In my three decades of attending Frameline, I've always been wowed by the festival's breadth of documentaries on LGBT folks in the arts—whether it's a German doc about Peruvian exotica songstress Yma Sumac (who wasn't gay but may as well have been), or a behind-the-scenes look at k.d. lang on tour in Australia, or a tribute to ground-breaking British filmmaker Derek Jarman. As a queer culture vulture I can't help but eagerly eat this stuff up. For Frameline32 I've previewed a film about the world's foremost gay punk rock band, and another which probes the private places of a drag-a-pella beauty shop quartet. I can highly recommend both.
Michael Carmona's Pansy Division: Life in a Gay Rock Band takes a breezy, blow-by-blow look at the band whose 17-year rallying cry has been: "We're the butt fuckers of rock and roll. We want to sock it to your hole." Formed in 1991 San Francisco by Illinois transplant Jon Ginoli, Pansy Division was one man's reaction against the limitations of so-called gay culture of the time. The group became an essential part of the Bay Area-based Queercore/Homocore music scene, but never received much love or respect from mainstream gay audiences. Fortunately, many from outside the lifestyle were listening, and the film does a terrific job of documenting their advocacy. Nirvana gave its blessing to a "Smells Like Queer Spirit" parody, and most famously, Green Day chose the band as opening act for its 1994 "Dookie" tour (and wore the band's t-shirts on Saturday Night Live). They went from playing small clubs to rocking out 15,000-seat stadiums, while promoters unsuccessfully tried to convince Green Day to bump them from the bill. Later years would find Metallica's Kirk Hammet contributing a guitar solo to the song "Headbanger", and in one of the film's juiciest clips, Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford joins the band onstage at 1997 San Diego Gay Pride for a cover of "Breaking the Law".
As much as I love Pansy Division's cover songs and parodies, it's the band's original material I admire most. Their clever and heartfelt lyrics speak of gay male sexuality in a way that's recognizable no matter what one's taste in music might be, with entire songs devoted to subjects like tricks who won't take "go home" ("I Can't Sleep") and the joys of having a "Fuck Buddy". Fortunately, all the tunes in the film are given subtitles, so that none of the boys' bons mots escape our attention. I was also impressed that the film includes a vast assortment of the band's outrageous poster and record sleeve art, which represents what was truly the cream of punk's DIY aesthetic. And finally, I loved the film's comic treatment of the group's search for a permanent drummer—12 of them came and went during the five years before Luis Illades arrived in 1996.
Band members Jon Ginoli, Chris Freeman and Luis Illades are all expected to attend Frameline's lone screening of Pansy Division: Life in a Gay Rock Band on Thursday, June 26 at the Victoria Theater. Afterwards, they'll perform live at an after party at the Eagle Tavern, which should make for one hell of an evening for longtime fans and newcomers alike.
Ken Bielenberg's The Kinsey Sicks: Almost Infamous is probably not the best filmic introduction to San Francisco's beloved political/musical/comedy drag troupe. That honor would belong to Bielenberg's 2006 film The Kinsey Sicks: I Wanna Be a Republican (Frameline30), which documented one of the group's brilliant stage shows in its entirety. Almost Infamous, on the other hand, provides a more intimate portrait and is structured around three alternating leitmotifs. The first is a Kinsey Sicks mini-history featuring plenty of great archival material. Their attempt to mount a self-produced off-Broadway show in the months following 9/11 I found of particular interest. The second part focuses on its four members as individuals outside The Kinsey Sicks, with a peek at off-stage family life and an accounting of each member's evolution as a performer. The balance of the film tells a warts-and-all tale of a 2006 engagement at the Las Vegas Hilton. Rollicking and revealing, Almost Infamous is a true gift that no one in the group's legion of fans will want to miss. And as an added bonus, it's expected that director Bielenberg, Chris Dilley (Trampolina) and Irwin Keller (Winnie) will all appear onstage for the film's singular Frameline screening at the Castro Theater on Saturday, June 28.