In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb darkest hour ver3

Darkest Hour

Darkest Hour stands apart from more routine historical dramas.

Thumb man who invented christmas

The Man Who Invented Christmas

Not particularly keen on nuance or subtlety, this is a film in which everything, especially Stevens’ decidedly manic take on Dickens, is pitched as broadly…

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives
Other Articles
Blog Archives

Reviews

Wigstock: The Movie

  |  

"Wigstock" is an annual outdoor drag festival held on Labor Day every year in Manhattan, where, the city being fairly blase about such events, most of the audience looks straight and middle-class, and the performers extol dressing in drag and wearing outrageous wigs as a form of self-discovery. Therapy, even.

The show is a sort of low-rent Woodstock, with a big stage, a painted backdrop, and a great deal of amplification equipment for the performers, most of whom lip-synch to hit songs, and one of whom is actually named Lypsinka.

Advertisement

There is a career to be made here: Lypsinka has become an underground star, and then there is the towering superstar RuPaul, coming home to the show that started it all, and remembering that he was advised he was just too tall to be a woman: "There wasn't no big, black drag queen in the pop world," they told him, but "look at the - - - - - now!" The documentary, filmed at the 1992 and 1993 Wigstocks, goes backstage to show performers rehearsing and philosophizing about life in drag. It's a little startling to see them in and out of costume and makeup, and to realize most of them actually look better as women than as men: It's like a little object lesson about how much women, too, depend on makeup to create illusion.

We meet "The Lady" Bunny, who emcees the event, has a sense of humor about it, and tries to persuade the city to put a wig on the Statue of Liberty (no luck). And Alexis Arquette, brother of Rosanna and Patricia, and looking enough like them that they could do a family version of the Andrews Sisters. And the Dueling Bankheads, who are more or less what you would expect, twin Talullahs - except, of course, that you wouldn't expect them.

The usual female singers are evoked in the lip-synch numbers: Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli, Diana Ross. Lip-synching is an art I have never much appreciated; in the old days of TV's "Original Amateur Hour," it ranked down there somewhere below playing "Lady of Spain" on the accordion. What is good, onstage at Wigstock, is the dancing; we see the hours of rehearsal that go into the routines, and it's obvious many of the performers are gifted, probably professionals.

The underlying message of "Wigstock" is pretty obvious. The drag queens discuss their lifestyle as if it were the most normal things in the world, while we're thinking, gee, maybe it would seem more intriguing if they weren't so matter-of-fact. There is a sense in which all those who deviate from the norm - body piercers, leather fetishists, transvestites, people who get tattooed, or are into S&M - seem compelled to tell us how ordinary and healthy their practices are, when I, for one, would be more interested if they said their lives took them far beyond everyday experience into the hinterlands of the bizarre. Everybody wants to be accepted.

Advertisement

"Wigstock" is basically a big outdoor production of your average drag show. There are moments that are fun, and people who are smart or engaging, and the obligatory reaction shots of the cheerful audience, but there's none of the documentary skill and insight that went into a film like Jennie Livingston's "Paris Is Burning" (1991), a documentary that gave us a sense of the drag life as a self-contained universe with drama, sorrow and anger, as well as the good times. This movie puts a safe, public face on people who surely cannot be as conventional as they appear here.

Popular Blog Posts

Why I Stopped Watching Woody Allen Movies

Stop watching movies made by assholes. It'll be OK.

Netflix's Marvel Spin-off "The Punisher" is a Lightweight

A review of Netflix's new Marvel series, "The Punisher."

60 Minutes on: "Wonder Woman"

One of the best superhero films, in large part because the title character sincerely believes in values larger than a...

William Peter Blatty: 1928-2017

The work of the late author, writer and director William Peter Blatty will continue to haunt the dreams of readers an...

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus