot someone from the film. Early in my SF drag career, I met the legendary Timmy Spence and through him I got to hear great stories about the making of the movie. Eventually, through Timmy, I was able to meet the director, Phillip R. Ford. I was star-struck and nervous when we first met at Timmy’s fiftieth birthday soiree. I think I muttered something about how much the movie meant to me. A few years after that, I was able to produce and host the 15th Anniversary Vegas In Space reunion show featuring Mr. Ford, as well as stars from the film, including Miss X and Ginger Quest. Both of them were so gracious, incredible, and brilliant. I quote their lines from the movie the most, so it was a real thrill having them there.
Sadly, some of the film’s stars weren’t at the reunion because they’ve passed on. I’ve said it before that the story behind-the-scenes about the making of Vegas In Space should be its own movie. It’s such an incredible tale and truly very epic, with tons of social commentary about the times in which it was made. It’s a uniquely San Franciscan story, and I know for a fact that the film continues to be discovered by queens worldwide who continue to migrate to SF, yearning to live in this strange, alternate universe.
Of course, Peaches was absolutely correct. Shortly after the film’s completion, several principle cast members, including the iconic Doris Fish, fell victim to the AIDS crisis. Because of this, the film’s continued presence and inspiration seems almost bittersweet, knowing that the movie found a following that many of its stars never got to see or appreciate. However, for those members of the Vegas in Space creative team that continue on, the film’s ever-expanding evolution must seem like an inescapable moment in history, where joy and sadness is shared in equal measure.
In addition to the hardships of illness and death,Vegas in Space had a lengthy and storied production history. Made mostly on weekends and when money was available, the film’s progress was slow. Taking over eight years to finish, the director, Phillip Ford, and the film’s cast faced the issue that even when complete, many mainstream companies would shy away from distributing such an outwardly gay film.
After nearly a decade of production, the film finally was released with the aid of Troma Entertainment, the world’s longest running independent film studio. Knowing Troma’s penchant for celebrating renegade art and fierce filmmaking, I touched base with Lloyd Kaufman, President of Troma (and legendary filmmaker), to get some info on his studio’s involvement in Vegas in Space’s storied history. With a reverent tone and twinkle in his eye, it was clear that Kaufman couldn’t be more proud to be associated with the groundbreaking movie.
Lloyd Kaufman: When I first encountered the movie,Vegas in Space was a work in progress. I’m, of course, a gay married man and I’ve always been interested in the world of gay rights. Marty Sokol, who ran our California office (we’re based in New York) showed me some of the footage from Vegas in Space and I laughed my ass off. We invested in the movie, putting up money to help them continue making the film. My wife Pat and I then went out to San Francisco and spent time with a number of the drag queens. They were just wonderful. The movie was produced a year or two before Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, so at the time it was still very fresh and taboo.
Michael Varrati: Of course, the movie did have some minor successes.
Lloyd Kaufman: Yes, we did get the movie to play on USA Up All Night, which was great. We also took the movie to Cannes. We took one of the film’s stars, Miss X, with us. In fact, and I’ve not shared this story before, one of my female production assistants told me that she was helping Miss X get dressed at the festival and that she, the female production assistant, was so turned on by Miss X and the idea of dressing her up…she had an orgasm. She said she literally came in her pants!
When we had Miss X at Cannes, there were literally thousands of people. No one had seen a drag queen or transvestite at Cannes before. I mean, there might have been some in the back alleys we went to when I was younger before I got married, but that wasn’t for movie purposes.
Michael Varrati: Overall, how do you feel about having such a unique film as part of Troma’s history?
Lloyd Kaufman: Vegas in Space is a visionary movie. It’s hilarious and the songs are wonderful. Phillip Ford is a brilliant director, and obviously the late Doris Fish is a major, major asset to the film. I think it’s one of the best films Troma has ever been involved in, but unfortunately it’s never gotten proper attention. We released it in a movie theater in New York, it played in San Francisco. It probably played on a hundred screens, but for some reason the critics didn’t grasp it. It was ahead of its time.The Toxic Avenger was ahead of its time too, but eventually the public caught up with it. With Vegas in Space, the media ignored it…after Priscilla that style of movie became popular, but Vegas in Space was already a lost treasure by that time.
