The Lady In Question Is Charles Busch

2006, Movie, NR, 94 mins

Review

LADY IN QUESTION IS CHARLES BUSCH, THE
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In his heyday, Charles Busch was one of the few contemporary drag performers (rivaled only by the late Charles Ludlum) able to elevate cross-dressing from campy female impersonation to actual theater. As longtime Busch cohort Julie Halston says in John Catania and Charles Ignacio's adoring documentary, Busch's plays were undeniably campy, but they transcended camp by speaking in universal terms to anyone who ever felt marginalized by the mainstream. Catania and Ignacio's film works best on the level of straightforward biography told through the reminiscences of friends, family, members of Busch's Lost-in-Limbo theatrical troupe and, best of all, Busch himself. The details of a childhood spent attempting to capture the attention of a distracted father who loved opera and old movies come courtesy of Busch's older sisters, Margaret Busch and Elizabeth Busch-LeNe, who go on to describe an adolescent obsession with classic movies that bordered on mania. Busch loved the screen goddesses of Hollywood's golden age, especially embattled broads who wore turbans and reminded him of his beloved Aunt Lillian, who helped raise Busch after his mother's death and saved him from adolescent ennui by enrolling him first in the New York High School for the Performing Arts and then Northwestern University. Realizing that no one was going to help him realize his dream of becoming a performer by casting him in a play, Busch became a writer out of necessity, creating the one-man shows and the hilarious pastiches of old Hollywood and gay sensibility — Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, Theodora: She Bitch of Byzantium, Pardon My Inquisition — that helped establish New York's East Village as a haven for innovative theater and art in the '80s and Busch as one of its brightest tinsel stars. After treating viewers to priceless footage of these tattered glamour productions, Catania and Ignacio rush headlong through Busch's gradual emergence into the mainstream in mock-newsreel form, hitting most of the high points — Vampire Lesbians' move to Off-Broadway, the movie version of Psycho Beach Party, the surprising success of his Tony-nominated Tale of the Allergist's Wife on Broadway. Things take a turn for the serious when Busch is diagnosed with a near-fatal heart aneurysm. Catania and Ignacio intercut Busch's account of his scary near-death experience with scenes from his work that appear to prefigure and comment on his plight, but the technique slows the film down to a stop and heightens the melodrama to a pitch even Busch might find excessive. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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