Friday, July 13, 2007

Don't be throwing no shade...

      I really wanted to like RuPaul’s new film Starrbooty, playing at this year’s LA Outfest. It’s being sold as a return to Ru’s ribald, less MTV-friendly performance roots and the premise seemed just stupid enough to possibly be inspired: The niece of a world-famous supermodel (Ru) is kidnapped by the supermodel’s jealous, longtime professional nemesis and possibly sold to a sex-slave ring. Said supermodel (who is also a high-ranking international spy) then has to go undercover as a low-end streetwalker to infiltrate the business empire of her rival and retrieve her niece. She’s told by her spy-biz boss that when she goes undercover as a ho, she’s gotta keep it real – suck dick, take it up the ass from johns – whatever it takes to maintain her cover. Needless to say, she’ll do whatever it takes to “get my baby back!” So far, so stupid, so promising.
      But execution is everything, and the generically bitchy humor, witless quips and wisecracks, and horribly deadly direction (this shit should buzz fast and furious but it feebly sashays like an aged crackwhore in withdrawal) make it painful. The risqué elements don’t save the film. There’s lots of dick (some of it hard) mainly provided courtesy of real-life porn stars Michael Lucas, Owen Hawk and Gus Maddox; ironically, all of their actual XXX fare has higher production values and greater wit than Starrbooty. But the biggest disappointment is Ru, whose make-up, wigs and drag are all flawless but beneath it all s/he actually looks kinda gaunt and tired. Worse, s/he gives a low-bloodsugar performance; even the neck-rolling and “reads” seem perfunctory. Interestingly, her whole “ghetto ho” shtick comes off as the kind of performance of blackness that black folks who don’t actually hang with black folks do for their white friends. That’s not meant to be one of those bullshit challenges to anyone’s racial authenticity. Ru might hang with more ninjas in a weekend than I have in life. But check the smart, knowing hood-rat satire of this outfit right here and here, then compare it to what Ru and director Mike Ruiz serve up. What does work in the film is the original music, which is bawdy, profane, no-holds-barred sex-rap a la the great poetess of our time, Khia:

      Also check out this overview I did of Outfest and current queer cinema. Excerpt:

      Watching most contemporary queer movies, particularly the American ones, is to see art reflect the downside of the progress achieved in the culture wars, in gays and lesbians securing that much-coveted “seat at the table.” It’s the same banality of vision that so often follows even the slightest triumphs of assimilation: Homogenizing formula sets in and starts to rule as the formerly marginalized start to negotiate power and position with the status quo. The popular or collective imagination — made up of artists and audiences — becomes enslaved to that which is both safe and familiar, even (or especially) when it comes disguised as edgy or subversive fare. It grooves to that which doesn’t threaten whatever ground has been gained, but it also reduces struggle and victory to template. As a result, the same tales get told over and over again, relayed in the same predictable and uninspired ways.

      It’s infantilized art. Think of how small children want the same story read to them over and over; it makes them feel secure, comforted. They get the thrill of the tale, but the uncertainty of outcome has been removed. They know when and how the villain will appear, how the battle will play out, how the villain will be vanquished or the dilemma resolved, and what the ending will be.

For the rest of the article, click here

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