J.B. Ghuman JR's Once Upon a Dream

First published on VICE.com, August 30, 2014. Read the original, with photos, here.

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.

For Lepore, who says Monroe is an inspiration, it was important to bring joy to the story. “She recreated herself, which most transsexuals can identify with,” Lepore told me. “Marilyn was unhappy being Marilyn, but I’m happy like this. I feel like ‘Marilyn’s Revenge.’”

Make no mistake though: She might be Monroe’s reincarnation, but Lepore is an East Coast woman. “I loved the whole thing since I got to be next to Amanda,” Jake Shears said of the shoot. “Because I was just starting to get a little homesick for New York... and basically Amanda just straight up is New York.”

And the shoot is straight up Ghuman. It reminded me of his 2010 directorial debut, Spork. Like a John Hughes flick from another dimension, Spork followed the travails and triumphs of an intersex girl nicknamed Spork and her dancing neighbor Tootsie Roll. Despite the film’s low budget, Ghuman managed to distil glitter and trash into a sumptuous, whacked-out dreamworld where reality is optional and time is relative—an aesthetic carried through in Once Upon a Dream.

To find out more about Ghuman's newest vision, I called the director to talk about his Monroe-Kennedy fantasy.

VICE: How did this shoot come together?
J.B. Ghuman Jr.: Reggie Cameron, who produced the installation (a.k.a. Money Bags), said Amanda Lepore is going to be here for a different function, and would I be into doing a single photo of her underneath the Marilyn Monroe statue, because she’s constantly saying that Marilyn is her inspiration. I'd met Amanda before—through Cazwell, because I've done videos with him—and I thought this could be cool.

What inspired you to create an art project about Kennedy and Monroe?
[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!”

What’s your broader vision for these art projects?
Buckle up, girl, cause it's bright, it's quick, and it's crazy—and it has lots of glitter. When you know you're different, no matter where you're at, you become very imaginative. Not to get too heavy on you, but my dad became stardust about four years ago. When that happened, I kind of lost my identity. When I rebuilt myself, the only thing that didn't get blown away was my childlike heart. All that stirred inside me into some mumbo jumbo until I figured: Fuck it. Let's be cool. Let's make stuff where people like it so it's a hit, but on the flip side there's an echo to it, like it creates a certain positive energy when you look at it.