Man of the Year (1995): Serio-Comic Look at Dirk Shafer, Playgirl’s 1992 centerfold

Docu Dramedy (B&W/Color)

Original but not satisfying, Man of the Year provides a serio-comic look at Dirk Shafer, Playgirl’s 1992 centerfold, using the strategies of both real and mock documentaries.

Pleasant to watch and intermittently clever, the closing night selection of Outfest may warrant limited theatrical release. Its commentary on passing, being a media celebrity, and sexual politics may hold special interest for gay and other hip viewers.

One can only guess what motivated writer-director-star Dirk Shafer to opt for a comic-dramatic hybrid that mixes real-life persona, such as himself and his sister, with actors who impersonate his parents and the magazine’s editor. Was it reluctance to disclose completely his life, or perhaps sincere belief that recreating events in an embellished manner will enhance the wit and irony in a tale of a man who fooled the media for a whole year.

In November 1991, Shafer, a hunky blond whose photogenic qualities surpass his actual handsomeness, was chosen as Playgirl’s Man of the Year. Low on cash, and apparently still in the process of coming out, Shafer decided to fully embrace
his celeb status–at a price. Though close friends and family knew he was gay, he had to be careful in his public image, living a double life that caused tension in his evolving relationship with Mike (Michael Ornstein).

The clips selected from Shafer’s talk show appearances, which included Joan Rivers and Donahue, are all real. “1992 was the year of the talk shows,” says his publicist Betty (Cynthia Szigel) and, indeed, Shafer goes from one show to another, shrewdly anticipating the questions he’d be asked (“What do women want” “Who’s the ideal man”) and the straight answers he’d give.

Chronicling Shafer’s place in the sun for a year, docu contains interviews with his parents (Cal Bartlett, Claudette Sutherland), who reconstruct his childhood, close friend (Vivian Paxton) from Oklahoma, a diehard fan Lady La Flame (Rhonda Dolson), who turns on him upon learning he’s gay, and even a cameo by supermodel Fabio, who at the end of the film acceptingly says, “the world is beautiful because it’s colorful.”

Shafer aims high, as the story is by turns comic and tragic (a subplot involves AIDS), but his writing is uneven. In spots, it’s bright and witty, but there are too many cliches that while true aren’t sufficiently funny–or revelatory. “He never could keep his clothes on,” says his mom; “I told him to get a real job,” notes his dad.

The structure is repetitive, alternating interviews with colorful montages of Shafer (posing in bathing suits, etc), though fast tempo helps. Too much time is devoted to the segment “Win a Date,” which is shot in black-and-white, with a nod to Claude Lelouch’s A Man and a Woman and its famous score. A first-time director, Shafer keeps the camera too close to his subjects; visually, pic relies heavily on talking heads addressing the audience.

Terminating at the end of his reign (December 1992), what’s missing is an update of what was the media’s reaction to Shafer’s coming out–Playgirl’s editors surely know they have large gay readership, and Shafer was probably not the first gay to decorate their pages. It would be interesting to know what kind of life Shafer led after being in the spotlight not for 15 seconds, but for a full 365 days!


An Artisan Productions presentation. Produced by Matt Keener. Executive producer, Christian Moey Aert. Co-producer, Simon Bowler. Directed, written by Dirk Shafer. Camera (b&w, color), Stephen Timberlake; editor, Barry Silver, Ken Solomon; music, Peitor Angell; production and costume design, Michael Mueller; sound, Jack Lindaner, Giovanni DiSimone, Arnold Anderson; associate producers, Jeff Collins, Jeff Marens. Reviewed on videocassette (in Outfest ’95), L.A., June 26, 1995. Running time: 87 min.

Dirk Shafer…………….Himself
Vivian Paxton…………..Herself
Deidra Shafer…………..Herself
Mike Miller…….Michael Ornstein
Tammy Shafer..Claudette Sutherland
Ken Shafer…………Cal Bartlett
Kelly Bound………Beth Broderick
Betty Levy……….Cynthia Szigel