Sunday, October 21, 2012

Wigging Out: "Wigstock: The Movie" (1995)

Made in the mid 1990's, this film shows live performances and some behind the scenes footage of the giant New York City based Wigstock festival, where gay and straight alike come decked out in flamboyant makeup and hair. An entertaining enough documentary, although for every good onstage number, there is an equal and opposite bad one.

The film opens with someone named Misstress Formica telling us that the media is brainwashing everyone into being Republicans, something any Republican in their right mind knows is not true, but wishes it were. The film is often a little confusing, showing and interchanging performances from 1993, which took place in a park, and 1994, which took place on a pier. I wonder why the film makers did this, were they short of watchable stuff they could show? Most of the drag queens here look like either Andy Dick or Divine.

The musical numbers are another matter. Lypsinka is so entertaining, s/he deserved their own film. On the other hand, the less said about the Wigstock Dancers, the better. I will have nightmares for months after Leigh Bowery's bizarre birth performance piece, the end credits dedicate the film to him, he died in 1994. The film also follows sometime actor and famous sibling Alexis Arquette as he gets ready for the celebration.

I am a huge dance music fan (I admit it), and the film makers wisely trot out great stuff by RuPaul, Deee-Lite, and Crystal Waters. Again, this is negated by some lip synch numbers that make MTV's limp "Say What Karaoke" show look like auditions at Carnegie Hall.

The lack of primary direction the film makers show is also evident. I never got a sense about why the film was made. Gay pride? Backstage at a huge concert? The drag queen culture? All of these are hit upon, but never to the depth that might have made this more interesting.

I am not sure if Wigstock is going on today, or if the same people are still involved. AIDS is brought up often, and Wigstock has lost many performers that we will never get to see strut their stuff onstage. If anything, I came away from this film with a perspective the film makers never dreamed would happen. The 1994 pier concert forced the performers to sing and dance while looking directly at the New York City skyline, and toward the end of the film, you can see the World Trade Center standing in its rightful place.

Suddenly, all the advice these strange looking individuals are dishing out makes perfect sense: loosen up, have fun, and celebrate yourself, because as AIDS did then, and terrorism and war does now, we realize that no one is immortal. What have you done today to leave your mark on this planet? You do not have to cure cancer, but as these people show, you can live your life and be happy, and still be totally fulfilled.

For what it is, "Wigstock: The Movie" does succeed. It is funny that something this shallow and silly will have you questioning deeper societal problems. I do slightly recommend it. (* * * *) out of five stars.