Dressed as a Girl – ReviewDecember 13, 2015
in Dressed as a Girl is a 2015 documentary about some of the stars of the east London drag scene, and their friends. Filmed over six years, it shows clips of their acts as well as containing interviews with the performers and some of their parents.
East London drag is celebrated for being a bit anarchic, chaotic even. Traditional Dusty Springfield impersonators do perform here of course, with immaculately shaved legs and heaving bosoms, lip synching to the greats, but the film, Dressed as a Girl is not about them. It’s about the performers who are happy to let the stubble show, who have moustaches as well as lipstick, who don’t always wear a wig. Jonny Woo is undoubtedly the star of this scene, and of the documentary too.
Also profiled in Dressed as a Girl are a curious mix – I don’t know if the film maker was trying to be inclusive or it just worked out that way, but there is a female drag performer, Julie Holestar, three male drag performers – Jonny Woo, John Sizzle, and Scottee; one transsexual, Amber, who wants to be a model and pop star. I’m not sure if Amber is a drag performer or not – perhaps friend of the gang is a better description. And one person of the third sex (neither male nor female), Pia, who is also more a friend of the gang who occasionally joins them onstage.
There are lots of shots of performers putting on makeup and some sketches of outfits in the making, but this doc, sadly, is not about sequins and showbiz. Instead, the documentarian wanted to get behind the glitz and glamour and show, primarily it seems, the performer’s relationships with their mothers.
Dressed as a Girl – Tell me About Your Mother
So we have a few elderly mums reminiscing in Dressed as a Girl on how it felt to find out their sons were gay. Turns out they’re totally OK with it. And we have one lovely gruff Mancunian dad, who refuses to be shocked or outwardly upset at his son’s complete transformation from Dean to Amber. “Amber is Dean” he keeps muttering, seeming mildly surprised himself. “It’s still Dean, my Dean, my flesh and blood” he struggles to articulate.
I think Amber would like it if her dad at least looked taken aback at her new, massive knockers, but no, Dad would only be upset if someone knew about it and started teasing her. He’d have to fight them then, and he’s getting a bit old for it. “No-one does though Dad”, says Amber. It’s all a bit anti-climatic.
In fact, most men are as overjoyed as Amber at her new physique, and often celebrate it with a bit of spontaneous sex in the park. They don’t seem dismayed by her “third leg” either, apparently.
Dressed as a Girl – Darkness and depression
The performers in Dressed as a Girl also speak about their health. Holestar and Scottee have whole songs and routines around their depression and mental health. In fact I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Holestar perform her “suicide” monologue – what a joyous evening that was. Scottee I’ve always known as more of a performance artist than drag queen, and he has a performance based around his accusal and arrest, founded on a rumour, for male rape.
John Sizzle speaks movingly in Dressed as a Girl about his HIV diagnosis and Jonny Woo recounts with relish how he ended up in hospital for five weeks after a chemical induced collapse – but he doesn’t take to the stage about it.
Could be a touch sparklier
I know this is a record of the bad as well as the good, but there are holes in Dressed as a Girl. What about the performer’s partners? What about the joy of performing and how much fun they have? This is a respectfully made and necessary record of this place and time, but I for one would have loved a bit more sparkle.