Monday, June 1, 2009

Cinematically the Waist

I think tomorrow is a "Say Something" hat day. -Miss Vida Boheme

To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995)
Starring Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze, John Leguizamo
Directed by Beeban Kidron
Costumes by Vince Palomino and Marlene Stewart

Long before our fanatic obsession with RuPaul's Drag Race, there was our fanatic obsession with the outrageous queens of To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar. Come to think of it, instead of our diva alter-egos, the ladies of AnA could just have easily adopted the personas of the films three queeny protagonists:

Starring Ms. Streisand as Vida Boheme

Ms. Ross as Noxeema Jackson

and Dolly as spitfire Miss Chi Chi Rodriguez.

But that's neither here nor there.

Though the idea of three drag queens traveling cross-country was not necessarily new territory in 1995 (To Wong Foo's Australian counterpart, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert had been released a full year earlier) the film still stands as a triumph for drag queens and for queer cinema as a whole. It is rare even in a post-Brokeback/Milk world for A-list actors (don't scoff, it was 1995) to play openly gay characters in mainstream comedies. Hollywood's version of queer life is often still one of struggle and tragedy, but as our gorgeous, eloquent, Oscar-winning husband Dustin Lance Black said months ago at the New York screening of Milk, "Gay people are funny!" Per usual, well said, Sir.

To Wong Foo is a virtual treasure trove of brilliant quotes (Little Latin boy in drag… why are you crying? and more wardrobe changes than a Mitzi Gaynor TV special. The outfits are legendary, ridiculous and over the top, in short, these are professional drag queens. However, speaking from a sartorial standpoint, the real joy is Vida Boheme’s wardrobe; a mix of Douglas Sirk melodrama and Valley of the Dolls kitsch. Patrick Swayze, the lucky gal, got to wear some of the cutest looks seen on screen that year. Belted bodices, poodle skirts, say-something hats and at least one magnificent train. Sure, she might not have been as pretty as Chi Chi or as fierce as Noxeema, but Vida was by far the most chic. The design team should have won an Oscar for turning Johnny Castle not just into a woman, but a lady.

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