These notes were written on the occasion of Tilda Swinton being awarded a medal in honor of her work at the 38th annual Telluride Film Festival.
I first met Tilda in a world that no longer exists. That constellation was called the Bowery Bar, and its primary astronaut was a man named Erich Conrad. In that pre-9/11 atmosphere—it was the June, July or August before that momentous event; love stuck to the Bowery Bar booths that summer like bare knees—New York thought everything was possible, and so did Erich Conrad. At Beige, the party he’d hosted at the Bowery since 1994, Conrad facilitated the crowd’s shy and big energy by opening the space to the superficially divergent worlds of fashion, film, and journalism, and then standing back to watch what happened. Inevitably those various disciplines, and the artists behind them, found one another in the glow of Beige’s continual disco beat, but only if you listened.
The throwaway theme on most of those Tuesday nights was that one was not alone in this world, certainly insofar as one’s aesthetics were concerned. Liquor might help you find the rest. Tilda doesn’t drink, but I do, and it was a combination of liquor and nerve—or nerve made plucky by its pickling—that I said to her, approaching her booth, “Tilda Swinton! We’ve been looking for you!” (The “we” I was referring to included a close friend of mine; at the time we were making a series of documentary portraits of performers we admired. Tilda was on that list.) Fortunately for me, Tilda was sitting next to her close friend Jerry Stafford; he knew my work, which made me, perhaps, at second glance, a more socially acceptable lunatic. “You’re the man who wrote about X,” Jerry said, naming a fashion editor we were both close to, and Tilda beamed, and said, “Somebody invite Hilton to my screening,” and I sat down, and the conversation, thus begun, continued and continued for days and months and years, all the way into the now and beyond, in the cosmos of our shared imagination.