After talking with those who had been inspired by and who had supported the film, my next course of action was clear. Lloyd had hit the nail on the head when he referred to Vegas in Space as visionary, and I knew a proper celebration of the film would not be complete without sitting down with the visionaries themselves.
In truth, their stories of this singular sensation of a film are sprawling. There is no introduction that I could give that I feel would compare to hearing the film’s remarkable history from those who were there. In letting Phillip, Miss X, and Timmy reflect on Vegas in Space, I learned so much more about this movie than I ever thought possible. From tales of outrageous parties to the enduring legacy of Doris Fish, I learned that the ultimate truth of Vegas in Space is that, for a movie set in such an alien world, it is a story that is remarkably human.
Through sheer luck of association, I was able to track down three of Vegas in Space’s greatest living luminaries: Phillip R. Ford (director/writer), Miss X (actor/writer), and Timmy Spence (actor/composer). I found each gracious of my inquiries and fondly reflective of the film that forever united them. That I was able to speak with and befriend these men (and Queen) who had inspired me and so many others was astounding. That they allowed me to pick their brains about Vegas in Space was an honor.
Michael Varrati: Vegas in Space has its roots in the Sluts A-Go-Go. Can you tell us a bit about this group and how you came to be involved with them?
Miss X: I came to San Francisco from LA and met Tippi (Princess Angel in the film) through a guy I knew that was dating Freida Lay, who played the role of the computer in the movie. Tippi was one of the mainstays of the Sluts A-Go-Go. I met Tippi soon after and lived with her for a spell. I first worked with the Sluts at a Halloween show, which was also coincidentally my birthday. I eventually went off to do my own thing, and sometime later, we came back together…and she told me she had met afascinating queen from Australia, and I just had to meet her.
A mutual friend of ours was having a party, and the theme of the party was “Come as your favorite Fellini Character.” I went as one of Giulietta Masina’s sisters from Juliet of the Spirits. Tippi was a dead ballerina, which was an image from Juliet of the Spirits, as well. Doris, of course, came as herself. She instantly fascinated me. She had the whitest teeth of anyone I had met, which I came to find out was paint. Doris always said she’d paint her eyeballs if she could. She was a great painter, and viewed herself as her greatest canvas.
Of course, we all loved painting ourselves, because you got your art reviews immediately. Strange hair, a variety of paints and make-up, you got to live the art. Really, the point of living as art, and all the shows, for Doris, was because she wanted to be a movie star. She actually became an actress along the way, but that was not her intention. Her intent was merely to be this fabulous movie star.
…so, that’s how it started. We did shows together, and when it came time to make the movie, I helped them write it.
Timmy Spence: There was this guy named Eddie Troia, and he was the neighbor of my very best friend. He was the one who brought me over to the place they called “Slut Central.” There had been talk of directing a show and I think he had been approached by Doris. So Eddie took me over there one night, and I met all of them: Doris, Tippi, Miss X, Frieda, etc. Eddie knew I was involved in a punk rock band called The Blowdryers, as well as a pre-boy band called Times Five. The gist is, Eddie knew I was a musician, so he hooked me up with them as the musical director for the Sluts-A-Go-Go on New Year’s 1981. I carried on, in various capacities, in that role until the film.
Phillip R. Ford: Doris Fish was the principle protagonist of Sluts A-Go-Go. The short version of the story is that Doris Fish was born in Australia and she lived in Sydney in the 70s. She was very much part of the big drag scene there, which Priscilla, Queen of the Desert really celebrated. Though it came out around the same time as Vegas in Space, Priscilla really honored the Australian drag scene, which was very, very big and exaggerated, not at all about passing as a woman. Doris had a group in the 70s called Sylvia and the Synthetics, and they were rather well known at the time. That group included Jacqueline Hyde, who’s still alive and lives in Paris, and Danny Abood (aka Miss Abood), who lives in Sydney.
