“The Cockettes”

 “The Cockettes”

Long hair, bright sequins, and drag queens; not what I expected when I popped in the DVD “The Cockettes”(2002).  Before the film even started there were men dressed as women and women with beards running around the screen and I wondered for a second if I had gotten the right film.  After last weeks adventure through the 1960s pornography I was prepared for anything, but drag queens? I didn’t see that one coming.  Well, even though the documentary was filled with unexpected nudity the film interested me and taught me more about San Francisco culture. 

I had never thought about where drag queens came from, or how they originated and became so popular in San Francisco, where gay pride is an important part of the city.  “The Cockettes” told the history of the dance troupe The Cockettes, and also an insight into the gay community of the 1960s and early ‘70s.  The film brought back to life a time in this city’s history that has been gone for quite some time now.  Directors Bill Weber, and David Weissman did a great job of compiling both recent footage of The Cockettes and old footage.  In a review for the Los Angeles Times, writer Kenneth Turan said, “[The directors] have used excellent interviews and remarkable vintage footage to illuminate a corner of half-forgotten countercultural history”(Turan).  I was shocked to find out that the footage they used was real vintage footage from the 1960s and ‘70s, giving the audience a chance to step back into the past to see a culture they are unfamiliar with.  And although some of the footage is very raw, it is still intriguing and has a history behind it.  The unrehearsed dialog is what came to define The Cockettes.  The long lashes and the nudity is what they did, along with many drugs that ended up killing many of the members along with the terrible AIDS epidemic.  Furthermore, it was a very nice change of pace at the end of the film when the former members took a moment to mention those that had lost their lives to either drugs or AIDS.

Also, a strong move by Weber and Weissman was getting former Cockettes to come back and tell their story.  Turan said, “[The filmmakers] have done a heroic job of getting the surviving Cockettes on film”(Turan).  By having the former Cockettes narrate the film, the documentary did not feel like a documentary, rather a few old friends getting together after ten years to tell their psychedelic story to their children.  The film became very personal because of this and a connection between audience and narrator was formed.  Also, it was very interesting to compare the older version to the younger and freer version of each of the narrators.  Reporter, A.O. Scott wrote in the New York Times, “It is touching to see them now-grayer, stouter, in sportcoats and sensible blouses-alongside their young, flamboyantly dressed (and undressed) selves.  But it was so gratifying to see them preserved in their brief, glorious prime and to experience, even at second hand, the chaotic, inspired freedom they embodied”(Scott).  Seeing the drag queen right next to the perfectly normal average American was very weird, yet insightful.  It shows the audience who they used to be and who they have become without having to use any words.  This visual said more about the time period than all of the words in the film.

In addition to strong narration and use of photos Weber and Weissman did a good job of representing time in the film.  In a lot of documentaries the audience has no idea what time it is and is forced to guess throughout the film.  However, “The Cockettes” was different and represented time through a vintage slideshow.  This added character to the already unique film and also gave it a more professional appeal rather than just all fun and games.  Through these slides, the audience was able to keep track of significant events and keep everything in chronological order, which really helps the audience. 

Over all this film was very good and unique.  I would have never seen it on my own if I did not need to get a movie on reserve in the library, but I am very glad I chose that film.  It kept me interested for almost the entire feature and I did not even fall asleep, which is saying a lot considering how a lot of documentaries make me feel.  Whether it was the flowered head peaces or the extraordinary tassels, this film kept me dialed in for the entirety. 


Scott, A.O. “The Cockettes(2002) Film Review: Where the Drag Queens Wore Beards.” The New York Times. 28 June 2002. 14 Oct. 2008 <http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9804e2df133ef93ba15755c0a9649c8b63&partner=rotten%20tomatoes&gt;.

Turan, Kenneth. “‘The Cockettes'” Los Angeles Times. 26 July 2002. 14 Oct. 2008 <http://www.calendarlive.com/movies/reviews/cl-movie000051330jul26,0,1788962.story&gt;.


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