WHEN DIRECTOR J.B. Ghuman Jr. dropped Spork, his first feature film, way back in 2011, he was a rarity in Hollywood, a genuine auteur bringing a light to and fun antidote to the mass hysteria of bullying.
Spork was a coming-of-age tale that followed a young orphaned girl (Savannah Stehlin) who grew up with her brother in an Airstream trailer. An outcast in Junior High, Spork joins forces with a local dance crew to take down a ‘mean girls’ gang lead by Betsy Byotch (Rachel G. Fox).
It’s an odd, colorful ode to the musical comedies of the 80s and early 90s, strapped with a unique soundtrack and a quirky charm that is sure to win over even the most hardened summer-hating Cinefile, who truly believes the art is devoid of anything new.
There was some controversy when Ghuman was asked by MovieWeb at the time, “In terms of presenting the character of Spork…Is it ‘transgender’? Is that the proper term?”
J.B. Ghuman Jr.: I wrote hermaphrodite into the screenplay, and to this day, I think it sounds like a Greek Goddess. I think it’s beautiful. But apparently, its like saying Jew or colored.
The correct term, he added, is intersex.
Since then Ghuman as made his entire life an art project.
Ghuman grew up a total 90s kid. His father is Sikh and his mother is German, and he grew up in Miami. All those aspects contributed to provide him with an elusive identity that people are drawn to. Ghuman said,” I was a B Boy for three years. I was a break-dancer. I wasn’t that good. I was called Kid Phoenix, and I was the only white kid. I think that is the only reason they even tolerated me. I was born in 1979. December 20th. I always tell people I was born in 80. I wasn’t really hanging out in the 80s. In 1990, I turned ten. In 91, I was eleven. In 95 I was fifteen. My age goes with the years like that. So I didn’t really grow up in the 80s. I got my license. Learned how to drive. Snuck out of school. All of that growing up shit, I did in the 90s.”
His close friends are the same artists that turn up in his work, whether it’s Tatum O’Neal, Jake Shears, or iRAWniQ.
J.B.’s cris de coeurr was maybe Once Upon A Dream, an art installlation that Hugh Ryan at Vice called, “What if John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe stole a time-traveling DeLorean and teleported to the future to get married?”
That’s the burning question answered in Once Upon a Dream, filmmaker J. B. Ghuman Jr.’s new art project. The photo series casts Jason Sellards (a.k.a. Jake Shears from the Scissor Sisters) as Kennedy and NYC nightlife legend Amanda Lepore as Monroe.
Shot on location at the Skylark Hotel in Palm Springs (Mr. President and Sugar Kane’s rumored hookup spot) and at the base of the 26-foot-tall Forever Marilyn statue, Once Upon a Dream turns the twosome’s private tragedy into public fantasy: glitter pops, magical lighting crackles, and Marilyn shoots the paparazzi with a gray plastic gun that looks suspiciously like the one I used to play Nintendo’s Duck Hunt.
Ghuman told Ryan that he was inspired to take a fresh look at Monroe and Kennedy because he felt that,”[Monroe and Kennedy’s] relationship was always looked on as this shameful thing; she was a slut and he was a playboy. I’m not saying either of those are true because I wasn’t there, but I wasn’t trying to put a spotlight on any truth about them. I was just trying to use their situation and flip it. Like how cute would it be if they did steal a DeLorean and said, Fuck it, we’re going to the future? Let’s get married, let’s go to this hotel, and make it public, and let’s just be in love!”
Love is certainly a theme that is threaded throughout Ghuman’s work, especially as its gotten more esoteric. The (ART) oF BE(i)NG, while visually arresting, is also so personal to Ghuman that I wonder if he’s aware that as he’s moved away from traditional narratives, while amping up the visuals, it may be difficult for viewers unaccustomed to his work, to know what to make of it. Ghuman told me, “Well I have another script I’ve been writing for years now. I’m pretty steady with my flow, so when I’m ready i’ll jump into it. And though SPORK isn’t abstract or esoteric it is a film about a inner-sexed child who walks a dead dog via wheels tapped to it’s paws, talks to her dead mother who’s buried behind her silver bullet trailer park home and learns to love her self via breakdancing on a twister pad with a power glove on in front of the school. I’m not sure I’ve ever “not” been a bit abstract if even in a narrative. Though I know what you mean re: my latest project being a major departure from conventional story telling. Though I can’t really describe my reasons other than I create via a place within me that’s true to my impulse. So here I am. As far as impact goes, I’d say sure: SPORK reached millions. And is still doing it’s thing online. My message in that film was a bit simple yet strong in that one must except themselves as they are and give the same love towards others. But The (ART) oF BE(i)NG is far more dynamic in my efforts to say something and thus if even it’s not in the ballpark of millions of viewers it is angled more towards an intimate experience. And if my authentic creative impulse effects even one viewer then I’m grateful for that. Making even 5.5 years of effort worth it.”
But let me play Devil’s advocate: Has it become so artsy that it may not be accessible? Nah, I totally hear that. To be honest, from eccentric music videos to my feature SPORK to pretty much all my projects it’s an ongoing sentiment that the audience may not grasp it. But again, I can’t really say that I spend too much time on that possibility and more so on what it is I’m trying to say in my own tongue. Plus, if every story teller were to reconfigure their art accordingly to the zeitgeist’s ability to grasp it, then our species would never be given anything off the beaten pathway of art. Nothing new or different would ever emerge. The film truly is a narrative but in a way I found inspiring to tell. That and part of my ambitions with this film was too in fact cause a bit of speculation as to what that story really is. It’s apart of the entire catalyze that’s meant to enable my film to be effective at all. The things I’m hoping to convey in the story aren’t things anyone can tell another to be. Rather insert them in the back of the mind and let time do the rest.”
Every project is a dream for Ghuman, so right now, “I’d say my next script really. It’s been literally 8 years now and I’m still staring at it like it’s a wild animal waiting to be let loose. But who knows, man. I’ve just recently had some studio pitches for huge films that to be real, if they came to be would be pretty mind boggling to get to direct / create. Without saying too much, my dream project would be to have a budget that’s in the ballpark of summer blockbuster yet have the creative freedom to do my thing and place a bull-horn the size of the planet on the other end of my hearts efforts to say something. Sounds a bit much but… you did say dream so there ya have it.
The (ART) oF BE(i)NG by JB Ghuman, Jr. (Director / Writer / Editor / Creator / Performer) premiered at SUNDANCE 2019.
A multi-dimensional story that loosely follows Ariel via “The Little Mermaid” moving (upwards) only instead of rising from the sea, she’s rising into a higher dimension all the while maintaining her lower dimensional self. It’s an existential story so she’s also both male & female. I know… it’s a bit different. Though in truth, the real lead character of the film is the viewer given my aspirations / hopes to assist in said viewers expanded consciousness and emotional capacity. No pressure, right… ha.
A sample of the cast: Jake Shears (of the Scissor Sisters), Mariqueen Reznor (of NIN), iRAWniQ (Non-Binary rapper), Dave Woodman (original animator via Disney’s The Little Mermaid who’s gay / out and proud), Mayham Miller (of the most recent RuPauls DragRace), Tammie Brown (of RuPauls DragRace), and Colton Ford (old school gay porn star).
Watch the trailer below.
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