Valentino’s Dolce Vita
BY Michael Joseph Gross
February 02 2009 1:00 AM ET
As a reporter, Tyrnauer is something of a polymath: He’s written memorable, illuminating articles on subjects including green technology, Martha Stewart, monastery design, and Robert Evans. Though he doesn’t consciously seek to write stories about sexuality, he’s drawn to writing about relationships, and, he adds coyly, “sometimes you have to tease things out.” Occasionally, he meets a subject whose secrets can’t be touched: His 1998 profile of Merv Griffin took the closeted titan’s “romance” with Eva Gabor at face value, but Tyrnauer didn’t sweat the compromise. Of the “permanent bachelor” type, Tyrnauer says, “These people grew up in a different generation. This is how they conducted their lives. It’s a lot to ask of people who lived in that space and did not move out of it to completely conform to the current standards. Whether it’s psychologically healthy or not, that’s a different question.”
“Ironically,” he says, one eyebrow raised, “Merv Griffin is the one who told me that Siegfried and Roy had been married” -- a rumor they denied in the classic profile Tyrnauer wrote of them in 1999. “That was the first story where I was able to get a grip on people who were reluctant, to get in there and break some ground. In terms of homosexuality, their relationship, they were in this bizarre space, living in their own myth. According to them, a lot of their appeal was that people thought of them as mystical buddies, best friends. You know: Siegfried and Roy! They thought it needed no further explanation.”
By and large, though, Tyrnauer meets his subjects with no agenda. Both as a filmmaker and as a writer, he seeks to emulate the technique of the Maysles brothers, who directed Grey Gardens, among many other documentaries. “You let the subjects talk and tell their stories, and if they reach out to you, that’s OK,” he says, “but you don’t try to make things happen.” (Fellini is another of Tyrnauer’s influences: Elements of The Last Emperor resemble scenes in Roma and 8½, and portions of Nino Rota’s score for Amarcord are repurposed here, to poignant and amusing effect.)
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