Here Comes the Sundance
New Films Premiere During Network's Out Loud Filmfest
Being a film nut in June this year is like being a kid in a candy store. Through its Fourth Annual Out Loud Filmfest, Sundance Channel has loaded more GLBT cinematic treats into this month than most people get to gorge themselves on all year. Two of the most interesting, The Cockettes and By Hook or By Crook, will have their world TV premieres on Sundance.
The Cockettes, which gets its first screening June 21, is an awesome documentary about the "hippy, acid-freak" drag queen troupe that was all the rage in San Francisco from 1969 to 1972. At one time the ensemble was a topic of a Rolling Stone article, and super critic Rex Reed called The Cockettes, "a landmark in the history of new, liberated theater."
Filled with archival footage, the film tells us about the crazy, sexy, chaotic ensemble of men and women from all walks of life; black, white, gay, straight, you name it. They started out as adventurists who communicated through drag, wearing satin, velvet, lace, studs, tights, rhinestones, and looking effeminate, even with facial hair. They were more than today's drag queens parading around, telling jokes, and lip-synching. Their founder, Hibiscus, decided to take their showcases from the streets to the stage, namely at San Francisco's Palace Theater.
From their first show, on Halloween 1969, The Cockettes blew up weekend shows that initially were unprepared, undirected, unscripted, filled with inane acts that featured show tunes, and dance routines in which performers were sometimes clothed and sometimes not.
Eventually disciplined, the troupe put out original shows like "Pearls Over Shanghai" and "Journey to the Center of Uranus" (starring the soon-to-be-legendary drag queen Divine) - shows filled with crazy song and dance numbers, done with obnoxious glittery costumes, a superabundance of drugs and rebellious sexuality.
The film does more than just tell a tale, though, about the group itself. Directors Weissman and Weber include home movies, photographs and first-hand accounts from surviving members about the time, the people, the city and the vibe of it all. Not one part of the film trails away, but evenly flows, telling the viewer about this barely remembered corner of the shagadelic 1960s.
Want to know what happened to The Cockettes when they went to New York City? Or which disco diva performed with The Cockettes for a brief period of time before hitting it big? If so, definitely watch this documentary. It's funny, it's sad, and it educates.
In contrast to The Cockettes, a documentary about a crazy bunch of performers, By Hook or By Crook is a fiction film with a crazy narrative. It is also premiering on Sundance, with its first rollout on June 28. The film has won numerous awards from both the 2001 Los Angeles Outfest and 2001 Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival.
This is one wild, confusing, but entertaining ride, written and directed by, and starring, San Franscisco drag king performers Harry Dodge and Silas Howard, both making their feature film debuts.
The film is crazy, gender-bending, confusing and edited like a out-of-control music video. Shy (Howard) leaves behind her dull life in Kansas for a new one in San Francisco. She's tired of being poor, and feels stealing is going to better her life. She meets Valentine, played by Dodge (and badly in need of some Ritalin), who's searching for her birth mother.
Though the film moves slowly and unevenly at first, eventually the pace picks up. After a failed robbery, being questioned by the police, and Dodge's arrest and placement a sanitarium, you actually start feeling for these characters, and care about what's happening to them.
Odd and different as it already is, the film ends in the same type of fashion. Does Valentine find her mom? Will her mom like her? Will Shy ever have money? No happy ending, no sad ending, By Hook or By Crook may leave you confused, or thinking "what if ...." But it definitely won't leave you the way many mainstream films do, saying, "I paid 8 bucks for that?"