A great wee find on YouTube (so its free) is this thoroughly entertaining HBO documentary by then newbie director Patti Kaplan about some of our favorite Drag Queens. The year is 1997 and Jeff Roberson aka Varla Jean Merman is so young he is totally unrecognizable in men’s attire : Lady Bunny had more than one wig ; the great Charles Pierce was still alive ; and best friends Lypsinka and Charles Busch were already topping bills.
There is no real plot as Kaplan captures ‘the girls’ made up to the nines on a Christmas shopping spree in NY, then later at Mardi Gras in New Orleans (who knew that so many of them came from the South), and finally bussing off to perform in Philadelphia Gay Pride..
The only ‘act’ they put on is when they are performing on stage, each on them talented in their own way, and with a real sense of genuine camaraderie that one suspects is totally missing these days. This is what is often called ‘old-school’ drag when wearing a wonderful costume/frock was simply not enough, and people expected to be really entertained Kaplan shows clips of them all doing just this, even including Charles Busch performing his breakthrough role in his smash hit play Lesbian Vampires of Sodom, Lady Bunny and her infamous Pussy Song, and the glamorous Charles Pierce as the perfect Marlene Dietrich
It’s odd that so many of today’s Television programs are called ‘Reality TV” when ‘reality’ is the very last thing one ever sees on shows like the ubiquitous Drag Race. The success of this in particular has given rise to such an emphasis on superficiality and appearance as winners know that they can rely on their fame and not necessary a talent for their future..
Some of the performers featured from this more fascinating era have disappeared from the limelight, others have changed. In Candis Cayne’s case, she transitioned.. Others are still as happy as ever with their lives as they are. Charles Busch being one of them, as he declared ” I never wanted to be a woman . I wanted to be an actress.
Drag time is a wonderful step back in time for not just aficionados of drag but those of us who wanted good old-fashioned entertainment.