Thursday, June 15th, 2023

Queerguru reviews : Taylor Mac’s 24 Decades History of Popular Music : an excellent MUST SEE film


I thought I had reached this (advanced?) age of my life with very few regrets, but now I realize I have to add a very important one. Taylor Mac’s 24 Decades History of Popular Music literally performed as a 24 Hour Marathon on Oct 8 – 9 2015 (noon to noon) at St Ann’s Warehouse New York was a highly anticipated event that was 5 years in the making and never to be repeated.  I should have been there!

The only consolation is the whole event was filmed by Academy Award winners Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman who had the near-impossible task to edit the recording down to under 2 hours, and their combined efforts is now playing the film festival circuit before HBO screens it at the end of June.

Mac gives one of the most powerful performance pieces I think I have ever witnessed and surpasses his very distinguished body of work to date.  One of the (many) awards he has gathered over the years is a MacArthur Genius Grant……its the description of genius that makes him so well qualified for this.

At the beginning of the show, Mac urges us to ‘Gird our Pussies” for what is to come but he’s acting out 1770 and accusing my Brit predecessors of implying that American men were effeminate which Mac thought was quite rich.  He did at last credit that we did have a better sense of fashion.

Talking of which, over the next 24 hours there were constant costume changes all of them very surreal,  excessive, and fantastical camp and the inspired artistry of costume designer/drag queen Machine Dazzle.

As Mac starts to take us through some 24 decades of American history, he insists that what we will see is much more than that ….he calls it a Radical Fairie Realtime Ritual. A great deal of what we are about to see is a metaphysical rendition of the AIDS epidemic …… and how communities built themselves because they were torn apart.

What is soon very obvious as Mac leads us through each of the decades that he has done extremely extensive research, and we start to appreciate that this work has been some 5 years in the making.  There is a mixture of emotions as he details some parts of our history that we should be ashamed of and others where gays and other minorities risked their lives by just existing. He often finds humor but never stoops for cheap laughs.

During the 24 hours, he never leaves the stage and after some 246 songs we are not only completely in awe, but also our perception of US history has changed when we now see how queer it really is.  Mac’s choice of music is inspiring and the result of scouring back catalogs of both traditional and popular songs which he insists on singing his tempo and style.

The orchestra starts off 24 strong but every hour one of them leaves until at the end they have all gone. This signifies how during the AIDS epidemic we lost artists and friends from the very beginning and it seemed like the deaths woud never stop.

Despite its epic length the performance and Mac never wane for a single second and he has a unique way of involving the audience to make them feel like a part of the event and not just spectators.  He doesn’t care if he takes them out of their comfort zones and at one stage he makes them all wear eye masks so they never get to see one of his very best costumes and he even makes them wear drag at one point.

By the time Mac tells us at some point on Sunday morning. “We have a lot of history on our backs and we have to figure out what to do with it.” the penny has dropped ……. this is so much more than just entertainment.  But on that point, there are some wonderfully completely unforgettable moments like when he dragged every straight man to the stage to dance with him or when he covered Ted Nugent’s 1975 “Snakeskin Cowboy,” a song about gay bashing.  And it’s impossible not to share the tears of musical director and pianist, Matt Ray, when gets up to leave the stage after playing for 23 solid hours and delivering a version of Lauryn Hill’s Everything is Everything.

Earlier on in the proceedings, Mac says that in performance art there is no failure, something he really doesn’t need to consider with this project, in fact, it is the opposite.  The New York Times  wrote Taylor Mac’s 24-Hour Concert Was One of the Great Experiences of My Life

The Queerguru team will review over 200  movies every year carefully avoiding the ‘stinkers‘ and we get to see some really excellent queer cinema.  This is by far one of the very very best we will ever get to see.


PS The film had its World Premiere at Tribeca and will screen at Provincetown Film Festival , and Frameline before being screened on HBO




Review : Roger Walker-Dack

Editor in Chief : Queerguru 
Member of G.A.L.E.C.A. (Gay & Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association) and NLGJA The Association of LGBT 
Journalists. and The Online Film Critics Society. Ex Contributing Editor The Gay Uk &Contributor Edge Media 
Former CEO and Menswear Designer of  Roger Dack Ltd in the UK    
one of the hardest-working journalists in the business' Michael Goff of Towleroad

Posted by queerguru  at  21:05


Genres:  documentary, genderqueer

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