Doris visited San Francisco quite a bit. She loved San Francisco because she loved the whole hippie culture. She told me she moved here because Grace Slick was from San Francisco. In 1978, Doris moved here and started doing shows. Like Andy Warhol, she wanted to turn everyone into a star, so she put everyone into the show, whether they wanted to be a performer or not. By putting people on stage, she met Miss X and Tippi, who, of course, are in the film. Miss X and Tippi became the core of the group Sluts A-Go-Go. They did their first show in 1979 at the old San Francisco Gay Community Center.
They did a show called Blonde Sin at the Hotel Utah, which featured some people that also had done some work with the musical group The Tubes. It featured Sister Boom Boom, who later ran for mayor and was one of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. It also featured Pearl Harbor. Pearl was a San Francisco rock-n-roller who ended up marrying Paul Simonon, the bass player for The Clash. There were a few other people as well, but that was essentially the beginning of Sluts A-Go-Go. It was very underground. Back then drag was sort of disdained by the gay community in San Francisco. In the 80s it was perceived that drag queens gave the gay community a bad image, the same thing with the leather community. It was very fringe, not at all like it is now. It wasn’t until the 90s that drag became much more desirable and sort of chic.
I came along in 82. We did a show called Naked Brunch, and a series of on-going shows at the 181 Club through 84 and 85. Then, Doris got sort of famous. She did greeting cards for a company called West Graphics. She did hundreds and hundreds of cards, celebrity look-a-likes, bag people, etc. “Ugly drag,” she called it. She got kind of known for that and they paid her well. She toured around, did a television appearance in Pittsburgh, and at that time we began doing legitimate theatre. I directed The Bad Seed, not a spoof version, but an actual licensed version, and it got rave reviews in the local press. During this time Doris was back and forth to Australia, and she was the director of the gay mardi gras, etc.
The film took 8 years to complete, and we did a big show in 1989 that was a fundraiser for the film. After that, Doris, who suffered with AIDS for many years, took a turn for the worst. We did a huge tribute show to her in September of 1990, just to help raise her some money. She died in 1991, and Tippi died a few months later. The film premiered at the Castro Theatre in October of 1991, and since Doris was not present to take part in her world tour, Miss X stepped in to fill her shoes as the drag queen representative of the movie. We peddled that for about two years or so. That’s sort of the history of Sluts A-Go-Go in a nutshell.
The last thing I did was in 2002, I produced a show called Let’s Talk About Me, which was three one-acts. I did a tribute to Doris, in her own words, called Simply Stunning: The Doris Fish Story, and I took segments for it from all the archives I have. She wrote a newspaper column for years in the San Francisco Sentinel that was always stirring up controversy. She was a big animal rights activist, which meant she hated the leather community –laughs-, she loved to cause a kerfuffle. I drew upon that for the show.
Essentially, that’s the history of Sluts A-Go-Go.
Michael Varrati: The opening credits of Vegas in Space suggest that the film was “based upon the party by Ginger Quest.” How can a film be based on a party?
Phillip R. Ford: It’s true. Ginger Quest, who played Nueva Gabor (the green one), was housemates with Doris and Tippi for many years during the 80s, and most of the film was shot at their flat on Oak Street in San Francisco. At one point, Ginger threw a Vegas in Space party. People came in costume inspired by that theme, and Doris said, “Oh, we should make a movie based on this!” Of course, there was more to it than that, but that was the genesis.
I didn’t know Doris very well at that time. I was making films at San Francisco State, and it was such a common teen filmmaker story. Doris saw some of my films and said, “Hey, we could do something with him,” and I was enchanted by the idea of the glamorous life that drag queens seemed to offer. So Doris got it in her head that she wanted to do a film based on the idea of that party, using it to conceptualize the way the characters would look, long before we had structured the plot, such as it is. Soon after that, I knew a gal, Lori Naslund (who is in the film), who had a lover at the time named Sarah, who was a barmaid at the bar I would go drinking at regularly after school. Sarah kept telling me that Doris wanted to make a movie with me, so Doris and I finally got together over breakfast, we had pancakes, and we constructed the tale that was supposed to be a short film. We had about 20 pages of script, and it was never planned to be a full-length feature in the beginning. We didn’t know what we were doing, we just set out to make a movie.
