Having woken this morning to some fucking dirge like religious ceremony on the radio, I snapped it shut and unwrapped a new Kino Lorber disc of Frank Simon's The Queen from 1968. Religion always makes me feel the need to cleanse the palette.
The wonderful portrait above is the legendary New York drag queen, Fabulous Sabrina (born Jack Doroshow) who died not long ago in 2017 at 74 after a lengthy career in the New York avant-garde performance scene.
Sabrina's movie debut was Frank Simon's ground breaking pre-Stonewall movie 1968 The Queen which would have been awarded a major gong at 1968's Cannes Festival if it hadn't been for the May riots. The new Blu-ray disc is a pearl, with not only the 66 minute feature of the girls and their show but several more short archival and retrospective pieces with Fabulous Sabrina, and a truckload of other priceless material.
The sheer guts and activism of the 60s dragsters always comes to the fore when you begin to think historically about radical queer activism. But that's not to ignore also the seminal role of so many drag performers in the evolution of NYC's radical drag/meta-camp/off-off Broadway theatre and performance arts including the great Charles Ludlum, Lypsinka, Ethel Eichelberger, and filmmakers Jack Smith and George Kuchar among so many others.
They're all dead now, as is every last player from Jenny Livingston's superb Harlem drag ball feature, Paris is Burning, originally released in 1990 and recently reissued from a new 4K restoration by Criterion.
So I'm looking forward to a big dinner with like-minded souls later today with plenty of booze, and rock and roll where we can toast the dead, and their memories at a sublimely bucolic setting on a cliffside just above the Waiohini River near Greytown (aka Gaytown to the het tourist hordes.)
And I hope you all have a lovely day forgetting about what a shit year we've all (mostly) been through.
But...to cheer you up ... some more Christmas viewing...
Warner Archive's perfect new restoration of Lubitsch and Raphaelson's sublime The Shop Around the Corner (1940) which has been taken from one of MGM’s rare surviving O-negs from the nitrate era. It looks completely gobsmacking.
The disc was released just before Xmas and is yet another essential purchase.
In the first screen above, Lubitsch finally directs DP Bill Daniels to cut to the picture's very first close up of anyone. Fifteen minutes in, here is the female lead, Margaret Sullavan, with co-star a devastatingly understated Jimmy Stewart just within the shot. And thus for the rest of the picture, Lubitsch never shoots them other than in medium to close two shot, all the way through this delicate ninety minute tragi-farce of their "mistaken identity" comedy within this tender, fragile piece of studio recreated prewar MitelEurop/Hungary that was in itself already in the process of disintegrating under the heel of Hitler and fascism.
Thus in Lubitsch's mise-en-scène the two shot celebrates and defines the couple not only before they're a couple but while they're far from a couple, and in the end, finally a couple.
Bill Daniels also photographed Stewart and Sullavan for Frank Borzage's greatest masterpiece at Metro, The Mortal Storm made the same year for the studio, and much against the will of that meddling bastard Louis B Mayer with an even more urgent cry to rise up to defend personal freedom from the rise of Hitler's fascists.
In Borzage's great film, also released in a stunning new scan and transfer from original elements for Warner Archive last month, Daniels films the final shots of the now gone couple as some kind of sacred ghosts, and Borzage ends the film with a devastating montage of now deserted spaces and locations which the couple have inhabited earlier in the picture, into which the movie seems to be breathing life back into the shots.
This magnificent coda (shots below) is one of the greatest endings in American cinema, and in ways that are even more profound than Antonioni's similar construction for the end of L'Eclisse, whose trajectory seems to be to elevate that film into a breathless post human world of photographed emptiness. Borzage's montage takes the spaces of Mortal Storm and fills them with life and blood, in the face of an overwhelming future assault on life in what is now history. The only other director to match him in this virtually supernatural level of enhanced being is surely Ophuls.
Again both of these discs are essential.
And in a final gong for the year 2020........ I salute Warner Archive and their MPI facility and the magnificent team under George Feltenstein (above) who in my view are doing perhaps the greatest mass preservation and re-distribution job in the history of world cinema with their ongoing rescue of the huge Warner/MGM/RKO library.