Because of course it is, the increasingly tiresome phrase “Before RuPaul’s Drag Race, there was…” is being used to promote Kino-Lorber’s shiny new 4k restoration of The Queen, Frank Simon’s impressionistic 1968 documentary about the 1967 Miss All-American Camp Beauty Pageant.
The implied Drag Race sine qua non does a disservice to The Queen, being an important historical document about a time when cross-dressing still an imprisonable offense, and conventional wisdom held that drag queens must want what was still called a “sex change.” (Unfortunately, 2019’s corporate-sponsored drag culture further obscures the public’s understanding of the very real difference between gay men and transgender women. Thanks a lot, jerkwads!)
The Queen is now made to sound like basic-cable filler that takes viewers “backstage to kiki with the contestants as they rehearse, throw shade, and transform into their drag personas.” Ooh, set the DVR! But we see no “drag personas,” since for good or for ill the pageant’s goal was to replicate conventional 1960s femininity, which is light-years from the grotesque, one-million-followers-on-Instagram minstrelsy of today’s drag culture.
There is some backstage drama in The Queen — mostly involving the lithe, almost frustratingly pretty Harlow — but what comes across is not competition or catfights, but camaraderie. Those hoping for a shade-throwing bitchfest will be disappointed, and deserve to be.
Not rated. Opens Friday at the Clay Theater.