`Cockettes' is the '70s at its most outrageous

July 19, 2002|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

San Francisco as the 1970s were dawning: Outrageousness was the buzzword, sex was there for the asking, drugs were the fuel of choice, and nobody, it seemed, regarded hedonism as a bad thing.

Thankfully, you didn't have to be there to appreciate what went on. The Cockettes makes sure of that.

Arising from the city's post-Summer of Love anarchy, the Cockettes were the result of what happens when you throw sexuality, morality, accountability and maybe a few other -itys in the blender, a performance troupe for whom mayhem was a goal and exhibitionism the way to achieve it. These guys (and girls too, although not all the Cockettes welcomed an actual female presence) made David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust persona look like a Boy Scout.

"They practiced complete sexual anarchy," says John Waters, an early fan and kindred spirit, "which is always a wonderful thing.

"They were a bunch of hippie, acid-freaked drag queens," he adds during one of several on-camera interviews. "That was really new for the time. It still would be new."

Started by an adrenalized free spirit who started life as a New Yorker named George Harris before rechristening himself as Hibiscus, the group began life in 1969 as a warm-up act for a midnight underground film series at Frisco's Palace Theater. By the time they disbanded - or, more accurately, imploded - three years later, the Cockettes had taken their act to the Big Apple, been roundly panned and continued to not care a lick about what anyone said, so long as a good time was being had by them all.

First-time documentary filmmakers Bill Weber and David Weissman have come up with a film that pays tribute to this band of performance-art pranksters - their high-water mark was a film in which they acted out their own version of Tricia Nixon's 1971 wedding - by both capturing their unquellable spirit and memorializing a time and place so far removed from today as to seem almost otherworldly. The Cockettes is a grand place to visit, even for those who wouldn't want to live there.

The Cockettes

Directed by Bill Weber and David Weissman

Released by Strand Releasing

Rating Unrated (language, nudity, drug use, pervasive outrageousness)

Time 98 minutes

Sun score ***1/2

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