- Latest Reviews
- Creative Projects
Set in the midst of downtown L.A.’s contemporary, underground voguing culture, this street, beat-filled musical film tracks the lives of the inhabitants of a household consisting of a makeshift family of disenfranchised gay, cross dressing, gender bending, oft run away African Americans. Mama aka Queef Latina (Miss Barbie – Q) is the boss and it’s her who decides who and how her ‘children’ will walk. Not out of the house, but voguing in the crowded club, where there are prizes in a number of categories. Everything’s honky dory with Princess Eminence (Philip Evelyn II) and Carter Eminence (Andre Myers) both winning loads of prizes, till pretty boy Brad (Ephraim Sykes) arrives, tossing his man-boy dynamics into the colourful mix.
The camera capturing this film loves its subjects even more than Brad’s mama don’t love him. But as Deondra Lyle (Metra Dee) says about her gay son Brad’s ‘condition’, charms on her dagger like fake nails gleaming, ‘Your father would have killed himself, if he hadn’t a killed himself already.’ I can’t remember when I’ve heard an audience scream with laughter louder than after that line! But the script for this movie’s a real kicker, as it doesn’t pretend things are nice if they ain’t. For me, that makes a refreshing change from the slick Hollywood image me and lots of other ‘normal’ folk (includin’ yo mamma) have never, ever been able to relate to.
There are some marvelous, power-house singers in the cast, among them, the five performers named above, and Christina Allure, played with high style by Lady Red Couture, though there doesn’t seem to be a flat note slotted in anywhere among the cast, and director Larry does well to enable all his actors to be heard. The music of the film is not incidental but it’s thankfully, not overdone either and most of the songs come in squarely when characters have something on their minds needing further exploration, songs acting as devices to help guide us through their thoughts. There are great ballads like ‘Black Love’ as well as funky vouging numbers such as the title track, which makes you feel like you want to go in the aisle and DANCE! My partner thought it’d be apropos if we all danced after the film, but no dice…
There’s some real kick-ass choreography going on here and it’s designed to get a response from the audience both in the onscreen club and from those watching it wherever this film’s being screened. Either way you look at it, the transition from home to nightclub is a bit like falling down the rabbit hole into a wondrous world of creatures, devised from the imaginations of those who’ve dreamed them up.
No pun intended, but colour plays a pivotal role here as well, with the home-front assuming a kitsch scale, not just because of Epi Dorrell’s mothering instincts, but to show that even when they’re at home, these are not your average grey-scale individuals. Whereas, in the film Saturday Night Fever, the 70’s answer to onscreen disco escapism, dance contest participant Tony’s familial world assumes a more functional gradient, in direct contrast to the flash and bright lights of the disco, here we go from its 70’s nod to a kind of synthetic realism, to kaleidoscopic, with the club taking on the double barreled rainbow hues of extraverted showiness, the polar opposite of being disenfranchised being ‘out there,’ for all to see, admire and, identify with. Despite Madonna’s misappropriation through house inflected pop song ‘Vogue’ (1990), the scene however misunderstood continues to thrive in many US cities to this day.
Phillip Evelyn II is one of the standouts in this cast for me, with his Grace Jones good looks and lean, cat like movements. His character as played is murder on the cat walk. And, to touch on a soft spot, his Princess reminded me of a clubbing buddy of mine from the early 80’s with a similar look, who created a minor scandal by strolling into the City of Philadelphia Streets Department office in full makeup and kissing me on the lips in front of a roomful of middle aged, church going female black co-workers! Thanks for reviving some great memories Phillip. You’re an amazing vouger, great singer and fab actor!
The other incredible force in the film, who is the only one to possibly, top Phillip in my opinion, is Miss Barbie –Q, who as Queef Latina brought me a bit closer to understanding the dynamics of pseudo – mothering, something I was familiar with myself when young as I was often semi-homeless, sheltering at a friend’s house, where I was shown a little less tough love by her Mom than my birth one. Your voice is a real threat to nonchalance girlfriend. Hope you hit the big time soon, whatever that means to you. The world needs great actresses/singers like you!
Sheldon Larry’s directing is muti-flavoured, from tutti-frutti, through vanilla and dark chocolate and back again, with some stand alone moments akin to 70’s hyper (as in speedy) realism found in films like Carwash (1976), where you can practically see the characters minds wandering, which is apt, whether it’s intentional or subconscious, as it somehow, adds to the impetus of the story and charm of the characters, seemingly, indicating that they’re innocent at heart, no matter how f-ed up they may appear at any given time. This technique (?) is especially effective in relation to Eppie Durall’s (James Alsop) fluttery, worried, slightly crazy, but likeable character, who we easily become engaged with.
None of these accolades are meant to slight the young lovers in the film, Carter Eminence, rather coyly played by Andre Myers, and newcomer to the scene, Brad, an equally well etched character inhabited by Ephraim Sykes. These reluctant lovers kind of symbolize those holding back everywhere who’re attracted to someone they’re not sure’d be good for them. In both cases, what my granny used to say, ‘One man’s junk is another man’s treasure,’ seems to apply, as these two scared but lonely individuals mutually learn to lower their guards and reach out to one another. Taken in that light, it’s understood that the film’s happy ending is really just the start of something new.
But this film, like every other memorable movie I can think of, from any decade is about identity at its core, and heart fires its driving motivations, to find love and acceptance, which is what we all need and desire. In that, there’s a universality here that’s neither cloying nor overly obvious, but rather, very hard won. A not so quiet riot, as it were, boasting and OTT sure, but only about surface aspects of life, which is all we can logically get a handle on anyway, deeper meanings being transient and too often illusive.
That’s one of the main reasons I love Halloween, because it’s a time you get to ‘be’ someone else, of your own creating. So vouging makes total sense, especially for such a band of outcasts who really need to form their own alternative society. As I’m not part of that world, I welcomed a chance to explore its parameters, fully aware of the fact that the film-makers were free to educate or mislead me as they chose. Whatever their motivations, this is an enjoyable film with a lot to say and a great in your face way of saying it, that I believe will go places, without compromising itself. That’s beautiful, baby!
So what if the ending’s a bit predictable, it still feels good, cause, if what goes around comes around, then surely the so called dregs of society will finally get their rewards, having paid their dues and then some. Then, we have romance, possibly even love, friendship, lust, jealousy, brotherhood, motherhood, sisterhood and the shit life shovels at us in spades. But maybe the lovely pared down ending of this film (before its’ splashy closing) is just there to remind us of the flowers that bloom from mucked up soil.
Though I heard disparaging comments afterwards about the ‘colloquialisms’ in the film’s dialogue, I disagree, as such phrases give it its strong sense of time and place. As an American coming of age in a melting pot neighborhood, the phrases used by the older characters are very familiar to me. Having said that, slang used by younger characters is atypically Greek, though you’d have to be clueless not to understand the dynamics between the characters, slang barriers or no…Having once seen a screening of Ken Loach’s Riff Raff in Philly with subtitles, I can only add that it’s always best to allow yourself to get the gist of things without translations, as it better enables insight and understanding of other cultures.
There are a lot of issues being explored in Leave It On the Floor, not least of which is the fact that no matter what group you profess to belong to, you’re sure to face some facsimile of the same dynamics you were running away from when you join it. Let’s celebrate one another’s differences along the way.
Copyright © EXTRA! EXTRA All rights reserved