Tag Archives: Drag Queen

IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: VEGAS IN SPACE (1991)

DIRECTED BY: Phillip R. Ford

FEATURING: Doris Fish, Miss X, Ginger Quest, Ramona Fischer, Lori Naslund, Tippi

PLOT: Space troopers go undercover on the planet Clitoris in the fabled women-only city of Vegas in Space, where a plot to steal Queen Neuva Gabor’s jewels threatens the galaxy.

Still from Vegas in Space (1991)

COMMENTS: Can you critique camp? Is there even any point? The very act of trying to evaluate it immediately denotes you as someone who could never “get it.” If you’re not turned off by the credit “Based on the party by Ginger Quest”, it’s not as though a cogent analysis of the plot is going to scare you away.

So let’s raise a martini glass to the DIY-fabulous vibe that permeates Vegas In Space. For a sci-fi epic, the film is almost deliberately ramshackle, with landscapes that look less realistic than the opening credits of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and sets that rival After Last Season. But who cares about covering the walls with tinsel and tin foil when you’ve got a chance to put your energies where they really count: costumes and makeup. This is first and foremost a drag show, and the queens of Vegas In Space take advantage of the opportunity to go beyond the usual outrageousness of the format, combining the traditional bitchy repartée with an array of colorful skin paints and unusual alien prosthetics. If you paid your money for “intergalactic drag show,” you will not walk away disappointed.

There’s a charmingly catty spirit to the enterprise. The film is loaded with entendres that barely work up the nerve to be single. Snipes are mean but toothless. But the filmmakers seem to actually be interested in the plot, of all things, which leads Vegas In Space to commit the sin that would be most appalling to any self-respecting drag queen: it gets boring. As the space captain and Vegas’ queen of police bicker over who stole the jewels and what the consequences will be for the galaxy, it’s impossible to avoid thinking, “Who cares?” We’re here for the drag queens; do not try to save the cat.

With the main joke of the movie out of the way early on, filling out an hour and a half is going to take some (and I really am sorry for this) padding. There’s an eyebrow-raising interlude in which Captain Tracey and Queen Veneer encounter an ancient creature called a Drag, who is surmised to be the missing link that led to the evolution of womankind. There’s also a creepy dream sequence for one of Tracey’s lieutenants, the secretly competent Sheila Shadows, who has surreal visions of the coming catastrophe. But even the film seems to recognize these are mere distractions, as we quickly get back to the plot development that matters most: the Earth trio’s cabaret show. 

As mentioned, the overall vibe is “we’re amazing and we don’t really care what you think,” and for a film allegedly based on a party, that’s fitting. And it’s to the filmmakers’ credit, in light of the considerably more fraught behind-the-scenes tale. Ford and Fish shot the movie in fits and spurts over the course of 18 months at the start of the 80s, and then scrounged up money wherever possible for post-production over the course of the next eight years. Fish actually died of complications from AIDS before the film was finally released, meaning Vegas In Space stands as an unlikely valediction. So there’s a level at which it’s remarkable we got a film at all.

Ultimately, whether or not this ends up being a fun night out likely depends on the audience. For the devoted, Vegas In Space is a long-awaited induction of sci-fi into the drag canon. For the curious, it’s a novel diversion. For weird movie aficionados, it’s probably a busted queen.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

Vegas in Space certainly earns its cult status just for how weird it is, especially with its intentionally tacky aesthetic… If you’re a fan of campy sci-fi, you might get some enjoyment here, but there are better options. Overall, Vegas in Space might appeal more to drag fans, but it’s only watchable as a curiosity.” – Matt, Film Nerd

(This movie was nominated for review by Baal, who deemed it “Troma crossdressing campsploitation.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: TO DIE LIKE A MAN [MORRER COMO UM HOMEM] (2009)

DIRECTED BY: João Pedro Rodrigues

FEATURING: Fernando Santos, Alexander David, Gonçalo Ferreira de Almeida, Chandra Malatitch

PLOT: A conflicted pre-op transsexual drag queen lives with a suicidal junkie.

Still from To Die Like a Man (2009)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  I originally wrote: “it’s in the weird ballpark, but Man would need radical surgery to become the poignantly bizarre gender fairy tale it dreams of being.”  As discussed in the comments below, the version of the film I saw was not the version the director intended; but, the film I watched wasn’t quite strange enough to make it onto the List, and restoring the author’s vision would only make it less weird.

COMMENTS:  Funny story.  It turns out that To Die Like a Man isn’t nearly as annoying as I thought it was.  One of the first notes I jotted down in my initial viewing of the film read “telepathic commandos?”  This is because the film opens with a scene of two men in camouflage in the woods staking out a house occupied by two men in drag.  The soldiers speak to each other and their lips move, but there’s no sound; we read their conversation in subtitles.  It seemed like a curiously weird way to start the film, but the silent dialogue continued through the film’s entire two-hour plus running time; we can hear sounds in the background, we can hear it when characters sing or sob, but when they speak—nothing.  Although we’re accustomed to reading titles in foreign or silent movies, to hear birds singing and leaves rustling, see an actor’s lips moving, and yet be banned from hearing their words proves far more frustrating and irritating than you would think.  It robs the actors of half their expressiveness and inhibits our bonding with their characters.

I assumed the silence was an alienating technique designed to put us inside the estranged worldview of Tonia, the confused pre-op protagonist.  But, it turns out there was a simpler explanation for the motif  that I hadn’t thought of.  As it turns out, someone botched the preparation of the digital version I saw via Netflix’s streaming service so that the dialogue track was completely missing.  Oops.  For that reason, I can’t really give To Die Like a Man a Continue reading CAPSULE: TO DIE LIKE A MAN [MORRER COMO UM HOMEM] (2009)