Chris Moukarbel‘s film WIG about the revival of the icon NY drag festival was always going to be a flattering and affectionate profile as Neil Patrick Harris, and his husband David Burtka helped produce the film after they has partnered with Wigstock creator Lady Bunny to revive the event last year.
Moukarbel used ample archival footage of the original Wigstock which stopped in 2001 after a glorious 20 year run. The footage shows the anarchy led by small tight group of genuinely bizarre and extremely unique performers, led by Lady Bunny who would hightail it to Tompkins Park in the early hours of the morning when Pyramid the gay bar in the Village stopped pouring drinks. On a deserted Bandstand fuelled by alcohol and an excessive amount of drugs, these free spirited queens literally entertained themselves with their outrageous nighttime personas.
Lady Bunny marshaled their efforts into being this festival to having them perform in the daytime for anyone passing through through the park at the end of summer, and Wigstock was born. Over the first few years the crowds started coming in bigger numbers lapping up all the East Village counter-culture that so effectively reflected the spirits and the left-wing political climate of the times.
It became THE place for the best and most famous drag performers, and also more than a few just starting out, to develop their art. What was ironic that amongst their numbers was Ru Paul and it was her developing into a major superstar with the creation of Drag Race that made drag so mainstream. It effectively sidelined all the real uniquely original talents and introduced a brand new regime of overdressed and over-made up drags who just focus on looking the part.
The revived Wigstock had a definite more family feel to it and even before the event, Patrick Harris wondered out loud if the new event was going to be too Disneyfied. The odd part of that is the well-meaning involvement of him and his husband, a very mainstream LGBTQ couple, may have been one of the tipping points to make this happen.
Lady Bunny, still full of all her passion and energy, packed the program with some of the very best original old-timers such as Linda Simpson, Taboo!, Kevin Aviance, Flotilla Debarge and an excessive amount of Drag Race contestants/winners. Most interesting were the number of talented performers who had established their craft since the last Wigstock but had done it the hard way developing their acts in front of live audiences often in small salubrious venues in what is considered an almost old-fashioned way. They include the likes of Varla-Jean Merman and the bizarre Dina Martina who brought the house down with the shortest act of the day.
By including the history of Wigstock in what Moukarbel intended as a celebration of its revival, actually made it became more of a nostalgic look back at how mainstream culture has so sanitised and over-glossed such wonderful queer performance art.
We also need to remember as we celebrate Stonewall 50 this year it was NY drag queens that started the riot and were at the forefront of the gay liberation movement then. After watching this documentary, somehow it’s difficult to imagine today’s drag queens being able to reenact that if they were ever called to do so,