Wednesday, July 14, 2010


(Richard Benner, 1977)
At first I reacted against the sentimentality of the madness-as-nonconformism theme, which is really mostly down to Hollis McLaren; as Craig Russell's heavily medicated roommate, she can get pretty hackneyed expressing her mental downturns with hushed gibberish or staring through the fingers. But in between episodes she really gets to articulate the bill of outsiders' rights, and Russell is right there with her. No comparable cliches in this film's depiction of the Toronto gay scene, a diverse yet claustrophobic enclave that places transvestites on the bottom of a depressingly rigid hierarchy - an economic threat to closeted hairdressers, stealth patriarchs to the second-wave dykes. At a time when cinematic queerness was synonymous with effete self-loathing, this sympathetic and detailed depiction of a complex, vital skid-row subculture was decades ahead of its time, and has real time-capsule value today. All of which to say is that they're far from just marking time between Russell's impersonations, which are definitive even if he did steal them from Mae West herself. Put it all together and you've got a film that synthesizes social engagement and entertainment value with almost unprecedented verve.

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