New to digital download via HBO this week:
NewFest OutCinema, Fringe! Queer
On the past and present of the legendary Wigstock festival.
Beginning in 1984 and running for 20 years, Wigstock was an outdoor drag festival originally taking place in Tompkins Square Park in the East Village. Organized by drag queen Lady Bunny and several friends who were part of NYC’s nightlife scene, the event grew in popularity but faced pushback by the Giuliani administration, being forced to move to the Hudson River Piers until 2001. Though Bunny restarted the event in Tompkins Square after a year’s hiatus, its final incarnation was in 2005 – until she revived it once again in 2018. Director Chris Moukarbel chronicles Wigstock’s history against a backdrop of changing perceptions of queer culture and drag’s place in it, while also showcasing performers in the lead-up to last Summer’s event. Like 1995’s WIGSTOCK: THE MOVIE before it, the film draws from a rich if rough archive of early East Village footage shot within the queens’ nightlife milieu, accompanied by the musings of Bunny and other iconic figures like Kevin Aviance, Flotilla DeBarge, and Linda Simpson, some of whom seem to take particular issue with the popularization, appropriation, and commodification of drag through avenues like RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE. As a counterpoint, Moukarbel also focuses on Charlene Incarnate, an outspoken trans-identified draq performer who has gained a following and won the smaller Bushwig festival, and who participates in the 2018 Wigstock revival, among other representatives of the new generation of drag. The 2018 performances fill the final section of the doc, but, as a whole, the subversive history of Wigstock’s first incarnation is its most compelling element.