“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.