Queer On Demand: Ladies or Gentlemen | Buzz Blog

Monday, September 14, 2009

Queer On Demand: Ladies or Gentlemen

Posted By on September 14, 2009, 2:42 AM

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Frankly, I almost never see movies or TV shows on first run. A movie requires such a long series of negotiations with friends ("What night should we meet?"; "Should we have dinner first?"; "Which restaurant?"; "Which movie?"; "Is Megaplex still considered unacceptably homophobic?", etc.), the probability that plans will actually work out rarely exceeds 50 percent. --- With those odds, why bother?

As for TV shows, the networks are such leather daddies with their harsh, disciplinary lineups ("Your show is on Friday night at 9 p.m.--and don't make me get the paddle, boy!"), it would be difficult enough to organize a viewing schedule around just one channel. So who could possibly comply with a dozen different strictly enforced schedules, each determined to compete against and outdo all the others? It may be tempting to try, but you'll only end up exhausted and, in the final reckoning, everybody will end up unsatisfied.

That's why I'm such a big fan On Demand. It's sort of like TiVo, but it's built into Comcast's digital cable service without the need for additional equipment. The basic shuttle controls (start, stop, pause, fast-forward and rewind) work reasonably well, and there is a ton of content available. Episodes of major premium-cable series become accessible the day after they premiere, and there are lots of movies, specials and surprises on offer--for anybody with enough patience to negotiate the labyrinthine interface with its complicated system of sub-sub-sub-subcategories.

There's also good amount of queer content available, if you can find it. (Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, since last year's brief dalliance with the Here! cable network, Comcast has offered no LGBT categories in the Salt Lake City market.)

So, in hopes of being helpful, Brandon's Big Gay Blog will periodically alert readers to any On Demand content of interest I happen to stumble upon.

Here's my first stumble:

Now available: Kevin Burns' documentary Ladies or Gentlemen.

Synopsis: Produced as part of the "Starz Inside" series, Ladies or Gentlemen (premiere date: January 20, 2009) presents a broad overview of cross-dressing in Hollywood movies.

Rating: Three Lavender Hankies

How to Navigate: Select > On Demand | Premium Channels | Starz On Demand | Starz Originals | Starz Inside | Ladies or Gentlemen

Remarks: In case you misread that, the director is Kevin Burns, not Ken Burns, which is why its runtime is 53 minutes instead of 12 hours.

This may be both a blessing and a curse. The "Starz Inside" series is a great concept: Pick a Hollywood trope such as vampires, gamblers or comic-book characters, then intersperse a series of related movie clips with insider commentary--instant mini-documentary! Still, given its sub-hour format, the series is strictly for entertainment purposes. Directors should avoid any ambitious temptation to offer scholarly insights into complicated social matters.

And this is where Ladies or Gentlemen falls down--due not to any limitations of the director, but only network time restrictions. With all the authors, producers, directors and PhDs interviewed, Burns must have gathered enough material for a 150-minute feature--and then had to painfully pare it down. Due to this--apart from some vague hand-waving toward ancient Greek and Shakespearian theater, as well as Laurel & Hardy (!) comedies--the viewer is left with the awkward impression that the origins of Hollywood cross-dressing can be traced back mainly to Some Like It Hot and Tootsie. In the absence of any overall academic thrust, the occasional quips from scholars, activists and journalists seem more jarring than insightful.

It's simple to see how this could happen: The topic of cross-dressing comes with the maximum amount of cultural baggage imaginable. I think Burns' intention was to do real credit to his subject--and how easy would it be to get bogged down in all that?

Still, Ladies or Gentlemen is worth watching, for some memorable moments: Tony Curtis reminisces about what it felt like to dress in drag for Some Like It Hot, Camille Paglia overthinks everything as usual, and John Waters is (finally!) given a unique opportunity to talk about something other than John Waters. The breadth of its treatment means everybody except the geekiest of movie queens will find something new to place on their "to-watch" list.

Strange omissions include a minimal treatment of Boys Don't Cry (consisting of a screen shot and nary a mention). There's also a curious claim in reference to Hairspray that, "Ironically, the movie that finally dragged Divine into the comedy mainstream was also one of his last." (From what I understood, Divine died days after seeing Hairspray's reviews. Is it possible that s/he had some other feature in the works at the time? If not, why the weasely "one of"?)

At 53 minutes, it's a small time commitment, and there are lots of fun surprises involved. Go ahead and watch it, is my advice ... not that you asked me.


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