A documentary about Danny Fields, the record industry A&R man/artist liaison/cultural barometer who was the friend of so many great bands and artists and more importantly, had a hand in making sure they could get record deals and record their music so that their genius could be shared with the world.
This documentary gets it just right- there are moments of animation to illustrate the narrative but these don’t overpower the film, there are many musicians and personalities who are either interviewed or spoken about but it doesn’t feel like some kind of bragging rollcall. There are also perceptive and very interesting insights into being gay in a small town and also when Danny had left home and was carving his adult life.
As for the artists, all of the groups and singers who changed my life are here. From hanging out with The Velvet Underground to working and socialising with The Doors, The Ramones, Jonathan Richman, The Stooges, Nico, MC5…This is a life spent in the thick an alternative American musical history and you feel privileged to be a part of this. There are also hidden gems that are priceless- a taped phone call with Nico, a recording of the first time Lou Reed is played The Ramones and how elated he is by it.
I bought Raw Power by Iggy and the Stooges at the age of 14 and it changed my life. And Danny Fields is partly responsible for this. This documentary helps to shed light on a hidden force who made this possible.
From the director of the quite extraordinarily brilliant How To Survive A Plague comes this film.
Marsha P Johnson was a black transvestite/drag queen (there was no ‘transgender’ then) who hung around Christopher Street in the 60s until her mysterious death when she was pulled out of the Hudson River in the early 90s. As we hear from one person captured on video back then who witnessed her body being recovered there appears to have been some kind of wound on her head. Could there be more to Marsha’s death than just the officially held cause being accidental? Was it suicide or homicide?
David France expertly tracks the work of Victoria Cruz in unearthing and unravelling what happened to Marsha whilst celebrating this revolutionaries life. Moments of this documentary are sometimes very shocking. One such is when Ms Cruz telephones a retired member of the NYPD who she asks to meet to discuss the circumstances surrounding Johnson’s death. ‘Definitely not’ he responds to her meeting request. He then warns her ‘Don’t go playing detective’. Sinister.
This film feels like new unexplored relics and answers from LGBT history being unveiled right before your eyes.
However, there are politics at play regarding the film. Some members of the non-white trans movement are slamming France’s work as hes a white cisgender (non-trans) man who is making this film rather than a trans person of colour. There have been accusations of theft of material from another project that was being made by the trans community regarding Johnson. There are also accusations that David France could get funding and distribution because hes white and cisgender. I think these accusations are just a case of sour grapes. If you are a filmmaker who has made films before, have a proven track record and can actually accomplish these projects through to fruition then you will get funding and distribution. How long have we been waiting for the fictionalised short film Happy Birthday, Marsha? I’m amused that its fictionalised- so was Stonewall in 2015. Lets see if there are protests regarding this new film if events are seen to be historically accurate.
Also, does it matter whether the person making the film is trans or cisgender or what their ethnicity is when the film they make is as great as this?
There seems to be a huge emphasis on Marsha and Sylvia Rivera when it comes to LGBT history and the Stonewall Riots. But when anyone else is represented they are lumped together and not given the same kind of detailed analysis or be the centre of attention. I’d love a similar documentary on Danny Garvin, Martin Boyce or the person widely believed to have started the riots- Jackie Hormona (Marsha P Johnson admitted in an interview that when she arrived at the Stonewall Inn on that fateful night in 1969 that the rioting had already started. The interview is here- makinggayhistory.com/podcast/episode-11-johnson-wicker/ She dashed off to Bryant Park to tell Sylvia Rivera who had taken heroin). You don’t know who Garvin, Boyce or Garvin are? Thats very telling.
A great documentary. Now lets hear about other Stonewall voices.
This film was actually made in 1986 (although I’ve read it was actually shot in 1985) but not released until 1990 as there were censorship problems as to the graphic nature of the film’s proceedings.
The film is loosely based on the lives of real life serial killers Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole.
Henry lives with Otis. They both met in prison when Henry was serving a sentence for murdering his mother. Otis’ sister comes to stay with them and instantly falls for Henry. Peppered throughout the film are random victims of Henry shown in differing locales and killed using differing methods. Henry continues to kill but we start to see the involvement of Otis. There is even a scene in which Henry passes down his wisdom regarding serial murder to Otis. Henry now has a new partner in crime. Or does he?
The first time I heard about this film was on a TV review show which had celebrities talking about new media. Malcolm McLaren was chosen to watch and talk about Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and had said that it was so shocking that he hadn’t slept since seeing it! The ultimate recommendation for a horror movie.
The first time I actually got to see the film was when it was released on video in 1990 in the UK. However Henry’s butchery wasn’t the only I was to witness but also that of the BBFC. They had a massive issue with the scene in which one of the random victims is shown to be a dead naked woman sat on the toilet with a broken bottle in her mouth and the home invasion that Henry and Otis not only commit but also film on a camcorder. The film is now uncut in the UK and common sense has prevailed.
