Philly: My Once and Future Queen by Todd Verow

Todd Verow remembers Philly, his dear friend and inspiration for his movie Once and Future Queen in the catalogue for her memorial exhibition at Howl!. Don’t miss the screening of the film of the same name coming up this Saturday at 7 PM. It’s FREE, of course.

Philly: My Once and Future Queen

Todd Verow

I was just a small-town boy fantasizing about life in the big bad city when I arrived in New York in the summer of 1989. I quickly realized the city I dreamed about no longer existed. Then I met Philly and everything changed.

I was looking for an apartment and saw Philly’s ad in the Village Voice. She opened the door and welcomed me into her amble bosoms. As Philly showed me the apartment, Onka, her albino ferret, hissed at me, and Birdy, her pet pigeon, followed me around pecking my feet. She told me the building was infested with rats and roaches and junkies. This was the New York I had dreamed about. I moved in immediately.

Philly and I would stay up all night talking. She showed me her artwork, and her movies I a Goddess Part 1 & 2. I showed her my short films. It wasn’t until my third feature film, Shucking the Curve (1998), that I was ready to work with her. It was basically a movie about Philly and I and our adventures together. We had a blast making it and she was great. I kicked myself for not doing movies with her sooner, and she laughed it off saying “I knew you would come to me when you were ready.” We’ve worked together on over 20 movies since then. Some experimental, some narrative, some improvised, some scripted (which Philly hated—she could NEVER remember her lines). Philly loved to talk about all the insane things I made her do in the movies, but the truth is she came up with the craziest ideas (that double-headed dildo scene in XX (2007) was her idea). She hated being typecast as a kook, and I tried to give her as many different, unexpected roles as I could. The two films that stand out were the ones that were our most collaborative: Once & Future Queen (2000) and This Side of Heaven (2016).

When we were working on the movie A Sudden Loss of Gravity (1999), where Philly played a mother who abandoned her teenage boy to be in a rock band, Philly formed a real band—Eager Meat—and they recorded the song “You Can Be My Toilet When I Pee” (which she wrote) for the movie. It is from this character that we came up with the idea for Once & Future Queen, about an aging wannabe rock star who is desperately trying to get a band together and conquer something, anything. We shot the movie over a whole year. It was such a synergistic experience. We could read each other’s minds the whole time we were filming. It was an amazing experience; it was hard to stop filming. Luckily, the film was well received and Philly—unlike the character she portrayed—was able to keep the band together. We toured all over the world and had a blast.

We decided to make This Side of Heaven when our landlord was doing everything he could to try to get us evicted. Our way of coping with the harassment and absurdity of it all was to make a movie. It was cathartic and exhausting. Every day when we were shooting we would wake up and I would spend an hour doing Philly’s makeup and hair. We would go over the scenes while I did this, and she would get into her character. When we were done for the day, we would both just collapse on the floor, exhausted physically and emotionally. It was the last movie we finished together.

Philly would stay up all night doing her paintings. Watching her work was mesmerizing. She was so focused but at the same time playful. That sense of play was infused in everything: her artwork, her performances (on film, onstage, or just walking down the street), her music, her style.

Like Philly said in Once & Future Queen: “People just don’t understand how amazingly special I am, and it’s their goddamn problem.”

Philly was always there when I needed her. I hope I was there for her when she needed me. There was no bullshitting her. She could be exhausting and invigorating (often at the same time). Most people don’t think of her as being shy, but she was. We had that in common, but she was better at hiding it than I was. We would get dressed up, I would cut her hair (she called it the “Sadistic Beauty Parlor”), she would slather some makeup on, and we’d go out in search of trouble. We had so many crazy, fun, fucked-up, out-of-control adventures together, so many laughs and tears. She was my sister in crime and mischief, my best friend and muse. I miss her terribly.