Michael Seligman, Jennifer Tiexiera
Tribeca 2020 (unscreened)
A collection of recently unearthed letters offer a fascinating glimpse at the underground gay drag scene of 1950s-’60s NYC.
In 2014, a box of letters discovered in a Los Angeles storage unit, all addressed to the mysterious “Reno,” sets filmmakers Michael Seligman and Jennifer Tiexiera on a journey to track down the circle of friends behind the communications, all part of the pre-Stonewall drag scene in NYC. Excerpts from the colorful missives are read throughout the resulting film, bringing to life the vibrant but often dangerous milieu as experienced by men with such aliases as Claudia, Daphne, and Josephine Baker, not to mention the distinctive slang of that era’s gay subculture, while present-day interviews with the letter writers as well as queer historians offer both infectious humor and poignant reflection. While there’s a looseness to its structure, and a too abrupt transition from the subjects’ heyday to the devastation of AIDS, eliding the transformative two decades in between, the film is nonetheless incredibly engaging and an important excavation of queer history from a period when primary sources were often hidden, if not destroyed.