Henry feels more like a grimy, gritty documentary which was shot by a silent conspirator rather than a glossy, polished Hollywood film in which the police arrest the assailants at the end. There are no police in Henry as the transient main character moves on and the killings seemingly continue.
The arrival of this film signified a major new hallmark in the horror genre as this film was so brilliant executed (pun not intended), directed and acted. I can’t imagine anyone else inhabiting the role of Henry other than Michael Rooker. He performs the central character with a very strange, very unsettling disconnect and utter lack of emotion, almost like he has a forcefield around him. Tom Towles needs mentioning also as the sleazy, rat-like Otis. Try and watch his performance without your skin crawling.
A perfect film that was in fact lauded by critics including Siskel and Ebert (yes you read that right! They praised the film whilst taking the opportunity to further criticise the Friday the 13th films. Bore off!) I remember at the time of GoodFellas reading a Martin Scorsese interview in which he said that the film had seriously disturbed him too and that it thought it was amazing. The film was so loved by critics that it was a film which helped with the introduction of a new classification for the MPAA. That classification was NC-17 (it had been suggested that the new certification would be A for Arthouse- films that were felt to be of artistic merit but somewhat violent and/or sexual). However NC-17 replaced the old X rating and the stigma remained. Some cinemas still won’t show NC-17 films, some newspapers won’t advertise these films either.
The film has now been restored with the gorgeous looking and sounding 4K print being released on Blu ray. Now thats karma. Lets hope theres a similar karma when it comes to the MPAA’s ratings system.
I first saw Leigh Bowery in the late 80s. I was at the cinema when a commercial for Pepe Jeans was played featuring Leigh. This advert which only lasted about 2 minutes left such an indelible impression.
I first saw the documentary The Legend of Leigh Bowery about five years ago and again was gobsmacked. This is amazingly made with a multitude of interviews with collaborators, family and friends. The breadth of the source material of footage and audio featuring Bowery is breathtaking- this project was obviously a labour of love and the director Charles Atlas throws himself into the making of this documentary with gusto and passion. And it shows.
Who was Leigh Bowery? He is hard to categorise. Artist, fashion designer, pop star, musician, nightclub proprietor/superstar… But most importantly he was Leigh Bowery the personality. He defies all labels. And this is one of the most brilliant things about him and the multitude of ways that the documentary conveys this.
The film shows how Leigh became recognised firstly by his outlandish patronage of carefully chosen nightclubs. Because of this the film becomes so much more. It depicts the underground gay clubbing scene of the 80s in London- a world that spawned the New Romantics (in an interview we hear Leigh say that he always preferred this movement to any other) and was built around the idea of transforming oneself into a legendary entity and the whole ritual of ‘getting ready’ to go out (brilliantly articulated by Michael Bracewell in the film) and all that that entails. From a dingy bedsit in the suburbs arty loners could metamorphosise into larger than life characters and create new personae for their chosen nocturnal wonderlands in the neon soaked big city.
London in the 70s and 80s was unparalleled for this- after glam rock and punk, the New Romantic scene had exploded in a mushroom cloud of Elnett and Boots No 5 make up. And that was just the boys. It attracted brilliant creations such as Marilyn, Philip Sallon and Steve Strange.
Whilst this scene and its main stalwarts were brilliant and revolutionary for their time, Leigh was so much more. He was a one man subculture who was still several hundred years ahead of his time. He liked to subvert- gender, the body, sexuality. This documentary depicts this amazingly. Leigh liked to use his body as a canvas and this film is like a catwalk for him to show the world the diversity of his alien visions.
Leigh’s personality and quirks are also evident through the wide range of sources and interviews used for the film- his love of embarrassing people, his love of cottaging (also a key part of 80s gay life), his love of getting a reaction from people but through using his brain rather than just using shock tactics for the sake of it.
There is also a feeling that whatever he turned his hand to he mastered brilliantly. His pop groups Raw Sewage and Minty have to be heard (and seen) to be believed. Here is his genius cover version of Run DMC’s Walk This Way-
And heres how it came about-
Another amazing thing about this film is the music used on the soundtrack- its just as avant garde and original as Bowery. Its a shame that a soundtrack was never released.
In these times of RuPaul’s Drag Race and its imitation of all that was genius that has gone before I can’t help but cherish Bowery’s work and this film even more. He was authentic and that authenticity is even more astounding when watered down versions by more mediocre and conventional drag artistes are foisted upon us. Imitation isn’t the sincerest form of flattery. Its just really shit.
I’ve now seen this documentary several times and think of it as a film I could watch at any time and thoroughly enjoy. I honestly think this is one of the best examples of the genre and one of the best films I’ve ever seen. I urge others to discover this gem and experience the genius of Bowery for themselves. And here it is-