Venus Boyz

At New York's Club Casanova, the young and little-know drag king movement is forming. Director Gabriel Bauer follows an evening's acts into their lives and presents the many reasons these women wish to be "Venus Boyz."

Laura's Review: B-

'I really am a Bridge' says Berliner Bridge Markland while crossing over one into Manhattan. Proclaiming an early love of androgyny and an act based on a love of pin striped suits from her father and uncle, Bridge is the most professional of the drag king performance artists we will see. Bauer follows her preparations, but Bridge is always 'on,' performing even when off stage. Her onstage antics are intriguing, whether deconstructing the sex bomb or performing lewd tongue gymnastics in Weimar garb. The crowd of mostly woman dressed mostly in male drag eat her up. Drag queens have been part of the American culture for decades, but their counterparts, the kings, are practically unknown with the exception of Brandon Teena, whose story was documented, then fictionalized in the Oscar-winning "Boys Don't Cry." Bauer's mini bios capture different flavors of kings, from those who merely enjoy the dress up to the more extreme testosterone experimenters, but while the documentary is informative, as entertainment it veers into repetition and extremism which will marginalize its audience. Mildred Gerestant is a Haitian-American data processor who morphs into Dréd, a most convincing rapper she finds empowering. Mildred professes to enjoy both sexes, although her romantic relationship with next subject, Storme Webber, a fortyish, dreadlocked, naturally androgynous poet turned into friendship. Webber seems more bohemian intellectual than drag king, although she makes interesting observations about cross dressing and her native Indian and African cultures. Scottish born Diane Torr has been performing as a man for three decades and holds workshops for women who wish to become men. That's ironic, because Torr is the least convincing of the bunch, appearing like a female Eddie Izzard impersonator. Torr is also bi and has a perfectly natural mother-daughter relationship with teenaged Martina, who criticizes her show for being too stereotyped. Del Lagrace Volcano, who lives in London, has a very male presence due to her experimentation with testosterone, the effects of which are not known yet. Del has found a niche with a similarly extreme group, which she introduces through a film made by friend Hans Scheirl, "Pansexual Public Porn," an outdoor porno featuring strangers of various sexual determinations. Del pushes the sexual nature of the documentary by first telling tales of the 'experimentation' of getting gay males to have sex with those like herself (they succeed). Lagrace is fascinated with female genitalia and mutations of said and produces photographs of the subject, art perhaps more extreme than that of Robert Mapplethorpe and not for all viewers. There is a touching scene where Del is surprised by friends with a birthday gift of a bicycle, yet it is difficult to relate to this gang of outsiders. Bauer uses Club Casanova's cartoonishly pompadoured emcee Mo B. Dick as a bridging device, while also shooting her outdoors in an elaborate half man/half woman costume. His camera frequently strays to the twin towers, perhaps meant to symbolize the dual genders on display, but the meaning has changed and the images are distracting. He also employs art camera effects, double exposures and other effects to keep the film visually interesting, but alas, that doesn't make up for emotional distance. "Venus Boyz" gets points for being one of the first (discounting the more specific "The Brandon Teena" story) documentaries on this subject, but if the movement continues, I doubt it will be considered one of the best. It is not, for example, anywhere near the equivalent of Jennie Livingston's 1990 look at drag queens, "Paris Is Burning."

Robin has not finished his review of this film.

Robin's Review: NYR