Miss X: In fact, it was actually two parties. Ginger loved to throw parties, as did we all. At the time, Ginger, Tippi, and Doris all lived together at this big flat on Oak Street. The parties were, of course, an excuse to get dressed up and do numbers. Usually, a stage was built in the dining room or something so we all could perform. The first party was called “Vegas in a Toilet.” The second one, and the one in question, was inspired after Doris had comeback from a shopping sojourn on Canal St. (in New York City). She had returned with all these rolls of Mylar, crazy plastic things to hang from the ceiling, Day-Glo pigment, etc. The house was completely done in black garbage bags and silver Mylar. Day-Glo green and orange fun fur was everywhere, and everything was under black lights. When people came through the door, we would make them up with the Day-Glo pigment. I hope, in retrospect, we didn’t harm anyone. I mean, I wore those paints for years with no detriment, but a lot of the paints that Doris and Tippi used on their bodies were actually meant to be primer for house paint!
Michael Varrati: Oh no!
Miss X: Oh yes! It’s because they were the best colors and you could buy them in bulk. Anyway, that was the beginning of Vegas in Space. We had this party, and then thought, “Oh god, we have to clean this up.” But Doris said, “Oh no, just leave everything up. We’ll just shoot a movie.”
Michael Varrati: Beyond the party, what other sources did you draw upon as inspiration for the film?
Phillip R. Ford: I was a fan of Famous Monsters of Filmland, and I met Forrest J. Ackerman in 1973. So, personally, I came from a background of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. I hadn’t really been exposed to the works of John Waters and Andy Warhol, although I did seek them out later, but I was basically a big horror film queen at the time. So what was the inspiration? Doris was the inspiration.
Certainly I can look back now and see what other inspirations there were, even though they weren’t quite conscious. Sure there was Barbarella imagery, old TV shows like Star Trek and Lost in Space, etc. I certainly admire the Batman TV show both for its visual style and acting, which was something I was thinking about as we were making Vegas in Space. I also was inspired by Pink Narcissus, James Bidgood’s graphic masterpiece. I’m not sure I reached Bidgood’s heights of artistry, but like us, he did shoot the whole thing in his apartment. –laughs-
I will tell you this, I’ve never shared this with a journalist before, but the concept of Vegas in Space (Ginger’s original party, that is), as with all things, had to evolve from somewhere. In the late 70s, there was this television program called Buck Rodgers and the 21stCentury, and they did an episode called “Vegas in Space.” So Ginger potentially stole the concept from something that she wasn’t even conscious of.
Miss X: As the trailer for the movie said, the movie chose not to compete with the high-tech science fiction movies of today, but rather stand among the space movies from the decade before man went into space. So, you know, things like Plan 9 From Outer Space and that sort of cheesy stuff. We thought, “If they can do that, we certainly can!”
What else? There are so many different inspirations and sources that come to mind. Jules Verne, fairy tales, and comic books. If we could have had “Pow!” and “Zap!” like they did on the old Batman television show, we totally would have. There are so many things we wanted to do that were just too cost and time prohibitive.
Michael Varrati: You said the film took eight years to complete…
Phillip R. Ford: -laughs- It’s so embarrassing!
Michael Varrati: …and based on the interviews from the Troma DVD release of the film, I got the sense that Doris Fish had a very controlling demeanor on-set. Could you speak to this?
Phillip R. Ford: Oh no, not at all. I think that’s a misconception. She let me do whatever I wanted. She had a very simple personality. Doris Fish was a character, of course, and she had other characters she played in her life. Doris made her living as a prostitute, and his name was Phillip Mills. As much as Doris was this caricature of grotesque femininity, Phil was a caricature of extreme masculinity. Doris turned tricks to get the money to start making the film and she kept doing it until she got sick.
She would answer the phone and talk in this very butch voice, which was a contrast to the sweetheart character she played in the film. The real Doris was somewhere in between, a quiet, short, nondescript person who was truly an artist. Always painting, always designing things. She designed textiles, she loved to decorate, she always had an art project. She always wanted to pull people along with her in the art, always wanted to encourage them, because she knew that she needed these people in her supporting cast. We had a really great relationship and we were best friends at the time, we were always bubbling up with ideas…it was exciting.
