“Split” is a surprisingly unsentimental celebration of a life that was as much a self-creation as it was a product of the times. Subtitled “William to Crysis: Portrait of a Drag Queen,” hourlong pic delves into the life of International Crysis (1951-90), an infamous Gotham drag queen, performer, confidant of Salvador Dali and regular habitue of Studio 54.
Not only was Crysis a product of her own creation, but she was also its victim: She died at age 39 of cancer, caused by seepage from wax and silicon breast implants. Yet the film never waxes sentimental. When Crysis is told of her cancer she sneaks into the hospital bathroom to smoke a cigarette.
Booted out of her home at age 14 for what she calls “differences in taste” with her family concerning her wardrobe, Crysis arrived in a fashionable Manhattan gay scene where cross-dressing was made chic by Warhol superstars Holly Woodlawn and Candy Darling and glitter groups like the New York Dolls; discos like Studio 54 celebrated androgyny and “La Cage aux Folles” was a hot ticket on Broadway.
Pic uses fragments from Crysis’ monologues, performances and interviews counterpointed with talking-head comments from friends and cohorts. There is also ample footage — transferred from video — from New York’s annual Wigstock, a public drag fest celebrated on Labor Day.
Also discussed is acceptance of gay lifestyles and the difference between being a drag queen and a transsexual; Crysis lived as a woman 24 hours a day, taking female hormones and having breast enlargement, and yet didn’t make the final decision to endure a complete sex change.
Tech credits are OK, and theme is a natural for gay and lesbian film festivals.