The Legend Of Leigh Bowery

2002, Movie, NR, 60 mins


The release of longtime dance videographer Charles Atlas's documentary about London scene-maker Leigh Bowery coincided with the Broadway run of TABOO, a musical account of his life produced by Rosie O'Donnell and starring '80s pop sensation Boy George. But talk of a Bowery revival would be overly optimistic; he was legendary only in the fabulous sense that his outré antics mesmerized a small group of hipsters. The rest of the world never noticed. Born and raised in the conservative, working-class Australian town of Sunshine, the strapping, 20-year-old Bowery decamped for London in 1981 and lived his short life — he died of AIDS in 1994 — as non-stop performance art. Ostensibly a fashion designer — although it's hard to imagine anyone but Bowery in his exercises in body alteration through clothing, which was by turns topless, crotchless, and buttock-baring — he wore make-up, heels and wigs. But you couldn't call Bowery a drag queen in any conventional sense; he looked more like the unholy offspring of TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE's Leatherface and a really creepy circus clown than a Hollywood diva — John Waters's muse, Divine, was demure by comparison. Bowery co-owned the trend-setting club Taboo, designing extraordinary, head-to-toe ensembles that ensured no one ever upstaged him. He safety-pinned false lips to his mouth, dripped streams of colored candle wax down his shaved head and corseted his increasingly ample belly fat into breasts. The effect was fascinating and frightening in equal parts; Taboo habitue Boy George recalls that even gay-bashers gave Bowery a wide berth as he strode down London's streets in towering platform shoes. Bowery modeled for painter Lucien Freud; designed costumes for bad-boy choreographer Michael Clark; performed his own risqué stage shows; exhibited himself behind a one-way mirror in the D'Offay gallery; and formed a short-lived rap group, Raw Sewage, and a scandalous performance-art rock band called Minty. Though unambiguously gay, Bowery married his longtime friend, Nicola, shortly after a particularly outrageous Minty show during which she was "born" from between his legs, naked and covered with blood. Atlas interviews dozens of friends, associates and family members to construct a portrait of Bowery as "a big bundle of contradictions," a liar, emotional bully and knee-jerk provocateur who could also be generous, loving and perfectly behaved. As becomes a legend most, Bowery lived fast, died young and left a striking, if not precisely beautiful, corpse. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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The Legend Of Leigh Bowery
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