'Wigstock' documentary a drag festival that drags

July 07, 1995|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

"Wigstock: The Movie," which opens today at the Charles, is about drag, the lifestyle.

Big, tall fake hair is only part of the package; the other parts are makeup, heels, pantyhose, clingy dresses, extravagant lipstick, undergarments, et al. -- anything that makes a man more like a woman.

The movie, an amateurish effort, celebrates a yearly Manhattan drag queen festival called Wigstock. In it, anyone wearing clothes of the opposite gender is permitted to get up on stage and shake, rattle, roll and lip sync to the music of his choosing.

The movie certainly captures the outrageous uninhibitedness of the whole thing. Imagine 6,000 guys singing "I Feel Pretty" with gusto and you get the picture. So in one sense it's a battle cry of freedom: Lots of men, feeling those little town blues, come to New York, N.Y., and let it all hang out, knowing if they can wear heels here, they can wear heels anywhere.

On the other hand, the film doesn't really go anywhere, and its 85 minutes come to feel claustrophobic, once the shock wears off. The shock isn't enough to sustain the whole thing.

Rather than a panorama, director Barry Shils might have focused on one or two of the queens and gotten to know them intimately. What drives them, what forms them, what explains them, what pleases them, what part of themselves are they expressing? Are they gay? Are they straight? What about the other parts of their lives?

Instead, the movie specializes in raucous spectacle and 35 or so numbers, which vary considerably in professionalism (and watchability). RuPaul is the best and it's no surprise why he became famous; he's a brilliant performer. But some of the others aren't performers at all: They're up there indulging themselves.

Director Shils puts the softest of soft questions to the participants and never presses. The movie is really less a documentary than an infomercial.

"Wigstock: The Movie"

Documentary

Directed by Barry Shils

Released by Samuel Goldwyn

Unrated (adult sexual content)

**

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