Gay Pride parades and festivals across the world celebrate sexual diversity in all of it’s myriad forms. But let’s face it — as the TV news clips and photos remind us each year, Pride is about drag.
Librarians from Idaho and other conservative gays and lesbians complain each year that drag queens don’t represent the millions of “normal” LGBT people, but guess what? They do. Because nothing causes one to question and re-consider traditional gender and sexual roles like a big ol’ drag queen.
A handful of ground-breaking drag-themed films have done just that. The fact that each of these films was either based on, or inspired, a stage musical proves that drag is the ultimate gay spectacle that thrives on live performance.
“Some Like it Hot” (1959) is the great grand-daddy of all drag films — and the greatest comedy ever made. Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis give the finest comic performances of their careers as two musicians on the run from the mob who become “Josephine” and “Daphne” and seek refuge in an all-girl band. Marilyn Monroe is luminous and touching as the object of their frustrated lust, and Joe E. Brown utters the best closing line in all of film when he discovers that his fiancee is a man.
“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975) is the gender-bending rock and roll “Frankenstein” spoof that became the cult film to end all cult films — and caused a generation or two to come out of the closet. Tim Curry’s Dr. Frank-N-Furter draws the wholesome Brad and Janet (Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon) into his web of bi-sexual desire. Fish-net stockings, corsets and feather boas ensue.
“Victor/Victoria” (1982) is Blake Edwards’ gender-bending musical sex farce starring Julie Andrews as a penniless singer who, under the tutelage of Robert Preston’s drag queen, masquerades as a man masquerading as a woman. James Garner is a delight as the macho man who finds himself falling for her and/or him.
“La Cage Aux Folles” (1978) is the French farce that inspired the bombastic Broadway musical of the same name, and the less-inspired American film “The Bird Cage” (1996). Two long-term gay partners who run a drag club try to conceal their true selves to impress the conservative family of their son’s fiance. At it’s core, the film is about family, love, and sacrifice. The original French film is still the best.
“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” (2001) stars writer/director John Cameron Mitchell as a German punk rocker whose not-quite-complete sex change (hence the title) leaves her trapped between both genders. The musical echoes elements of all of the above films, but is drenched in an edgy, 21st Century drag sensibility.
“The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” (1994) follows two drag queens (Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce) and a transexual (Terence Stamp) on a fateful road trip through the Australian outback. Jam-packed with bitchy repartee, the film proves that “You can make a fine living in a pair of heels.”