Queer historical past can’t escape its personal evanescence. Neither can queer areas, actually. To guage by the vanity behind Georden West’s fabulous, if indirect, “Playland,” such ephemerality is exactly what makes such a historical past and such areas so ripe for memorializing. On this case, West has turned his consideration to the Playland Café which, over its storied tenure from 1937 to 1998, turned a fixture of the Boston homosexual scene. Moderately than narrativize the bar’s personal story, West opts for a collage-like method, conjuring up figures from the bar’s many pasts in intersecting vignettes that collectively seize the spirit of the Playland Café, each at its glory and now following its demise.
On the middle of “Playland” is an interdisciplinary (transdisciplinary, even) sensibility. West’s movie builds itself out with the usage of archival photos, historic audio clips, choreographed numbers and glittering tableaux vivants. That is an excavated historical past that requires collapsing and colliding worlds and phrases. Certainly, the movie imagines the bar calling forth a few of the figures that haunted its halls over the a long time. As title playing cards in the beginning of the movie inform us, that features not simply Woman (“The Proprietor”) and Viv (“The Bartender”) who play host to this self-described Play (the movie options an “entracte”!), however Tangerine (“A Burlesque Dancer”) from 1943, Frankie (“A Dishwasher”) from 1965 in addition to Hella (“A Deejay”) from 1977 and recurring gamers (1965-1992) like Sunday (“A Drag Queen”) and Tex (“A Server”).
Going down principally within the dilapidated ruins of a reconstructed Playland Café, replete with a pink neon signal, tinsel stage backdrops and even a sterile kitchen, West’s movie brims with theatrical aptitude. As Woman, as an example, Danielle Cooper dons a full leather-based ensemble (together with a prime hat and a pink flower embellishment) that every one however makes them appear to be a ringleader-cum-emcee. It’s Woman who first greets us. It’s her stone-cold stare on the digicam as she lights up a cigarette in an deserted bar sales space as authoritative voices recall how the Café was as soon as shut down over alcohol license violations which fairly actually units the scene for what’s to return. The empty house will quickly replenish with ghostly figures who will convey to life varied eras, presenting a kaleidoscopic chronicle of what the Playland Café stood for within the Boston LGBTQ group.
Recruiting not simply Woman Bunny (who will get fairly a scene, that includes a swing of all issues) and Cooper (of “Pose” fame) however a string of queer expertise that features Alvin Ailey dancer Miranda Quinn, burlesque performer Maine Anders and trans bodybuilder Mason Caminiti, West has been cautious to invoke the spirit of the Playland Café, not simply its hallowed halls. Each scene — or sequence, extra like — anchors viewers in moments the place the bar nurtured a group even because it confronted violent threats from the surface world. Drag performances, burlesque acts, DJ units and even impromptu dance numbers commingle with archival footage (visible and aural) that take us all the best way from the bar’s early years the place it battled native ordinances to later nonetheless when it couldn’t assist however be embroiled in civil rights fights and satisfaction celebrations.
The movie’s most participating moments come when such juxtapositions generate an exciting manner of chopping throughout house and time. Take a shot of two cooks (circa 1965) staring on the digicam in wistful defiance as they learn a replica of “Fag Rag” (based in 1971). Scoring the nonetheless shot is the voice of one of many journal’s founders as he regales his interlocutor with the story of how the publication got here to be. Such vignettes are rigorously artwork directed, made to feel and appear like shadowboxes that, collectively, cobble up a imaginative and prescient of the Playland Café that refuses to be pinned to anyone time.
That is exactly what occurs in its climactic second act sequence the place a efficiency of Strauss’s “Der Rosenkavalier” helps marry excessive and low tradition; Woman Bunny’s Sunday lip syncs in an outfit that screams Ziegfeld’s Follies whereas Woman, in her leather-based getup conducts from the aspect. Camp and melancholy are blended so skillfully that even with out the requisite subtitles, you’d be stunned by the overdetermined meanings of such a set piece.
If at occasions “Playland” feels extra like an set up than a function movie — that is an experimental piece at the start, aligned with the work of Kenneth Anger, Derek Jarman and the like — the mental heft its creation requires is sufficient to make it an intriguing proposition. Not simply as a method to (re)assemble queer historical past however as a manner of apprehending it, particularly at a time when areas just like the Playland Café are in danger not simply of disappearing but in addition of being outright forgotten. In that “Playland” stays true to the spirit of the Mark Doty poem it options and whose title it shares since right here the Playland “will not be a restaurant, however a form of sequin.” It glitters and sparkles exactly as a result of it fends off the darkness that threatens to dimits gentle, its magnificence, its sorrows.