Article Title:Screaming Queens; Irene
Author or Credit:John Curry
Published on:28th May 2006 - 12:00 pm
Story ID:1261
Text:Review: Screaming Queens - The Riot at Compton's Cafeteria Dir: Susan Stryker USA, 2005, BetaSP, 55mins This tempest in a coffee mug doesn't have the notoriety and hence the iconic status of the Stonewall riots, but it did happen two years before them and as the movie shows it was a defining moment for the drag queens involved. This is an absorbing canvas of interviews, archival footage and some subtle re-enactment moments. The historical clips show two drag queens in a staged duologue talking about their desire to be themselves (and thereby become ordinary, law-abiding citizens). Then there's a coloured, professional movie about 'special' beauty contestant winners being interviewed, and some amateur footage of a drag ball. The actual riot at Gene Compton's Cafeteria was on the face of it a sudden retaliation against the police for their continuous harassment of the queens. But, as the film thoughtfully shows us, more, much more was happening in San Francisco and throughout the ‘States. The impact of the Vietnam war led to a boom on the San Fran prostitution scene; urban re-development threatened the cheap hotel housing the queens had enjoyed in the Tenderloin; LBJ's 'War on Poverty' (coinciding with the local arrival of a charismatic black priest) meant the local Methodist church began an outreach programme; the alternative culture wars with 'gender' becoming a political statement were raging in San Fran; and in the case of the queens themselves, gender reassignment surgery suddenly (and at long last, way behind Europe) became available. Being free to be yourself was not only the mood of the moment, it became possible as never before. All of the interviewees went on to have the 'op'. Screaming Queens includes an interview with a policeman who was put in charge of bringing about something positive out of the fracas. He is also glimpsed in archival clips chairing a big public meeting concerning this. And yes, the most powerful moments in the movie are when the women make it clear they all went on to become 'decent' citizens once they were free to be themselves. * Preceded by: Irene Williams: Queen of Lincoln Road Dir: Eric Smith USA 2005. BetaSP, 23mins The perfect aperitif before the main show was this adorable piece about an elderly, four-foot woman - Irene. Made by Eric, a self-confessed 'hag fag' who enjoys hanging around elderly women, this short movie was also about 'being yourself.' In Irene's case it meant designing her own colourful clothes (and hats - don't forget the hats!) Eric films Irene over a ten year period and we get to see her at home and at work, but mainly on Lincoln Street in Miami, where Eric first runs into her. She walks to work every day and is often stopped by folks who congratulate her on how wonderful she's looking and sometimes tourists take pictures of her. Just like Schiaparelli, Irene doesn't use patterns. And she's not above improvising when it comes to materials either. She has a fabulous chartreuse hat and matching bag made out of a shaggy toilet seat cover and u-shaped floor mat! Thank you, Eric, for this warm fuzzies flic and thank you, Irene, for sharing yourself with us. Oh, if only life were always this colourful! John Curry - 28th May 2006    
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