Thursday, June 21, 2007

Drag Show Video Vérité

Birthday's can be a drag, so Billy decided there'd be no better way to celebrate his, which was actually yesterday, than by inviting friends to join him at the free screening of "Drag Show Video Vérité: The Ultimate NYC Drag Show on Video Tape," at the Bruno Walter Auditorium, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center earlier tonight.

The video presentation, curated by self-tagged "drag historian" Joe E. Jeffries, included 32 clips spanning over 35 years of rare and never before publicly screened footage capturing the faces, places and performances, past and present, of New York City's drag scene.

The first video clip was of Rollerena (more drag persona, than queen) who rolled onto the 1970's NYC drag scene wearing black roller skates, rhinestone-studded cat eye glasses, a small crown, leotard top and layers of petticoat skirts (think Glynda the Good Witch in head-to-toe East Village thrift). Rollerena, who attended the screening in full regalia (sans skates), appears in the black-and-white footage spinning and sparkling her way through the streets of Manhattan, magic wand in hand. The 1970's New Yorkers seem absolutely childlike marveling at Rollerena's antics as she skates through crowds and traffic, pirouetting and circling surprised pedestrians, whom she gently taps on the head with her wand. In Greenwich Village, mid-town, Fifth Avenue, and Washington Square Park, the reactions were all the same -- instant smiles and stares of wonder elicited from queers, tourists, elderly, suits, bums and children alike. Lovely, really. Rollerena's magic is as simple as it is pure.

Other favorite clips included televised performances of Jim Bailey, channeling Judy Garland, and Charles Pierce, sharp as a razor as he slices through a monologue/improv as a high-camp Bette Davis. These two represent the very best of the 70's/80's night club female impersonators. I was able to find a youTube clip (below) of Jim Bailey, as Garland, performing for Prince Charles and Princess Diana in the early 1990's. [Note: he ain't lipsynching, folks.]

The three other pieces that were worth the price of admission alone included Jimmy James' vidoe montage entitled, "The Marilyn Years", which played as he sung "Stay Gold." I was in complete awe; visually and vocally, he is she. The next, 1988 backstage footage from the Pyramid Club's dressing room that included candid video of Lypsinka (chatting incessantly as Joan Crawford while snacking on her macrobiotic "din din"), RuPaul (arms, legs, hair flying through the camera shot) and a delightfully young and lithe, Lady Bunny (without a wig!!), who vamps and bats, licking her overly glossed lips, looking more like a slutty redneck than drag-royalty-in-training. Completely and totally awesome. And finally, a 1988 clip of International Chrysis doing a Burlesque strip act at boy bar (down to panties and garters only, mind you), which is simultaineously impressive and moving. Now dead, International Chrysis really had mega presence and was gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.

I was most disappointed in the clips of Kiki & Herb (just plain bad footage from their Tony-nominated, Carnegie Hall show "Kiki & Herb Will Die for You"), Holly Woodlawn, and that of Jackie Beat (2004 rehearsal footage of "Love Hurts" from Squeezebox), which failed to capture her unique talent.

Like every drag show I've ever been to, there was one "performer" that can only be described as "tragic." Noche, a "mature" Latina, miss-synchs her way through a 2005 cellar video of "Too Darned Hot." It was like watching an ambulance (with lights & sirens blaring) crash into a Washington Heights bodega. The droopy eyes, sweat-rivulet encrusted pancake makeup, crooked wig, overly mascaraed false eyelashes and too, too tight 1984 prom dress castoff bedeck this "lady" as she earnestly twists, turns and winks her way through this drag classic, desperately trying to keep up. I loved it. The only thing better than good drag, is bad drag.

We finished off the evening with too much sushi at Momoya, which seemed appropriate.

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