By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Last week's batch of de rigueur politically incorrect entertainment involved attention-grabbing "trannies" and "fag hags," plus a drag queen in love with a lesbian and a real-life lesbian rock star who became a straight woman when her girlfriend transitioned to a man.
And you wonder why I don't get jaded?
The Tribeca Film Festival rocked with Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives, Israel Luna's controversial film shot in Dallas–Fort Worth about a group of transsexual entertainers who are brutally attacked on a group date and turn into ass-kicking "tranimals" to fight back. The grindhouse homage is very Faster, Pussycat Kill! Kill! meets Charlie's Angels, but at the screening, Luna told me he was actually inspired by I Spit on Your Grave and an obscure Linda Blair vigilante film called Savage Streets. (Did he ever see Blair in Born Innocent? I wondered. "Yeah!" he exclaimed. "She got raped with a plunger!")
The film has gotten it from both conservatives and the LGBT community, and one screening was even greeted with a bomb threat. ("That's what I call 'makin' it,' " said Luna, trying to rise above the real-life revenge tactics.) Most famously, the gay watchdog group GLAAD has been on his case, about which he told me, "They're nice to speak with. The problem is the head of GLAAD. He's an asshole. There are certain people who you can't change a word of what they're going to say. They've made up their mind."
For one thing, GLAAD found it demeaning that the characters seem more like drag queens who could easily be considered "ridiculous caricatures" of femininity—I guess to them, the only good transsexuals are the ones trying to blend quietly into society—but I found the women funny, tart-tongued, and caring. (So shoot me if they were also breasty and well-accessorized.) I adored them! And they even use condoms! The male villain, on the other hand, is an openly transphobic and absolutely psycho bat-wielder, and he comes with two equally maniacal accomplices! So we're basically mad at a movie where sympathetic gals bond in sisterhood and kick ass when nutjobs start hating on them? Shouldn't GLAAD give this an award? (Sidebar: Years ago, they loved As Good as It Gets, in which a bland gay gets brutalized and is completely abandoned by his friends, leaving him with a straight woman and a homophobe who nobly decides gays are OK. Even if they abandon their friends.)
I'm not saying that Trannies is a perfect film. It's a bumpy ride, tone-wise. (After the brutality, it gets campy too quickly before finding the right mix of loopy and kickass.) Also, I'm not a fan of fighting violence with violence; like the original vengeful trannie, Norman Bates, I wouldn't hurt even a fly. But this is expressly an exploitation-film tribute—a color-saturated Times Square fantasy done in Bush country—and besides, its closing line is very wise on the subject of bloody revenge. And even when I was mildly appalled, the whole thing stirred up rich feelings the way so few movies do—it's a real trannie trip and a half—so I'd have to give it two giant switchblades up the butt. Besides, protesting these Trannies has only given them a way larger spotlight. Luna told me he's on the verge of getting a distributor and he's even planning a "tran-quel." Fasten your jockstraps.
Oh Me, Oh Maya
Also at the festival, Bobby Sheehan's Arias With a Twist: The Docufantasy turned out to be a vigorous look at the collaboration between performer Joey Arias and puppeteer Basil Twist, with six brilliant sound bites from a talking puppet named yours truly. After the film, Arias and Twist said they're preparing another show for the fall, and they're also hoping to cook up a Mayan-themed spectacular complete with human sacrifices and half-naked warriors. And Arias (who was sporting a cute Scottish boyfriend) confirmed that he's met with a producer to do a feature about the life of German aria-singing wacko extraordinaire Klaus Nomi. He said it'll star another Scotsman, Alan Cumming, as Klaus—"with Johnny Depp as me," he cracked. ("No! Scarlett Johansson!" yelled someone in the crowd.) "It'll be the real story of Klaus Nomi," assured the performer, getting serious, "not [the documentary] The Nomi Song."
Let me stay at the festival and tell you that Elvis and Madona was your standard candy-colored Brazilian flick about a drag-queen entertainer who falls for a lesbian pizza deliverer, as everyone triumphs over adversity to basically put on a show in daddy's barn! (Like the ticked-off trannies, this drag queen is brutally beaten, but seeks revenge through lip-synching.) And in the alternate world of heterosexuality, Meet Monica Velour drums up another offbeat duo—Kim Cattrall as an aging porn star of classics like Saturday Night Beaver and Dustin Ingram as the hot-dog-hawking nerd who's obsessed with her—for a sweet and funny little coming-of-age flick that strips Cattrall of artifice and other things.
And then came the lesbian-turned-straight-woman—Gossip lead singer Beth Ditto, whose wife is now her husband, the name "Freddie" pretty much covering it either way. But that's not shocking compared to what else Beth told me for Paper's "Beautiful People" issue—that she used to steal outfits at Goodwill and Marshall's, just for convenience sake!