For every film and short that I attend at the festival I will be including both a brief, unspoiled synopsis, followed by a spoiler filled discussion beneath it. So be warned before you read-on that if you do not wish to spoil any of the following titles that you watch for my included warnings.
Initially, I was intending to write an article for the independent feature film, The Sound and the Shadow; and also briefly talk about its preceding short film. However, in an unusual turn of events, the amount of stuff I ended up wanting to say about the short film, Dragula, became long enough that I felt it deserved its own separate review. And so, here is that review.
Now if you don’t ooze naiveté, as I often do, then you can probably guess based on the name what this short film centers around. What you might not be able to guess, however, is where it goes with it.
The story is about a young high-school kid named Charles, who has a severe case of butterflies and stage-fright when he gives speeches or reads aloud in class. But one day when Halloween rolls around, his two best friends; Ben and Phillis, take Charles to a local hot-spot known as “The End,” which apparently is a frequent bar for gays and drag-queens. Upon arrival, Charles is treated to the nightly performance of the titular “Dragula,” and becomes transfixed by her hypnotic gaze and overwhelming stage presence. He realizes that this person is so comfortable being themselves that they can both dress the way they dress, act the way they act, and do it all while singing on stage to an ever-changing audience without fail. Charles is so taken with her that he decides to go meet with “Dragula,” and Charles confesses that he wants her to teach him how to be confident and proud of who he is, so that he too can show the world what he’s got inside. The very next day, Charles immediately decides to take the plunge and sign up for the school talent show, where he plans to give them a show they will never forget.
So if you haven’t guessed it yet, Charles decides that he wants to do a Drag-Queen performance in front of his whole school to prove what he’s capable of. And I gotta say, this was a bold move not only for the character but for the filmmakers to tell in a story like this. Now it’s not entirely too bold, but some of the statements that I think this film makes, directly and indirectly, are pretty important and poignant to the ever-changing mindset of today’s parents and children.
This short film presents us with a young man, probably about 17, who has a lack of confidence in himself and feels like he hasn’t had the chance to show others who and what he is and what he can really do: something I certainly can relate to; but his solution to solve this issue within himself is such an interesting one. Instead of taking his experience with Dragula and acting on it in a general sense: reflecting on how she presents herself and lives her life, Charles instead takes things in a literal and direct sense by literally dressing up in Drag to get the full Dragula experience. And he hopes that in doing so, he will gain the same audience recognition from his fellow classmates that he had given to Dragula the night he first saw her.
In the process of telling this story, the film tackles (in a rather easily rectified and unobstructed way) the issues of parental acceptance of seemingly deviant behavior, finding yourself by doing something outside of your comfort zone, and our general perception and the concept of “Drag culture” itself.
Now I’m probably not the best person to speak on this as I don’t have the best knowledge on all opinions surrounding the subject. But from the standpoint of an observer, it almost seems like drag culture and the concept of drag could be a double-edged sword. On the one hand you have men who may identify closer with women or at least with their own feminine sides, and therefore they chose to adorn themselves in make-up and wardrobe that, in the strictest terms: expresses their inner-selves to the rest of the world; often flamboyantly. And on the other hand, you have actual women, some of whom may have a problem with drag queens as a misrepresentation of the female gender, since most drag-queens of course emphasize the sexualized nature of woman with their long legs, long eye-lashes, colorful outfits and so on. I’m not saying this is a broad opinion, I’m not even saying this is necessarily true, but it seems like there would be at least some amount of negative criticism to the drag culture in that way. And in case that is an issue, I feel like it shouldn’t have to be.
In my opinion, even though drag queens present themselves in the form of “an ideal woman” or a “glamorized woman,” I think it is fairer to say that they are their own culture, their own people, and should not have to have a gender associated with them. Biologically, many are all still male; but if you try to look past that to see what they want you to see, then you begin to see a much more unique and expressive individual that… perhaps stands as the “ideal” of confidence and the pinnacle of personal expression. These people risk so much to be true to themselves, just as the out-and-out gays do. But they seem to have so much fortitude in the face of adversity and public opinion that even a two foot solid brick wall could not hold them back. And if that isn’t inspirational, then I don’t know what is.
Can’t necessarily say if I’d ever find myself performing in drag at a talent show. But what I can say, is that I loved this short, and it would be a delight to see it again someday.
Before I go, though, I would like to speak a bit about the cast for this short, as it was quite a varied bunch of strikingly entertaining people.
First we have Allison Paige, who was absolutely fun to watch. She had that spunky best friend/bad girl thing going for her like Sam Manson on Danny Phantom, or Gwen on Total Drama Island; and she definitely had that look that you saw more in the late 90s/early 2000s. Quite a strong resemblance to Mellissa Joan Hart, actually. Based on what I saw here, Allison is definitely being underused by the industry at this time, and I sincerely hope that she will soon gain some more notable and fan-followed roles in the near future.
It was also interesting to see a few semi-familiar faces from the B and C-lists of working actors: people like Rob Riggle from SNL, the lovable Missi Pyle (who I somehow keep mixing up with Elaine Hendrix) from Galaxy Quest and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Cheyenne Jackson from 30 Rock.
But of course the biggest impression was made by veteran B-list actor, Barry Bostwick; perhaps best known for his role as Mayor Randall M Winston Jr. on the series, Spin City: who performed the title character of Dragula. Mistakenly I had assumed that the character of Dragula was played by a real drag queen. But instead it was a brilliant performance by a truly talented and rather full-lipped man, who has been working in the industry since 1970. And from what I can see, Barry did his own singing for this part; which makes his performance all the more amazing and fantastic. He seemed so wrapped up in this character; such finesse, such gravitas, such comfortable control. It’s no surprise then that he has spent part of his career on Broadway as well.
If you’re unfamiliar with Bostwick’s work, as unfortunately I am as well, he actually has an entire short-form video (as part of a kickstarter campaign) that lists all of the major things he has starred in; including the 1982 sci-fi laugh-fest, MEGAFORCE: for which he actually played the title role, Commander Ace Hunter. You can check out that whole video below.
And, Holy Crap! You have to check this out too. Barry Bostwick is… FDR! [LANGUAGE WARNING]
All I can say about that is what’s said in the final video below. You Must Watch. [LANGUAGE WARNING]
Well, thank you all for sticking with me through a rather lengthy recount of an absolutely stellar short film. And now if you’ll continue to stay the course, up next I’ll be talking about my experience watching the independent “so-brand-spanking-new, it’s not even funny” movie… The Sound and the Shadow.