Revised (and Extended) Gender Bender: My Favorite Drag Stars and Androgynes
For some reason (I'm guessing there's a particular image I just happened to file right), the Pop Candy Arcade post that consistently receives the most traffic is one I did in February of 2009 in which I talked Sally Potter's film Rage and made a short list of my favorite "on-screen gender benders." Literally thousands of people have stumbled upon my little blog because of this post.
Looking at that post now, it's a hot mess. It was written prior to the period in which I began resizing photos or linking to my own saved sources, several images are missing, and something feels incomplete. Because of its apparent on-going popularity and my complete dissatisfaction with the state it currently exists in, I've decided to re-do it...
1. John Cameron Mitchell as Hedwig (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) - No one pulls off glitter lipstick and flipped out wigs quite like Mitchell in this indie rock musical of his own creation. With the East German accent and botched sex change operation, Hedwig is queen of the androgynes.
2. Tim Curry as Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Rocky Horror Picture Show) - It's quite possible that Tim Curry is responsible for the sexual confusion of millions of young Americans. I mean, my god, those legs! He pulls off fishnets and heels far better than 95% of the women i know. True story. This transvestite from Transylvania is also responsible for making it socially acceptable for males to leave the house in corsets and pearls. For that, we must love him.
3. Tilda Swinton as Lord/Lady Orlando (Orlando) - I love and adore Tilda in anything, but this is by far my favorite. Based on the Virginia Woolf novel of the same name, Swinton plays the seemingly immortal titular character who (over lifetimes) magically undergoes the transformation from effeminate Elizabethan male to full-on female overnight. The film is gorgeous, and gives us no reason to doubt that in the moors and castles of England, such characters are thriving still.
4. Johnny Depp as Bon Bon (Before Night Falls) - He steals the show and manages to make the rest of this Schnabel film seem bland. Barely present, but unforgettable.
5. Julie Andrews as Victor/Victoria (Victor/Victoria) - Julie Andrews has famously rocked the pixie cut for decades. For some reason, though, slicking it down in this film creates a Clark Kent/Superman difference.
6. Terence Stamp, Guy Pearce, and Hugo Weaving as Bernadette, Felicia, and Mitzi (Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) - It's still been a very long time since I've seen this, and now we even have a Broadway show for this Aussie classic. What I like most about this? Agent Smith on-screen under two tons of eyeshadow.
7. Chiwetel Ejiofor as Lola (Kinky Boots) - The movie is adorable, really. The heir to a failing men's shoe business looks to re-invent the company through the production of drag-specific items. Lola is his accidental muse and business partner. She also performs a few show-stoppers, including a version of one of my all-time favorite guilty disco pleasures: "Yes Sir, I Can Boogie."
8. Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes, & John Leguizamo as Vida, Noxeema, & Chi-Chi (To Wong Foo...) - Call me crazy, but in terms of lead roles, all three of these actors can count these performances as near the top of their respective careers. Especially you, Snipes.
9. David Bowie as Thomas Jerome Newton (The Man who Fell to Earth) - Bowie is a true androgyne. In The Man who Fell to Earth his character, an alien entrepreneur, may be 'technically' male, but his lanky frame and behavior make this the film role in which he exudes a real sense of his home planet not differentiating between the sexes the way we do on Earth.
10. Dustin Hoffman as Tootsie (Tootsie) - Dustin Hoffman does not an especially attractive woman make. But, Dustin Hoffman does a fine comedic performance make. So good, in fact, that the film was nominated for Best Picture back in '82.
11. Greta Garbo as Queen Christina (Queen Christina) - Garbo stars as a (real life) Swedish royal who sneaks about undercover as a man only to fall in love with the Spanish envoy she gets stuck sharing a room with after a freak snow storm.
12. Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as Brian Slade (Velvet Goldmine) - Again, a male actor playing a male, but part of Velvet Goldmine's cinematic function is to fiddle with the genders the way the real-life glam rock movement did. Rhys-Meyers never looked better than he did playing faux-Bowie Brian Slade, the charismatic dandy who sends both women and men into a glitter frenzy.
13. Georges Du Fresne as Ludovic (Ma Vie en Rose) - No, it's not the Edith Piaf movie. Yes, young children can also drag it up. Ludovic identifies with girls, enjoys wearing dresses, and has plans to marry the boy next door in this sweet French film.
14. Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan (I'm Not There) - Proof that Blanchett is actually capable of just about anything acting-wise. Anything.
15. Nathan Lane and Gene Hackman as Albert and Senator Keeley (Birdcage) - 'Nuff said.
16. Felicity Huffman as Bree (Transamerica) - The desperate housewife made a big leap from her primetime soap opera to this indie role as a pre-op transgendered male who learns he fathered a child in his one hetero experience. The man voice! The nude scene! The ways in which you will never see Huffman in the same light again = so many.
17. Katharine Hepburn as Sylvia Scarlett (Sylvia Scarlett) - One of the films that brought about Hepburn's early label as "box-office poison," Sylvia Scarlett is far from my favorite work featuring the actress. All things considered, though, her turn as a girl con artist disguised as a boy works pretty well, and it's fun to see Hepburn play.
18. Divine in anything John Waters saw fit (but mostly Hairspray) - To not include him would be sacrilege. The most famous dragster next to RuPaul.
19. Kåre Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson as Oskar and Eli (Let the Right One In) - I fought with myself a little bit over this, but in the end, the androgyny of the children in the Swedish vampire flick Let the Right One In is very purposeful. Eli, in particular, toes the lines between boy, tomboy, and girlfriend to create a young monster that is everything and other.
20. Graham Chapman as the fish seeking Transvestite (Monty Python's Meaning of Life) - The men of Monty Python all played their fair share of women (and I love Terry Jones' "lady" voice more than I can possibly say), but in this brief bit of absurdism from Meaning of Life, Chapman is like a Blade Runner replicant prostitute...and it's amazing.