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« Film Bitch Awards: Heroes, Villains, Divas, Thirst Traps... | Main | Yes No Maybe So: "Book Club" »
Tuesday
Mar132018

Doc Corner: Andre Leon Talley and Jayne Mansfield Lead the Melbourne Queer Film Festival

By Glenn Dunks

Down here in Melbourne where I live, the Melbourne Queer Film Festival is gearing up for its 28th year. It's got the best line-up I have ever seen for the festival, and in particular the documentary section is full of must see titles. I know The Film Experience readers like to hear about LGBTQI cinema so I thought I'd choose three that focus on the movies and pop culture worlds to look at that will hopefully make their way to cinemas and VOD soon: The Gospel According to Andre, Mansfield 66/67 and Queerama.

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ANDRE

Shame on me, I suppose, for putting on The Gospel According to André and expecting a breezy 90 minutes of glam connoisseur André Leon Talley dishing cutting fashion commentary in caftans and calling everybody “darling” while rattling off designer names like he’s Edina in that Pet Shop Boys song about Absolutely Fabulous. Names! Names! Names!

Talley is, after all, a mainstay of fashion documentaries since his appearances in the classics Unzipped and Catwalk from 1995 on through the likes of The September Issue, The First Monday in May, Valentino: The Last Emperor and the recent House of Z about Zac Posen. What I did not expect from Kate Novack’s documentary was a film that takes the story of one of the American fashion world’s most iconic and recognisable names as a launching pad for an exploration of race and racism through history via the POV of a gay black man.

Even as I sit here removed from being transfixed by Talley’s presence on screen in front of me, I can’t think of any other film that does quite what Gospel does. Not even I Am Not Your Negro explored that in any great detail. Stretching back to his childhood, Talley reminisces about his memories of becoming conscious of fashion by attending a church in North Carolina and witnessing his grandmother and her friends put on their Sunday best. He tells of his own mother refusing to enter the church with him and how later when he would cross town to go read fashion magazines he would have rocks hurled at him. His tall frame coupled with his skin colour and flamboyance made him a particular target for obvious reasons, but it is sadly not something that he was necessarily able to escape once he ventured to New York City and began working at Andy Warhol’s Interview answering phones.

Even when firmly ensconced within the fashion world, Talley was the focus of racist attacks including being nicknamed “Queen Kong”, as well as crude race-focused rumour and innuendo about how a black man could have possibly curried Diana Vreeland’s favour. In another moment, Annie Leibovitz tells a story of a friend who assumed he was an African prince just because he wore a turban.

The film holds remarkable weight in small moments, too, like the one in which Talley muses on what his grandmother, so caring to him as a child, would think of seeing Michelle Obama on the cover of Vogue. This moment in particular only seeks to emphasise the anxiety that surrounds Talley as the movie was being filmed in the lead-up to the 2016 Presidential Election, culminating in an incredible sequence where Talley sets about getting back to work alongside Maureen Dowd live-blogging the fashions of the inauguration only to have the camera linger on a close-up of his face as Donald Trump takes the presidential oath. His face contorts in obvious rage, but is weighed down by incredible sadness. .

This is Novak’s first solo feature, having previously worked alongside her husband, fellow documentary filmmaker Andrew Rossi, as writer and co-director of Eat This New York and as co-writer and co-producer of Rossi’s Page One: Inside the New York Times and the aforementioned The First Monday in May. She shows a real knack for compositions and wrings both poignancy and humour out of several of her sequences. Her ability to subvert expectations within her subject is something that should make her somebody to watch out for – especially in the world of biographical documentaries, which needs fresh perspectives on people now that we live in a world of Wikipedia. The Gospel According to André is the most essential fashion documentary since Bill Cunningham New York in 2010.

Oscar Chances: Sadly unlikely. The Academy doesn't care for fashion documentaries.

Release: Magnolia have the rights so it will get a release later in 2017.

And now some short cuts…

MANSFIELD 66/67

A camp delight of a documentary that relishes in a queer sensibility more than anything particularly gay-themed. Focusing on the final years of Hollywood’s blondest bombshell, Jayne Mansfield, this doc from P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes is the kind of movie that gives new meaning to “strange but true”. While the film gets in early in debunking the urban myth that Mansfield died as a result of a decapitation (she was only scalped, but really what’s the difference when it was fatal either way?), it isn’t, however, quite so keen to let any scandalous detail about her involvement in the Church of Satan and witchcraft go unturned. With a host of underground heroes like John Waters, Kenneth Anger, Cheryl Dunye and Marilyn, and with interpretive dance interludes featuring a collection of hoofing ladies in blonde wigs, Mansfield 66/67 is the sort of Hollywood historical documentary that flies in the face of respectability.

Oscar Chances: Actually received a very small release in 2017, but wasn't submitted for the Oscars. Not that it would've had a hope in Satanic Hell of making it. The Oscars don't do camp. Or docs about movies, for that matter.

Release: Can be watched on Amazon.

QUEERAMA

A work of patchwork created for the BBC’s Gay Britannia season in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality in England, Daisy Asquith’s film is a goldmine of archival footage. It features a bevy of landmark British titles like Victim, Young Soul Rebels, Orlando and many more well-known and obscure entries in the queer canon alike. As a demonstration of queer film and television’s continued radicalism in the face of societal and political homophobia, Queerama is a delight as it hops around throughout the years. However, Asquith and her two editors, Kenny McCracken and Alan Mackay, don't appear overly keen to corral the images into something more rhythmic like Charlie Lyne was able to do with the similarly collaged Fear Itself or the works of Bill Morrison. Meanwhile, the music of John Grant is out of balance with the imagery it’s soundtracking.

Oscar Chances: Zero.

Release: Hopefully it will pop up at a queer film festival near you, or maybe the BBC will release it so that everyone can watch.

 

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Reader Comments (6)

ALT is famously "not gay"...... Does he address that ambiguity in the film?

March 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBD

If you can find the Hilton Als profile of Andre online, there is a shocking part at the end showing how the racism in the fashion world was right in his face 24/7. His life is fascinating...I've read his memoir as well.

March 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBia

Thanks Glenn. I will keep a look out for these.

March 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

I had been looking forward to the ALT documentary and it sounds even more intriguing now. I really hope Magnolia gives it a proper release - I imagine it would do well in theaters, relatively speaking.

March 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

BD, it only briefly touches on the fact that he's had no real romantic partner over his life. There is a story about how his grandmother demanded he return from NYC because he knew he was sleeping with a white woman. "If she only knew", is how he ends the story.

March 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Thanks for this review of the ALT documentary. Now I've read your piece, I'm looking forward to seeing it.

March 28, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterWilliam Kuhn

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