What we do have is a piece is I wrote a while back on the notorious film adaptation of his novel Myra Breckinridge. Vidal disliked the movie so much that he sought to have his name removed. It is, I imagine, among the very last things he'd want - or indeed ought - to be remembered for. In it, Raquel Welch stars as a transsexual who hits Hollywood and sets about ushering in a new age of human sexuality. John Huston and Mae West also crop up. It is insane. I kinda like it...
They said Gore Vidal's novel was unfilmable, and they were right. On Myra Breckinridge's release in 1970 critics went to extraordinary lengths to damn what director Michael Sarne has described - with a degree of understatement wholly absent from the film - as a "comic look at a man who would like to be a woman".
Four decades on and this loopy, lurid and wildly excessive Hollywood/gender war satire remains a fascinating and at times just plain bewildering film. It's overloaded with ideas, not all of them good ones, stitched together with a mix of late-1960s radicalism and flailing camp. Imagine Russ Meyer meeting John Waters in a Californian gay bar while Andrea Dworkin pokes them with sticks.
The film opens with Myron (Reed, then a TV pundit and film critic) undergoing a sex change by castration in front of an appreciative audience. As Myra (Welch), (s)he heads for Hollywood to set about erasing the "last vestigial traces of traditional manhood in order to realign the sexes, while decreasing the population, thus increasing human happiness and preparing humanity for the next stage". Myra, insisting she's Myron's widow, secures a position teaching "empathy and posture" at the highly suspect acting school run by her cheerfully chauvinist Uncle Buck (Hollywood veteran Huston, dripping sleaze) and sets about "the destruction of the American male in all its particulars."
That's all in the first 10 minutes. Thereafter, plotting is messily episodic as Myra, mysteriously accompanied by Myron, sets herself up as a talent agent-cum-agent provocateur and trips through encounters with dippy starlet Mary Ann (Fawcett) and rival agent Leticia Van Allen (West, shamelessly hamming it up as a sexually rapacious septuagenarian. At one point she even performs a little rap.)
The dialogue is a curious mix of exaggerated hipster-speak and radical psychobabble. ("In every American there is a strangler longing to break a neck during orgasm.") In structure and appearance it has the vivid tone of a Technicolor hallucination, Sarne slipping in clips and samples from elsewhere if he feels they make a point. All of which pales into insignificance when set against the film's breathless climax, where Myra dons a Stetson and strap-on for the anal rape of macho leading man Rusty (Herren). This sequence is intercut with footage of a battering ram, a roller coaster and a glider...
It was Sarne's belief that Gore Vidal's original novel and subsequent attempts at a screenplay - eventually ditched in favour of a script by Sarne and producer David Giler - were driven by a genuine, gender-politics agenda. That may be so, but here the satire is so heavy-handed, self-conscious and just plain daft that it swiftly becomes cartoonish. Likewise Sarne's desire to shock, which now looks cheeringly innocent in its conviction that Welch as a transgressive transsexual was really sticking it to straight America.
A troubled production (West and Welch didn't get on) was followed by an equally unhappy public and critical response. Vidal disowned the result. Welch wasn't particularly proud of it either, though the performance is actually one of her best. Sarne's career as a director never recovered and he returned to writing, acting, and the theatre, popping his head over the parapet in 1995 to direct Glastonbury The Movie. Rex Reed never acted again. Neither did Roger Herren. Any film that so comprehensively banjaxed the careers of so many involved deserves to be remembered, and though Myra Breckinridge is deeply confused, profoundly misguided and, by any normal criteria, only barely comprehensible, this Citizen Kane of chaotic trash is never dull.