Friday, May 19, 2006

Superstar in a Housedress: DVD Review

Andy Warhol's "superstars"--the strange mixture of misfits and the super-wealthy, the fame-seeking and the druggies and dragqueens who hung around him--are so often so overshadowed by the Warhol myth and fame that it's easy to forget that these were people and artists themselves, many who had interesting and succesful careers entirely apart--before and after--the Warhol phenomenon. Jackie Curtis is probably best known for her appearances in the Warhol/Morrissey films Flesh and Trash and as the inspiration behind one of the verses of Lou Reed's song, Walk on the Wild Side:

Jackie was just speeding away,
Thought she was James Dean for a day
But I guess she had to crash.
Valium would have helped that bash.

But as the documentary film Superstar in a Housedress (2004) reveals, Curtis was so much more, an artist whose medium was his own body, an accomplished playwright, poet and performance artist. Curtis wasn't exactly a drag queen per se: his goal was never to pass as a woman on stage, as with most drag queens at the time, but rather to play with gender roles every day, on stage or off. People who knew him say that when Jackie rang their doorbell, they never had any idea what they were going to see: Jackie in a torn Halston dress and giant red afro, dressed as Lana Turner or James Dean (According to the film Jackie dressed as James Dean for a year, not just a day). The film points out that if--among the Warhol's superstars-- Candy Darling was the beauty and Holly Woodlawn the talent, then Jackie Curtis was the brains.
The film offers a heart-felt tribute to the gender-bending artist, whose medium, his own body and style of dress and mode of behavior, by its nature didn't leave enough behind. The film interweaves interviews and period footage to create an energetic and entertaining (and sadly, ulitmately tragic) look at an underappreciated great.

The film includes some great extras, especially the footage of Jackie dressed as Frances Farmer, smoking a cigarette, reading her own poetry. It's casual, strange, cool, angry, generous, sophisticated and haunting.

FilmStocker Rating: B+


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