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Fabulous!

By Adrienne Martini

OCTOBER 12, 1998:  Clearly, drag queens don't deal well with reality. And, when you get right down to it, why should they? It's not a pretty picture. No matter what kind of box office The Birdcage did, folks at large still think the average queen is some kind of sick pervert, instead of the fun-loving, mascara-wearing package of fabulousness she is. While this attitude is changing (slowly, oh so slowly), Nigel Finch's Stonewall (1995, NR) shows us one of the watershed events in gay history, the 1969 riot at Stonewall, a quasi-secret gay Manhattan club.

On its surface, Stonewall the movie is your typical coming-of-age type story—hick kid moves to big city and learns something important. But Matty Dean (Fred Weller), the hick kid, has the heart of a revolutionary beneath his aw-shucks exterior. He hooks up with LaMiranda (Guillermo Diaz), a tough queen whose fierceness masks a terrified soul, and Ethan (Brendan Corbalis), who simply must over-analyze every act and render it safe. LaMiranda and her companions function as a Greek chorus and comment on the action through musical numbers, which largely work to break the sheer misery of the plight of the homosexual in late '60s New York City. Finch's film is heavy-handed at times, but he approaches the subject with all of the over-the-top-ness that would make any Ru Paul admirer proud. Perhaps some of the rougher moments in this independent flick could have been ironed out, had Finch not died during the final edit.

Jennie Livingston's Paris Is Burning (1991, R) was the documentary that broke the closed circle of the New York City drag circuit and brought all of its color and drama (if you'll pardon the expression) out of the closet. Paris focuses on the transvestite balls, their many permutations and participants, and Livingston captures some pretty raw moments before her subjects slip back behind their beautiful facades. She won the Sundance Award for Best Documentary and had the dubious distinction of having Madonna rip off all of the drag contestants' vogue moves.

Australia, however, seems to be the center of all that is divine about drag. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994, R) only proves that Australians may have a better grasp on their own sexuality and, therefore, are better able to deal with those who deviate from the perceived norm. While there are a few run-ins with unenlightened natives, Priscilla is largely a fun, glam, eye-candy kind of film, which still manages to tie a heart-warming story of a father and son with all of the bitchiness of three queens (Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving, and Guy Pearce) trapped in a broken-down bus. Lizzy Gardner and Tim Chappel won an Oscar for these fab costumes. And I still deeply admire anyone who can walk in humungous heels better than I can.


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