Michael Varrati: How did that work, shooting a movie across a time span that was nearly a decade?
Miss X: So many of us had jobs that were not 9-5, but many of us did. Therefore, it was when people were available. We shot on weekends, which is part of why it took so long. Also, we got the money together to rent the equipment or space, and it was when the money and equipment was available. Having all those factors come together at the same time just didn’t always happen. It also took a lot out of people to do it, in truth. We would start on a Friday, and often the crew didn’t go to sleep until Sunday or Monday. The sheer stamina had to be there.
Michael Varrati: Timmy, your character in the film, Lt. Dick Hunter, is rather short-lived. It’s my understanding that this was a conscious decision on your part due to the rigors of the lengthy shoot.
Timmy Spence: It was just so much. We decided that instead of throwing me in drag and going off with the film over so many nights, it would be easier for me to just die. –laughs- It wasn’t because of the whole drag thing. I had done some drag at the time, of course not as much as Doris, Miss X, and Tippi, but it more so was just the time involved. I realized that three or so weeks of staying up until 4 in the morning wasn’t for me. My band was also starting to get big at the time, we began touring, and it was a lot of work. So in trying to juggle all those elements, I said to Phil, “Okay, kill me.”
Michael Varrati: Though your acting tenure in the film is brief, you did serve as one of the primary composers of the film. What’s the process like writing music for a film that has an eight year progression?
Timmy Spence: I remember Doris and I would sit, and I’d play things for her, to run it by her for inspiration, and whatnot. It was in that way we put it all together. In honesty, “The Love Theme from Vegas in Space” is a really cool song. I think that with that, and considering the other hits I had, I probably could have pursued fame in the world of songwriting. However, that takes a certain level of ambition and requires you to be surrounded by a certain type of people, you know? I was happy doing what I did.
That particular song was kind of a 1950s samba beat, which when you look at the film, I think works. The film has a very 60s look to it, so I wanted to go for an earlier style of music to reflect that. Now, I did some other, Gary Numan-ish music for the movie, but as I was being pulled away by my band, other people came in to contribute music too. I liked some of the other music. The surfing song at the beginning is really good, and that was done during the same era that I wrote the “Love Theme.” I came back later to write a few incidentals and bits of the score, but overall, my contributions were made early. I do honestly believe that the “Love Theme” is the stand out track in Vegas in Space, and not just because I wrote it. I think it serves the film’s purpose best, perhaps because I was less behaved than some of the other songwriters. –laughs-
Michael Varrati: After eight plus years in development, the film’s completion came to a bittersweet finale. Not long after the film was completed, its primary star and motivating force, Doris Fish, succumbed to AIDS. On the heels of such a devastating loss, Tippi passed away mere months later.
Timmy Spence: Over the few months after Doris passed away, I used to take Tippi to the doctor. She wasn’t very forthcoming about what she had, she was a private person. It seemed to me that when Doris died, Tippi really took a turn for the worst. They were almost like mother and daughter. Doris always used to tell me that Tippi was a “sensitive daughter.” Things really affected her. At the time, Tippi didn’t seem nearly as sick as Doris had been, but it just escalated really quickly. Honestly, I think it comes down to the fact that when Doris died, Tippi just gave up.
Michael Varrati: Miss X, because of the unfortunate deaths of Doris Fish and Tippi, you became essentially the figurehead representative of the film when it made its way out into the world at festivals and screenings. What can you tell us about that experience?
Miss X: We went to Cannes, we went to the Angelika theatre in NYC, and we went to Sundance. The film had such a great experience at Sundance, more so than I did. Of course, Sundance is during the winter, and I immediately got sick. I managed to go to the screening, and I think I looked pretty good, but all the parties afterward I missed due to being ill. The film was wonderfully attended there and had a great amount of buzz going on even before we arrived.
It was shown at midnight, and rightfully so. It was very much appreciated by the midnight movie crowd, although not by all. It was great sitting there watching the people who knew it wasn’t for them slowly peel out in the opening moments. –laughs- The crew got to meet some wonderful people, including Alexis Arquette, Debbie Harry, Faye Dunaway, Jennifer Beals, and probably many more I don’t remember. But I didn’t get a chance to do any of that and ended up going home far earlier than I should have because of just being so run down. I was so sick I couldn’t even get into drag. I’m sure Phillip and everyone had a good time, but I unfortunately did not.
