Two wonderfully eccentric odysseys popping with 1970s aesthetics along with an enlightened sense of sex positivity are part of the slate for the Utah Film’s Center’s 18th annual Damn These Heels Queer Film Festival are generously entertaining — Shit & Champagne, directed by D’Arcy Drollinger, and Saint-Narcisse, directed by Bruce LaBruce.
The films are available for streaming on demand, with purchased tickets, through July 18.
Shit & Champagne
Irreverent comedy does not happen easily. It takes a sharp nuanced eye scoping out the social and cultural landscapes to know what boundaries can be breached for the full impact of a comedic punch. Mel Brooks smashed through the wall brilliantly with The Producers, where a producer down on his luck teams up with an accountant to pool finances together to stage “Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden.” Bialystock the producer says triumphantly after a night of trying to find the flop so that they could keep nearly all of the proceeds from their million-dollar scheme, “We’ve found a catastrophe,and outrage! A guaranteed-to-close-in-one-night beauty. This is freedom from want forever.” Well, it is easy to guess what happens.
Brooks is one of numerous role models for D’Arcy Drollinger, a master of drag shows that have become immensely popular parodies of pop-culture history representing the last several decades. He is the owner of Oasis in San Francisco, the largest drag club in the U,S.
Making an impressive debut as a filmmaker, Drollinger has adapted his enduring stage production Shit & Champagne to the screen. It’s the formula that veteran filmmakers know well: Find a best-seller with an already well-established base and tweak it accordingly to make it succeed on the big screen. The club show has been so popular that fans proclaim themselves as “Shit Heads” who return to the show frequently to lead audiences in chanting the show’s signature lines in the vein of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
The film brings many of the show’s characters (and stage performers), storyline and jokes largely intact to the cinematic version, with Drollinger playing the iconic stripper Champagne White. The story is simple: Champagne anticipates that her boyfriend will propose marriage. Meanwhile, he informs her of a secret plot involving drugs (in this case, “booty bumps”) and a prostitution ring operated by the largest discount retailer (“Mall-Wart”). After her boyfriend is murdered and she discovers that her closest friend is addicted to booty bumps and is on the way to being promoted in Mall-Wart’s prostitution ring, Champagne decides to go undercover and seek revenge. Of course, along the way, there are show-stopping dance and music breaks.
Champagne’s story riffs smartly off Foxy Brown, the 1974 blaxploitation film and cult classic directed by Jack Hill and starring Pam Grier. To avenge her boyfriend’s murder, Foxy Brown poses as a prostitute to infiltrate a modeling agency that is a front for corruption and political graft involving heroin drug trafficking. Brown eventually rescues a Black woman and reunites her with her family.
In an interview with The Utah Review, Drollinger says that he wanted to avoid adding heroin as a comedic plot point in developing the Shit & Champagne stage show. Hence, the inspiration for booty bumps came from a Michael Musto column published in 2003 in The Village Voice. Musto, who always had his eyes focused on New York’s club scene, wrote, “booty bumping has the jaded set getting drugs blown up their butts through a straw, while disco dumping has wasted, often booty-bumped queens making a poopy in their pants, usually trying to flush their dirty underwear later (which explains why club toilets are so often stopped up).” Drollinger recalls, “I remember sitting on the beach on Fire Island with my boyfriend and the title of ‘Shit & Champagne’ just rolled off the tongue so well.”
His debut film demonstrates why the B-movie aesthetic works and is rightly popular. In addition to Brooks, other influences for Drollinger include John Waters, Russ Myers and Quentin Tarantino. “I love Seventies TV including Charlie’s Angels, Wonder Woman and The Bionic Woman,” he says, adding that Mexican telenovelas also are a favorite (understandably, given that so many of the series in the 1990s and 2000s were naturally funny even with melodramatic gestures such as a slap across the face or a shove down the stairs). Indeed, the line between melodrama and comedy is thin enough to make successful parodies. He also enjoys classics such as The Naked Gun series and Airplane!
Drollinger labels his racy, mischievous shows as Vaudeville 2.0, a sincere homage to Brooks’ legacy of irreverent comedy. When he sent out the script for possible options, it was not initially well received. “Some people didn’t understand my style,” he says. “They said this is like a teenage boy wrote this with a lot of poop jokes, without realizing the high concept behind the film.” As some form of artistic vindication, he received a pair of Rainin Grants through SF Film to complete the project.
The film is an ideal escapist cinematic experience, perfect for those who are looking for a deftly executed slapstick story that will leave viewers cheering for Champagne. Incidentally, Drollinger is planning a film sequel incorporating another stage show: Champagne White: The Temple of Poon.
It would be hard to imagine a queer film festival without having something from veteran Canadian filmmaker Bruce LaBruce, a master of the B-movie genre and underground cinema. LaBruce has a unique talent in capturing the zeitgeist with excellent production values and an unquestionably eccentric sense of irreverence. Saint-Narcisse extends that assessment in classic LaBruce form. There are some smug film purists who are disenchanted with LaBruce’s work. In fact, one of the user reviews on the Internet Movie Database for Saint-Narcisse indicates that this is the type of film that legendary director Ingmar Bergman would have made if he was drunk. Frankly, that is an unfair criticism. Underground cinema has just as meritorious claims to high concept legitimacy as the mainstream fare.
Saint-Narcisse, set in the 1970s in Canada, intersects several movie genres: drama, dark comedy, thriller, Gothic horror. There is a lurid, seductive, taboo-busting vibe in this feature, which synthesizes elements of the Narcissus myth along with social commentary about the moral failings and depraved temptations surrounding religion, grooming and exploitation. There are, of course, full nude scenes. LaBruce effectively demonstrates how a creative producer can confidently liberate themselves and viewers from feeling ashamed about enjoying stories and scenes without worrying too much about the usual constraints of political correctness.
In plainest terms, the story focuses on a young man who believed that his mother had died but then discovers that, in fact, she is still alive, living with a younger woman in a remote area. The young man, who was raised by his grandmother, had been informed that his mother had died in childbirth. When he searches for his mother, the young man realizes that he has an identical twin, who was raised in a monastery. The twin is desperate to escape from the monastery and his guardian who actually is evil.
The film’s scenes are gorgeously shot, including an impressive scene in the forest involving the twin brothers, the strongest implication of the Narcissus myth that anchors the story. Of course, the film’s story resolves extravagantly and eccentrically in classic LaBruce fashion.
Félix-Antoine Duval plays the twins and his performance is striking for how he brings out the subtle differences in personality as well as physicalities in each brother. Overall, it is one of the most sensual, exotic, erotic films of the B-movie genre.