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Why we’re covering this: In last week’s Drag Race finale, when Bob the Drag Queen told RuPaul that he was inspired by her appearance in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar, he hit upon a central truth about queer cinema — we’ve long been inspired by drag in film. So we wanted to share some of our favorites. That and, it’s only the first week without RuPaul’s Drag Race and we’re already suffering extreme withdrawal. One of our staffers is in the corner hyperventilating in a pair of heels and boa. She’s a mess — a hot, sequin-covered mess.
Yes, you miss Drag Race already. Who doesn’t? And you’ve already seen Paris is Burning a dozen times on Netflix, because you’re a person with a pulse and a need for O-P-U-L-E-N-C-E.
As a lover of drag though, you could stand to watch one or more or all of the following films. There’s more to drag than reality competition shows, after all. In the world of celluloid drag there’s con jobs to be pulled, weird heterosexual interlopers, fake pregnancies, high school scores to settle — y’know, the entire spectrum of human experience.
For the sake of satisfying my own personal fetish for organization, these films exist in two categories. Here goes:
1) Drag as performance, as work, as hobby, as intrinsic to life.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of The Desert
As aspirational guides to life go, this Australian dramedy of drag queens brightening up The Outback out-everythings To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar. It got there first, and it wore it best. It’s the Mad Max: Fury Road of films featuring people lip-syncing to CeCe Peniston’s “Finally.”
Underseen 1968 documentary featuring old-school drag performers and at least one future trans woman, competing in a pageant that was judged by, among others, Andy Warhol. It was made in a time when virtually everything about it was illegal, and it serves up both the legendary Crystal LaBejia and International Chrysis. Come up with better drag names than those, why don’t you? You can’t.
Torch Song Trilogy
Straight-up weeping is on the menu as pioneering out gay actor Harvey Fierstein takes his stage play to film, alongside Anne Bancroft as his judgmental mother. It’s a whole lot of downbeat, but it also proves that lip-syncing for your life is only what you do when you can’t actually croak it out all live and froggy.
Wigstock: The Movie
A concert documentary and Who’s-Who of 90s drag, including The Lady Bunny, Lypsinka, RuPaul, Jackie Beat, Alexis Arquette, and the staggeringly strange genius of the late Leigh Bowery. Watch in stunned amazement as Bowery “gives birth” on stage. Your senses will never be the same.
Female Trouble/Pink Flamingos
None of Divine’s characters were in “drag.” They were simply incredible women performing incredible acts of cultural terrorism. Hence, they exist in a world of their own. As an introduction, watch these two films as many times as it takes to memorize every line of dialogue (“Kill everyone now! Eat shit!”). This is mandatory.
A time capsule of the late 1970s, this Canadian comedy follows a drag queen/hairdresser and his mentally ill female roommate as they lean on each other for support. The trailer promises “a world you’ve never seen” and makes good on that by not showing you anything of the film.
2) That time I tricked everybody by going full Mrs. Doubtfire.
Some Like It Hot
Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis dress like women to escape the mob. Then they meet Marilyn Monroe. Thanks to heterosexual penises, it gets complicated. A classic.
Just One of The Guys
“I WILL BE A REPORTER,” she says. “BUT YOU ARE A GIRL,” says the horrible man. “I WILL PUT ROLLED UP SOCKS DOWN MY PANTS AND CUT MY HAIR,” she says. Result: Best movie of the ’80s and also maybe of all time.
Dustin Hoffman, an out-of-work actor, dons full drag and auditions for the female lead in a soap opera. He gets the job. Then he meets Jessica Lange and Some Like It Hot Syndrome sets in.
Katherine Hepburn is a con-artist on the run disguised as a man, meets Cary Grant, and, well, you get it. Much like Barbra Streisand in Yentl, you will not be convinced for one moment that anyone would mistake Hepburn for male.
Julie Andrews stars as a down on her luck singer who pretends to be a man who’s a drag queen. Got it? It’s the most sophisticated, complicated, and fully realized gay film of the mistaken identity/trickery genre. Andrews broke out of the Mary Poppins/Sound of Music mold for good, here. Essential viewing.
(This story was originally published on June 6, 2015)