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Friday, November 8, 2013

Reeling Review #7: Three Groovy Documentaries Worth Seeing at Chicago's LGBT Film Festival

The Staple Singers' 1972 hit, "I'll Take You There", is fittingly played over the end credits of Malcolm Ingram's new documentary, Continental, about the legendary Continental Baths in New York City. He takes us through the history of the gay bathhouse with illuminating interviews of people who frequented the place - either as patrons or employees - including owner Steve Ostrow, who is an interesting man to get to know. Two other documentaries, I Am Divine and I Always Said Yes: The Many Lives of Wakefield Poole, also tell the compelling biographies of two men - the infamous drag queen/actor Divine and film director Wakefield Poole (Boys in the Sand) - and I highly recommend that you see all three of these fascinating films.

Director Jeffrey Schwarz has already given us great documentaries about gay activist/author Vito Russo, film director William Castle, and 1970s adult film star Jack Wrangler, but now he has turned his attention to the one and only Divine, who appeared in such memorable John Waters films as Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, Polyester and Hairspray before his death in 1988 at age 42. I Am Divine paints a colorful picture of this fabulous drag superstar with new interviews featuring Waters as well as actors Tab Hunter, Ricki Lake and Mink Stole. It's a loving portrait filled with many fond memories from those who were lucky enough to call him a friend.

Director Jim Tushinski, who previously told us all about a porn star legend in the 2005 documentary, That Man: Peter Berlin, has now gone behind the camera in I Always Said Yes to focus on another man - director Wakefield Poole, who gave us such gay porn classics as Boys in the Sand (1971) and Bijou (1972). As much as I enjoyed hearing about these films starring the gorgeous Casey Donovan and the well-endowed Bill Harrison, I was more interested to learn about Poole's friendship with gay activist Harvey Milk and his involvement as a "Choreographic Associate" for the 1965 Richard Rodgers/Stephen Sondheim Broadway musical, Do I Hear a Waltz? (of which some archival footage from a technical rehearsal is featured). Poole, who is now retired and living in Florida, did lead many intriguing lives, which are all recounted in Tushinski's entertaining documentary.

I Always Said Yes also reveals that Poole first met a longtime lover at the Continental Baths, which brings us back to Continental, the new film about the establishment. During its six years in existence (1968-74), many famous (or soon to be) people performed for the towel-clad clientele, including Sarah Vaughan, LaBelle and Bette Midler (with her piano player Barry Manilow), while other celebrities - like Alfred Hitchcock, Andy Warhol and Rudolf Nureyev - just enjoyed visiting. Ingram's documentary, however, focuses mainly on proprietor Steve Ostrow, who simply wanted to create a clean bathhouse that respected its customers. He obviously succeeded - as did Divine and Wakefield Poole in their own respective careers - and now all three men are deservedly being celebrated in groovy movies worth seeing.

I Am Divine
Show time: 4:45 pm, Sunday, November 10, at the Logan Theatre (2646 N. Milwaukee)
Running time: 89 minutes

I Always Said Yes: The Many Lives of Wakefield Poole
Show time: 2:30 pm, Sunday, November 10, at the Logan Theatre (2646 N. Milwaukee)
Running time: 90 minutes

Show time: 9:15 pm, Tuesday, November 12, at the Logan Theatre (2646 N. Milwaukee)
Running time: 95 minutes

For a complete schedule of films at Reeling31: The Chicago LGBT International Film Festival (which runs November 7 - 14), go to You can purchase tickets online (click here) or in person at Chicago Filmmakers (5243 N. Clark) Monday - Friday 10:30 am - 6 pm. You can also get the latest festival news by following Reeling on Twitter and Facebook. And click here to read all my reviews.

1 comment:

Mark in DE said...

I saw "I Am Divine" at the Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival this past weekend and loved it. I never knew Divine had a disco/punk performance career and made several albumns!