One thing that did happen when we first arrived in Park City is certainly notable. I had worked at a women’s clothing manufacturer in San Francisco at the time, and over the years that I had worked for them, they did a lot of full-length fake fur coats. I had a ton of those things. Because we knew we were going to Park City in the dead of winter, everybody on our crew had one. Now, I guess Michael Stipe and his crew had done the soundtrack to one of the movies also playing that year. I had a shaved head at the time. We were walking down the street in our jackets, and these teenyboppers mistook us for the band. They were pestering us for autographs, and I kept telling them that I wasn’t Michael Stipe and that I wouldn’t sign anything. We walked away because we thought it was dishonest, but in retrospect, we probably should have just signed them. As we walked away these girls were SCREAMING at us, “We hate you! You’re assholes! You stink!” So, uh, sorry to R.E.M. and those fans.
But yes, Sundance was a great experience for the movie, but overall not so much for me. Cannes, however, was another story. It was amazing.
Michael Varrati : Yes, I heard from Lloyd Kaufman that it was a positively orgasmic experience.
Miss X: I know they were shocked when we showed up, because I always call my wife “Al,” because her name is Alison. I think they thought I was coming with a man, but instead showed up with this gorgeous blond woman on my arm. –laughs-
Cannes was quite the experience for us. Troma treated us really great. We walked the stairs where they show all the movies and were in the midst of all this attention. We worked the whole time, I did a series of wonderful interviews with Lloyd Kaufman about the movie. I did a spot for E! while I was there, which I was thrilled about. It was so much fun.
Michael Varrati: Obviously, Vegas in Space has a rich background and history. In discussing the film and its foundations, I have to ask: Did you ever think that all these years later you’d still be talking about the movie?
Phillip R. Ford: I didn’t really think about it one way or the other. Though, not to be immodest, I think people who are less determined and less committed wouldn’t have stuck with it for as long as we did. Making a film that took that amount of time, not just for financial reasons, but also because a good number of people working on the film died, is certainly a task. I’m flattered and relieved, though I thought I would make more films, but that’s another story itself. I thought it would lead to something else, it almost did, and then didn’t…and now my life is very different from what it was back then. But I have to say that because of the film, it has exceeded my dreams of what it could have been. It was released theatrically, it’s available on Netflix, it was showed on airplanes and network television, it played Sundance and Cannes. I mean, it’s a really dumb, cheap movie…and a lot of people hate it. But a lot of people love it! It’s not for everybody.
I don’t dwell on it much at this point, but of course I’m proud of it and happy that it’s still denoted 20 years later by certain people, like Peaches, who keep it alive in their hearts.
Timmy Spence: The thing about it is, I was involved in it for a period of some weeks at the beginning. Of course, the writing of the music took a bit longer, but after that short time, I moved on. I was with my band, I traveled, and I didn’t really think about it that much anymore. Looking back, I think Phillip did a great job with the direction. The film has some beautiful, great parts. I like the drag, I like the outfits, and I think some of the scenes exceed its own B-Movie level. For the genre and the budget, I think it came out quite well.
Miss X: We had such high hopes for this silly little movie, and many of them didn’t really pan out for one reason or another. But, yes, I know we all hoped that it would endure. Like many of the live shows we did, as with any show, there’s a struggle at the beginning to get everything together. That’s very hard, grinding work. But, with every production, and some are more blessed with this oddity than others, it seems to take on a life of its own. This carries everyone along with it. You’re no longer pushing the rock up the hill, you’re rushing down the hill with it. Vegas in Space seems to have had that to a small degree. Doris always used to say that she would never turn down the chance to be on camera, particularly if she knew the film was going to be projected somewhere. This is because she knew that light rays and electrical energy never die, because matter doesn’t. It’s indestructible. She knew that once her picture was taken and broadcast, it would always be bouncing around out in outer space. Nothing made her happier than knowing her image was being filmed and broadcast, and I think it’s because she knew that she and Vegas in Space will always be out there in the universe.