"Venus Boyz" scores as an utterly fascinating, beautifully crafted exploration of the world of drag kings -- women who dress, perform and/or live as men. Gabriel Baur's quietly resplendent docu is as carefully composed and structured as the manufactured masculine personae of the women she's filming.

“Venus Boyz” scores as an utterly fascinating, beautifully crafted exploration of the world of drag kings — women who dress, perform and/or live as men. Gabriel Baur’s quietly resplendent docu is as carefully composed and structured as the manufactured masculine personae of the women she’s filming. Shot over a period of several years, pic profits greatly from a relaxed intimacy with its subjects who, being people that matter-of-factly flaunt a sexual duality, spend a lot of time discoursing on the nature of gender, performance, empowerment and social role-playing. Winner of the Best Film award at the Semaine de la Critique at Locarno, pic’s arthouse future seems assured, while its radically different, sometimes astonishing sexual content promises a healthy cable and video life.

Although pic eschews all voyeurism in any pornographic sense, its actors compel attention. Cheekily provocative Mildred/Dred, sweetly feminine data processor by day and funky male rapper-stripper by night, reaches down into the mesh sack between her legs, pulls out an apple, takes a big bite out of it and puts the partially eaten fruit back in the sack, less a taunt than a gift to the audience which whistles its appreciation.

Drag King pioneer Diane Torr, garbed as her alter ego Danny King, a stocky middle-aged businessman, expounds on the relative merits of cotton or rubber crotch-stuffers to a gaggle of incredibly callow wannabe-males enrolled in her workshops.

German performance artist Bridge Markland, who admits to an obsessive love of pin-striped suits, dons one of her favorites to transport a New York crowd back to the Weimar Republic, incarnating a bald masculine monster a la George Groz via starkly exaggerated facial expressions, a prehensile tongue and a fat black cigar.

And in London, De LaGrace Volcano, a photographer whose startling images range from studies of drag king Mo B. Dick divided down the middle (woman on the left side, man on the right) to loving close-ups of hermaphroditic genitalia, takes us into a subculture of “new men” who experiment with male hormones.

Baur oftentimes resorts to all kinds of cinematic artifice — blur motion, superimpositions, impressionistic swirls and unfocused patterns — to defuse any disconnects from one person to another, stressing her subjects’ mutual milieus, shared transgender constructs and alternative family groupings. She also spends a lot of time on bridges, whose symbolism for those situated between two sexes is articulated early on by the aptly-named Bridge Markland and given a peculiar frisson by the constant presence of the World Trade Center on the horizon.

Lensing, by Sophie Maintigneux, and all technical credits are superb.

Venus Boyz

Switzerland

Production

A ONIX Filmproduction production in association with Clock Wise Prods., WDR, Teleclub, Zurich. Produced by Kurt Maeder, Gabriel Baur. Co-producers, Nina Froriep, Andrea Hanke, Heike Hempel. Directed, written by Gabriel Baur.

Crew

Camera (color, 35mm), Sophie Maintigneux; editors, Salome Pilschen, Daniela Roderer, Jean Viles; music supervisor, Margot Core; original music, David Shiller; sound, Ingrid Stadeli, Rupert Ivey. Reviewed at New York Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, June 7, 2002. (Also in Locarno, Berlin Film Festivals.) Running time: 105 MIN.

With

Diane Torr, Dred Gerestant, Del LaGrace Volcano, Bridge Markland, Mo B. Dick, Storme Webber, Shelley Mars, Queen Bee Luscious, Hans Scheirl, Svar Simpson, Judith Halberstam.
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