According to gender-fuck authority John Waters, the Cockettes were "hippie acid-freak drag queens." Waters is being restrained, for once; from the outrageous/courageous S.F. troupe's first show on New Year's Eve 1969-70 to its demise just a couple of years later, the Cockettes transformed drag into a line-blurring union of performance and lifestyle that marked the apex of both the sexual revolution and flamboyant personal expression.
"The Cockettes emerged just as the counterculture was beginning to merge with the beginning of gay liberation," explains David Weissman, who showed me a delightful snippet of the documentary he and fellow S.F. filmmaker Bill Weber are making about the informal clan's life and times. "They displayed a kind of exuberant wildness that's almost inconceivable now. This was the height of the quest for freedom and alternative lifestyles. People are fascinated by life in San Francisco in the late '60s and early '70s, given the narrow-minded, culturally compromised era we live in."
Weissman and Weber have already amassed 4,000 stills and lots of rare video footage, plus clips from the Cockettes' notorious "instant movies," Tricia's Wedding and The Palace. (Anyone with 8mm home movies or stills of Hibiscus, Sylvester [who went on to top international disco charts] or the other Cockettes is encouraged to e-mail the filmmakers at paradox@SIRIUS.COM.)
THE COCKETTES DEFINED A SPECIFIC MOMENT IN HISTORY, SAYS WEISSMAN, WHEN S.F. WAS STILL THE EPICENTER OF THE COUNTERCULTURE. BUT EVERYTHING CHANGED AFTER THE NEW YORK SHOW IN NOVEMBER 1971, WHICH HAD BEEN TRUMPETED AS THE EVENT OF THE YEAR BY REX REED. EVERYONE FROM TRUMAN CAPOTE TO HOLLY WOODLAWN WAS THERE AND, IN A CLASSIC CASE OF CULTURE CLASH, THE COCKETTES BOMBED. EXPECTING A SLICK STAGE SHOW, MANHATTANITES WERE UNPREPARED FOR HIPPIE WACKINESS, NAKED PREGNANT WOMEN, AND "COMPLETE SEXUAL ANARCHY" (WATERS AGAIN). TALK ABOUT A JOKE NOT TRANSLATING -- THIS WAS A WHOLE LIFESTYLE THAT DIDN'T TRANSLATE.
"SAN FRANCISCO WAS MUCH MORE ABOUT FUN, OPTIMISM, AND THE POSSIBILITY OF THE NEW THAN NEW YORK," WEISSMAN ASSERTS.
UNLIKE DRAG QUEENS TRYING TO LOOK LIKE WOMEN, THE COCKETTES WERE "GENDER REBELS," SAYS WEISSMAN. HENCE THEIR INFLUENCE ON BOWIE, IGGY, ELTON, NEW YORK DOLL DAVID JOHANSEN, AND BETTE MIDLER. FOR ANYONE WHO THINKS ROBIN WILLIAMS AS MRS. DOUBTFIRE WAS THE QUINTESSENTIAL S.F. DRAG SHOW, THE COCKETTES WILL BE A REVELATION. "SINGING, DANCING, SEX, DRUGS, AND ROCK 'N' ROLL -- AND DRAG
QUEENS," WEISSMAN GRINS. "WHAT MORE COULD YOU WANT OUT OF A MOVIE?"
HIS GIRL FRIDAY
OVERCOME BY OSCARRHEA, THE CHRONICLE RAN EXACTLY ZERO FEATURE STORIES ON THE FOUR INDIE FILMS (BLIND FAITH, PAULINA, WINDHORSE, AND CONCEIVING ADA) THAT BEGAN THEIR U.S. THEATRICAL RUNS IN SAN FRANCISCO IN RECENT WEEKS. STILL WONDERING WHY EVERYTHING OPENS FIRST IN NEW YORK AND L.A.? ... SPEAKING OF ADA, THAT WAS QUITE A SLAG HEAP OF SOCIETY TRASH, INCLUDING DENISE HALE, STANLEE GATTI, AND GAVIN NEWSOM, ATTENDING THE FREE, INVITE-ONLY, PRE-OPENING SCREENING OF ADA. PRESUMABLY THEIR CHAUFFEURS LOCATED THE LUMIERE ("IT'S THAT DARLING CINEMA JUST 'ROUND THE CORNER FROM THE RED DEVIL") BY CURTAIN TIME. ... PAULINA CONTINUES AT THE LUMIERE IN 11 A.M. SCREENINGS FRIDAY, SATURDAY, AND SUNDAY.
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