JWR Articles: Film/DVD - A Man in a Dress (Director: Carlos Valencia) - June 17, 2007
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A Man in a Dress

4 4
50 min.

Against all odds

As seen through the lens of Carlos Valencia's documentary A Man in a Dress, Enza Supermodel Anderson's story is less about her failure to get on the ballot for the Canadian Alliance leadership race than a compelling metaphor of the lengths mainstream-society outsiders will go to gain acceptance and respect.

Having placed a remarkable third in Toronto's 2000 mayoralty election, Anderson became addicted to the fickle affection of the media (“[I'm into] totally shameless self promotion, but I'm sincere about it”). Fast forward two years and she decides to throw her tiara into the ring with the likes of Stockwell Day and Grant Hill (who Svend Robinson effectively skewers in the brilliantly edited clip duel) so that she can “change it from the inside out.”

Like her need to be admired—particularly her legs—Anderson has to cross-think in order to rationalize her participation in a new body- politic that is famous for its bigotry and intolerance. Sadly, it's because she doesn't belong that the media and some back-room Tories (eager to disrupt the leadership contest) come roaring to her aid but their sincerity is as shallow as Day's grasp of geography.

The fast-moving study (the flash-pop transitions are a nice touch) is peopled with Canadian politicians, journalists and entertainers eager to offer their thoughts on the Drag Queen's pursuit of glory. A squeamish Tory speechwriter (“anonymous, off camera”) encourages Anderson to hammer home the notion that she can “bring diversity to the party.” Toronto Sun columnist Valerie Gibson eggs on the driven diva to keep fighting because “people are bored.”

Funny-queer, Scott Thompson is caught having publicity envy when Anderson appears at his theatrical opening and scorns the offer of being appointed Deputy Queen in Anderson's government.

Considerable time is devoted to Anderson's appearance on Mike Bullard's talk show. There is certainly no chemistry between the two and Bullard resorts to cheap shots (“That's not a change purse down there”) which fall as flat as his ratings.

Perhaps the most telling segments are the practicing then delivery of “The speech” to a leadership event in Chatham. Anderson tries her best, but the script sounds as wooden as its writer. She grabs the microphone like a club and loses her feminine side—except when she momentarily brightens while pleading for inclusion of everyone, “even a drag queen.” The effect makes Anderson seem as uncomfortable with herself as she is in a room full of right-wing devotees. But when the cameras roll, she's instantly back “on stage,” eager to please an unknown audience that will catch glimpses of those fabulous legs on the late evening news.

Between many of the segments, classical music is inserted to smooth the transitions. Chopin and Tchaikovsky get cameos, but it's Beethoven's Op. 13 Piano Sonata (given a far too-affected reading by the unidentified pianist) that shows up over a half-dozen times. Intentional or not, the “Pathétique's” slow movement adds another level of verisimilitude to the overall tone.

Todd Ross, (Parliamentary Assistant to MPP George Smitherman), brings understanding and insight to Anderon's plight when the game is lost. He sees the dichotomy of Anderson's “unglamorous job” at Woody's made bearable by the gowns, notoriety and attention that—swimming against the stream—have created for the fabled performer. For her part, Anderson seems lost, uncertain where to turn after being deserted by her “supporters” and “admirers” once she has served their ends.

“I hate when people deceive,” she laments, but isn't that the essence of drag? JWR

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