Red Herring: Noted filmmaker to tackle the life of disgraced Idaho Senator

By By Orion Archibald

By Orion Archibald

Gus Van Sant, perhaps best known for his role as director of “Good Will Hunting,” first made his name exploring themes of sexuality and rebellion in “My Own Private Idaho.” With his newest project, it seems that Van Sant is making a return to those same themes and even that same state.

“Wide Stance,” Van Sant’s latest film, has just recently entered post-production and is slated for February 2008 release.

In “Stance,” the director spins the sordid tale of Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, a man whom Van Sant’s script portrays as perpetually trapped between his private gay tendencies and his public conservative lifestyle. In the words of fictional character Jeremiah Sandoval, a “man that don’t know whether to pick a spud or drop his drawers.”

Van Sant, himself openly gay, claimed in a recent interview that the controversy surrounding Craig presented an excellent opportunity not only to make a statement about “what it means to be a gay man in the United States,” but also to tell “a really compelling story.”

“I’m very much interested, as an artist,” Van Sant said, “in the pulling opposites of this situation — the way in which Mr. Craig has to go about living in two worlds, passing discriminatory legislation one day and trolling for sex in a public bathroom the next.”

Van Sant’s comment refers to an incident during the summer in which Craig was arrested after being caught in a sting operation in an airport men’s bathroom where Craig solicited sex from an undercover police officer. Craig has long denied being gay, despite the bathroom incident and several others calling his professed sexuality into question.

The film, naturally, already has its critics.

Among them is the senator himself, who in a press release earlier this week said: “I am filing suit against Mr. Van Sant for his libelous and immoral film. To assault my dignity and my family’s dignity in this way after all we have been through is inexcusable.”

At the end of the press release, he emphatically stated, “I do not enjoy having sex with men and I never have enjoyed it.”

After a moment of consideration, the senator quickly added, “Not that I admit to ever having sex with men, which I haven’t — ever.”

Other conservative commentators were quick to dismiss the film as profiteering, or even worse, as outright fraud.

“I know Larry intimately and have for several years, and I can testify to his stand-up character as a completely straight man,” said Idaho governor and Craig’s close friend Butch Otter.

“During my days on Capitol Hill, Larry and I would play tennis in the congressional gymnasium and take showers together afterwards,” Otter said. “True, we did wipe the wet napes of the other’s necks for soapy remnants of shampoo, and occasionally probe for deeply rooted knots in the other’s lower back, but I never once noticed Larry checking me out. I always knew where his strong, supple hands were.”

“Larry is not gay and this film is trying to make him into something he’s not,” he said.

Conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh weighed in on the film during his radio program on Wednesday and called “Wide Stance” a “blatant act of political sabotage.” Other conservative pundits, including FOX News’ Sean Hannity, are preparing a grass-roots boycott of the film.

The film itself remains under tight wraps. Van Sant claims it is a “dramatic documentary,” exploring the real events of the senator’s life while allowing room for embellishment.

In one scene the senator, played by Keanu Reeves, engages in heavy innuendos with a plumbing contractor working on his house (“You too, amigo?” the plumber asks while seemingly teasing a shaft of PVC pipe) and in another, Reeves becomes anxious at a barbecue when confronted with a greasy, oozing hot dog.

Scenes of debauchery and deep introspection are mixed with tense vignettes of Craig’s daily life as a conservative politician and family man, producing what the director has called “essentially two stories, two movies that happen to be spliced together.”

The effect is appropriate in describing the life of one man whose “torturous journey” as Van Sant describes it, has only recently drawn to an end.

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