It seems that right now when we think of drag it is not about the ubiquitous Ru Paul and the antics of her latest cast of wannabes, but about some of the doyens that started their long careers before TV had even been invented. Sadly we have just lost two major veterans …. the first being Darcelle XY of Portland who was still performing until her death at 92, and also the very first “Real Housewife” superstar Dame Edna Everage who has died aged 89 after decades at the top of her game.
Currently in the UK 90-year-old MaisIe Trollete, considered a national treasure, is touring with her new documentary MAISIE. By screening it in gay venues rather than conventional cinemas the film and its star, are being given a rapturous reception. It’s a healthy mix of admiration for both Maisie’s longevity, her talent, and her sheer charisma but equally for a longing for the world that she represents that is now long gone
Now trans filmmaker Parker Sargent has turned their camera on Fire Island’s very own Maisie i.e. Bob (Rose) Levine. The film is a very affectionate and flattering portrait of the 89-year-old who relishes the fact he is an old-school drag queen. Sargent’s camera keeps rolling as Levine’s family, friends and fans line up to espouse their admiration for this larger-than-life veteran. (Rose when he is in drag, but always Bob when he is not).
Shot mainly in his ocean-side very cluttered Fire Island House called Roseland (which he prefers to refer to as eclectic), with a cast of characters whose presence is very vaguely alluded to. Except for Rob’s husband of some 27 years Michael Fitzgerald III an artist and dedicated nudist who is keen to express his devotion to Rob whilst at the same time insisting we know he is also independent too. It should be said that Roseland encourages all types of eccentricity
Some of the most interesting parts of the documentary are when Levine’s life is affected by the status of the queer community. The fact that like so many New Yorkers in the early days he came to Fire Island for the weekend to escape the pressures of having to lead closeted lives in the city. And when life on the Island also was hit badly by the AIDS pandemic was a time when Rose could step forward and become a major fundraiser,
There are also incidents that are major parts of the Island’s queer folklore that Sargent includes…… such as The Invasion …. which will mean little to people who have never been on the Island. It is however interesting to see that once again Rose was at the forefront of this political action that turned into such a wonderful annual festivity.
The Fire Island we see in the film is full of wonderful characters all of which are decidedly old. There is not even a hint of the crowd that Andrew Ahn featured in his award-winning 2022 movie Fire Island which we assume represents the future of this gay paradise.
Our queer history is not solely shaped by political battles and campaigns, its also by looking at the lives of the LGBTQ+ people who came before us to get a fuller picture, and Roseland makes a good contribution to that.
P.S. Roseland is about to play in the Film Festival circuit: check back here for details
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
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