Today is my birthday. What would I love more than anything to celebrate 44 years on this planet? World peace? Sure. An end to poverty? That would be on my wishlist. The soundtrack for William Friedkin’s 1980 masterpiece ‘Cruising’ remastered from the original master tapes? HELL YEAH!!!
And that’s whats happening. The brilliant company Waxwork Records is releasing the ‘Cruising’ soundtrack after sourcing master tapes, liaising with Mr Friedkin and giving the release the love and respect it truly deserves (something we’ve come to expect from Waxwork). And it’s here and it’s queer. Apparently this project has taken the company 4 years to complete.
This release comes at a time when Arrow Video (who are thankfully one of the best Blu ray labels) are due to release the film on Blu ray later this year.
Mark my words- 2019 will be the year that ‘Cruising’ is finally fully reappraised as the classic film that it really is (something that some of us have known since we first saw the film) and will be viewed as a cinematic gem that deserves to be in a lineage of other classic films such as The French Connection, The Exorcist and Sorcerer.
The soundtrack drops this Friday. My essay on ‘Cruising’ is here.
This news is the best birthday present I could have wished for.
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.
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-