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DougieB

To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (1995)

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It's hard to believe this is nearly 20 years old now. I'm bringing it up because I'm curious about where this stands in people's estimation at this point. Do you like it now? Did you ever like it? I've heard lots of negative things about it over the years, mostly centering on the ideas that it's straight men playing gay, that it's about drag queens instead of "real" gay men, and that it's air of unrealistic fantasy is off-putting. And yet my own response has always been overwhelmingly positive. I'm in awe of those three guys and what they did, Wesley Snipes in particular. Anyone who knows drag queens knows how perilous it would be to accuse them of not being "real". In terms of fantasy, it reminds me of one of the most popular films of all time, "The Wizard of Oz", with the seekers on a journey to find the validation they finally find in themselves. Like most successful fantasy it's mixed with with some very real emotions and some hard-won moral lessons. At the time of it's release, I think it had many people scratching their heads...How did this movie get made? Twenty years down the road it's still a good question. Its obvious equal would be "Pricilla, Queen of the Desert", but other than that, this movie in many ways stands alone. How about you? Do you think this movie has "legs"?

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The movie works as a classic movie fantasy- if it had been done in the 50's it could have been a musical- I can see Gene Kelly in the Patrick Swayze role.  Leguizamo is truly amazing performance- his level of realness belongs in another more serious movie.

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Joe, I'm surprised it hasn't been turned into a musical, given that practically everything else has, although To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar: The Musical is a lot to put on a marquee.

 

I remember liking the film, which isn't the last word in realism or gay life, but was quite enjoyable.

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I think you're both right that it has potential as a musical; there are some moments which could be exploited to really good effect. I'd be worried that what makes this movie work could be lost, though. It's really the intimate moments which set this apart, like Wesley Snipes talking to the older, withdrawn woman about Dorothy Dandridge or Patrick Swayze talking to the young girl about her feelings for the boy. What's amazing to me is that there are no cracks in the personas of the three leads, no sense of any of the actors telegraphing in a wink-wink kind of way that it's them just playing a role, no need to self-defensively distance themselves. These are fearless performances, much like what Michael Douglas, Matt Damon et al did in "Behind the Candelabra", without a moment of compromise. I'm not sure about Gene Kelly; I think he would have worked much better in something like "Some Like It Hot", where the men behind the dresses are given so much breathing room. The actors in "TWF,TFE,JN" are drag queens for the entire movie, after their brief initial transformations under the credits. Maybe in reality they were worried about clips from the movie showing up in future "tribute" collages and plaguing them for the rest of their careers, but none of that shows. Personally, I think they knew they were doing work that was somehow "important", at least in terms of destigmatizing the kind of free association of gender roles which gay people embrace but which the general public traditionally has not. Cross-dressing has been a gimmick in a number of movies, but always in a comic fish-out-of-water kind of way with the poor straight guy stumbling through the experience so that we're meant to empathize with the guy. In "To Wong Foo.." we're meant to empathize with the hearts and minds of the men in their transformed state, a big difference.

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