Harry Shearer, Getting In the Faces of the Famous

Caught on tape: John Edwards primping in a makeup mirror and flipping his hairdo like a cheerleader. Larry King gulping popcorn while covering Ronald Reagan's funeral. Ralph Nader, Dan Quayle, Ollie North and Dan Rather staring into space and looking, well, weird. These are some scenes from "Face Time," Harry Shearer's new video art installation. A Hollywood Renaissance man -- he hosts a satirical radio show, performs as the voice of Montgomery Burns on "The Simpsons" and starred as the bass player in "This Is Spinal Tap" and "A Mighty Wind" -- Shearer met fans last night at a reception while his eerily silent collection of politicians and pundits unspooled on 17 Samsung wall monitors at Conner Contemporary Art in Dupont Circle.

"I started my collection with the 10 minutes [of video] preceding the Nixon resignation. I got a pristine copy in the early 1980s. That got me hooked," Shearer told us earlier in the week. "It's a sad addiction for me."

But it's an entertaining one for those who crave behind-the-scenes glimpses of important people's facial tics and other preoccupations while they wait to yak on camera. Shearer declined to say where he obtains the footage, much of which appears to be from un-aired satellite feeds. "These are all found objects," he said.

Stills taken from the monitors are for sale, but, the artist says, "The only thing of value you can take from this is the experience of seeing it." Standard question: But is it art?

"I put double air quotes around 'art,' '' Shearer replied. "This is totally ephemeral." And this particular collection of silent talking heads won't be in town long: Free showings run through Oct. 16.

Shearer, meanwhile, is already touting his next project: "I'm writing 'J. Edgar!,' a show for Broadway. The show-stopping number will be 'I Enjoy Being a Man,' with J. Edgar Hoover in a lovely gown, wearing pearls. It takes place at a party at Roy Cohn's house. Half the people there are in drag and the rest are male escorts."

We think he's serious.

Maureen Dowd, Giving the Prez Some Props

* Maybe New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd isn't as much of a Bush-basher as everyone assumes, or perhaps she's just repositioning her "Bushworld" book for red-staters. "If Bush is dumb, why is he running Kerry around in circles?" she asks in the new Rolling Stone. "He never took advantage of his opportunities in terms of Yale and Harvard or absorbed as much as he could have in his father's White House. But I think he's bright." And Dowd confesses to becoming jingoistic after 9/11: "I stopped buying French wine and French mayonnaise. I'm very patriotic."

Is she still avoiding French products? "It's not a formal boycott but an impulse I get sometimes when the French are being particularly annoying," she told us last week. "Kendall-Jackson tastes just as good as Pouilly-Fuisse." Quelle surprise!


* Shall we call him "the Rev. Plotkin"? WTOP's Mark Plotkin is slated to speak today at St. John's Episcopal Church, the house of worship favored by President Bush. The outspoken political commentator, whose politics are as far from the president's as his religion -- Plotkin is a self-described "high-holiday Jew" -- will address congregants not from the pulpit but as part of its 10 a.m. adult forum, held in the basement. "I'm flabbergasted they'd invite me," he told us. "I know people think I engineered this, but on this one I'm clean." His main beef is the lack of voting rights in Washington, and naturally he plans to address the issue: The prez "says he wants democracy -- he wants democracy everywhere in the world except his own back yard," Plotkin opines. But Dubya, who attended last week's services, isn't likely to get the message: He's scheduled to be at his ranch in Crawford, Tex., today.

* Cosmopolitan's latest issue -- "The Bachelor Blowout 2004: The Hunkiest Hunks in America" -- only confirms the longtime lament that there are no desirable men in Washington. After surveying thousands of readers, the mag picked hot guys to represent each of the 50 states. But just as the District doesn't have its reps in Congress (just ask Plotkin), it doesn't have a cute dude either. "We would love to be able to include D.C. in the future -- however, we're just not getting responses from the area," a Cosmo spokeswoman told us. "It seems everyone who sends us nominations of people that they know, they always end up living in Maryland or Virginia. If this can be a start of D.C. coming up with those guys, hey, we'd love to have him."

Annals of Puffery

An occasional verbatim press release

"A recent poll from the Better Sleep Council shows that 42 percent of Americans will have more sleepless nights if George Bush is reelected and 40 percent will have more sleepless nights if John Kerry becomes our 'Commander in Sleep.' While Americans are in a dead-heat on sleep loss, 57 percent agree that a little sleep is okay to lose if it means staying up to watch the results of the election come in. . . .

" 'If voters are anticipating sleepless nights due to this election, then they have even more reason to make sleep a priority,' said Nancy Blatt, executive director of the Better Sleep Council."

With Anne Schroeder