In full disclosure, I am one of the talking heads in Mike Black and Carole Summer's Queer Icon: The Cult of Bette Davis, a documentary that examines the many aspects of the gay fascination with Bette Davis, featuring film clips of Bette's most iconic moments, juxtaposed with camp burlesques of her by Matthew Martin, Charles Pierce and Arthur Blake. Featured is a profile of Martin, highlighting his long identification with Davis, and interviews with fans, entertainers, and gay cultural historians exploring the link between the gay community and Bette.
One of those interviews is with film historian Matthew Kennedy (Edmund Goulding's Dark Victory), who—when I asked him how he felt about his participation in the project—responded: "I loved having the opportunity to ponder what makes Bette Davis great and why I love her. She's so much more than easily imitated grand gestures that drag queens find so hard to resist. What a pure creature of the cinema she was—imagine if she had been born before movies were invented. It's almost unthinkable. A select few stars seem made for the camera, almost as though their very existence depends on the moving image. She was one of them."
As for having his sequence filmed in the auditorium of the Castro Theatre, Kennedy commented: "It was an honor to be interviewed in the Castro. And a little intimidating. It's hallowed ground!"
Likewise interviewed is impresario Marc Huestis, who was instrumental in facilitating the interaction between Black and Matthew Martin. "Congrats to Mike & Carole for finishing film, he offered. "Anything with/about BETTE DAVIS has to be entertaining, no?!"
But with customary aplomb, it was Peaches Christ who scored the poster pull quote: "There's a collective understanding that she is God." When I asked Joshua Grannell how Peaches became involved in the project, Joshua replied: "They emailed me about participating in the film and it was during the Midnight Mass season and I said, 'I love Bette Davis and I would love to participate and the best way to catch me is to come to the show with your camera and we'll do the interview at the Bridge Theatre.' That's what they did. They set up the camera and we did the interview. Often my brain is so dumb when I'm in drag—as far as memory goes or whatever, there's no filter over my mouth—so I'm looking forward to the screening because I have no idea what I said."
As for interacting with Matthew Martin: "Matthew has never done Midnight Mass and I've never shared the stage with him outside of performing on the same nights at Trannyshack. However, we knew of one another before we ever met. He'd seen me and I'd seen him and I was certainly an admirer of his so—when we met some years ago—it was like we had always known each other. Ironically, Matthew made his Baby Jane movie right around the same time we were making All About Evil. Here was another opportunity for him to either be in our thing or for me to be in their's; but, we were doing it all at the same time."
As Michael Fox has written at SF Weekly, Davis' appeal "derives from her ambisexuality in combination with such timeless personas as the holy-terror diva, the stalwart solitaire, and the camp heroine." Fox adds: "More than simply a lovefest, Queer Icon questions whether gays still need a role model like the fabulous Miss D. The film will surely find an enthusiastic audience when it plays the queer capitals of New York and Los Angeles, but [Thursday's] world premiere is bound to be an only-in-San-Francisco event. It won't be tedious, darling."
Matt Sussman concurs at Flavorpill: "That been-around-the-block moxie; that sultry sophistication; and, of course, those eyes. There are many reasons why Bette Davis was one of the greatest actresses ever to grace the silver screen, but her x-factor has long held—indeed, continues to hold—particular sway over gay men."
Queer Icon: The Cult of Bette Davis boasts its San Francisco premiere at a one-off screening at the Roxie Film Center on Thursday, July 2, 2009, at 6:00, 8:10, 10:20PM. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased in advance at www.blacksummers.com. Photos courtesy of Black Summers Productions, LLC. Photo of Matthew Martin as Bette Davis courtesy of Marc Huestis.