By Emma Silverthorn @
Colin Rothbart’s documentary Dressed As A Girl has already been lauded as the ‘the Brit equivalent of Paris is Burning’ (Beige magazine), an accolade indeed and one that made me want to watch it immediately. Dressed As A Girl explores similar ground to Paris is Burning, showcasing as it does both the fabulous personas of its’ performance artists on stage, as well as their more fragile, complex off stages lives. But the comparisons should not be over-egged as what truly makes both films so magnificent is their specificity; that specificity being eighties New York for PIB, (and documenting within mostly Latino and African American drag communities), and for DAAG nineties and early millennial East London.
And for anyone who lives in, or simply loves East London, it’s a delight to see so many of its best haunts immortalized on screen, from Dalston Superstore to the trans-zone at Lovebox . As the area become more gentrified, and often consequently more sanitized, Dressed As a Girl is a wonderful and heartening celebration of one of the East’s most vital subcultures.
DAAG follows the highs and lows of it’s six stars, with Jonny Woo self-proclaimed ‘ringmaster of this big old glittery circus’ residing over Scottee, the youngest, and finally most mainstream of the six, (he now has a show on Radio 4!), Holestar, the tranny with a fanny, Amber the transitioning transgender hedonist, John Sizzle a perfect balance of DJ, Queen and furniture upholsterer and Pia bike mechanic, transgender show-girl and apocalyptic prophet.
And the highs experienced by these six friends are just that and as such are a riotous thing to behold! From a top-of-their-game performance at The Royal Opera House, to the founding of the first ever gay stage at Glastonbury, to a community-led boob-job fundraiser in East London.
As the tagline goes however ‘all that glitters is not gold’. With the lows including drug-induced hospitalizations, familial estrangement and false rape allegations, as well as of course the backdrop of homophobia that all of the six battle with in one form or another during their formative years. Thankfully there is no sense here that Rothbart or his players aim to self-consciously tug on the audiences heartstrings, it just is what it is. Typifying this intimate yet distinctly un-maudlin presentation is John Sizzle on his HIV diagnosis seven years prior, ‘if you’ve been doing your job right you’ve got it’ he says after noting that probably forty to fifty per cent of his friends have it. He admits he perhaps overuses ‘gallows humor’ as a tactic to disarm people.
The film ends on an up however with a sense of both the legacy of these drag idols as well as their staying power, John Sizzle and Jonny Woo both suggest drag to be a young persons game at various points in the film yet neither seem able or willing to give it up entirely and thank goodness for that!
Dressed As A Girl is released into cinemas this Friday October 2nd.