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Review by Doug Rule
Rating: (3 out of 5)
Wednesday, 10/21/2009, 5:00 PM
Feature presentation, $10 at Shakespeare Theatre’s Harman Center for the Arts
JUST WHAT IS a drag king? It’s not merely the inverse of the far more widely-known drag queen — today’s world is not just bi-polar when it comes to gender. But even the experts stumble on defining the concept in the fascinating but flawed documentary Drag King Extravaganza. The phenomenon of male impersonation is at least a century old, but only in the past decade or so has it become popular practice in the lesbian and queer communities. Here, it’s become more about ”gender-fuck” performance art, where anyone can dress up as anyone, playing with traditional notions of masculinity and gender. It’s a political act, even when it’s not intended as such.
Directed by Clare Smith and Meaghan Derynck, the documentary focuses on the International Drag King Extravaganza, founded in 2000 in Columbus, Ohio. ”I will shave my legs for IDKE,” one lesbian says about the annual performance-based convention, which has helped foster a sense of community for drag kings nationwide, as well as give the performers greater confidence in who they are and what skills they have to offer.
The filmmakers focus on more than a dozen such kings (including D.C.’s Ken Vegas) extensively talking one-on-one to the camera about what appeals to them about ”drag-kinging” in general. None, however, delve into the specifics of the pageantry or illuminate just how a drag king becomes a drag king. And it’s 15 minutes into the 43-minute documentary before we really get into a prolonged look at a performance. Even then it’s only a montage of highlights from the first-ever IDKE, set to a basic house beat. Why not let viewers see a full performance or two, to give everyone a better sense of just how entertaining the kings can be?