Saturday, February 13, 2010

Film Review: OUTRAGEOUS! (1977, Richard Benner)

Stars: 4.3 of 5.
Running Time: 96 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Craig Russell, Hollis McLaren, Allan Moyle, Helen Shaver, Michael Ironside.
Tag-line: "Outrageous! Outrageous! Outrageous! Outrageous!"
Best one-liner: "There are three important things in life: sex, movies, and my career. You should think almost entirely about them and never about yourself." or maybe "If that's Dino Di Laurentiis, tell him I'm not speaking to him, and he knows why!"

Well, I figured I'd end Ironside week on an unexpected note with a work which he's not particularly integral to, but which is of interest to Ironside scholars because it marks the man's very first screen appearance. Though Ironside week has come to an end, expect a bonus (CHAINDANCE) review in the coming days.

"How many Zsa Zsa Gabors can be in a room at a time?!" That's not a joke, by the way- that's an honest question. OUTRAGEOUS! is an extremely naturalistic, frequently hilarious, profound slice of life from the pre-tax shelter days of Toronto's 1970's indie film scene. Based on autobiographical short stories by Margaret Gibson which describe her time living with drag performer Craig Russell (who basically plays himself), her struggles with mental illness, and her attempts to make sense of a world which seems to employ labels like 'normal' and 'freakish' with reckless abandon.

So rarely does a film- on any subject- possess the timbre, the flavor, or the essence of real life that OUTRAGEOUS! so effortlessly exudes. Basically as Gibson herself, Hollis McLaren delivers a completely connected, in-the-moment performance (with electrifying shades of Sissy Spacek!).

The circle of friends also contains an understated, eyeliner'd turn by future director Allan Moyle (PUMP UP THE VOLUME). The centerpiece, however, is Russell- a maelstrom of positive energy and uncanny impersonations [from Tallulah Bankhead to Ethel Merman to Judy Garland to Mae West (who, at one point, Russell was the real-life secretary of!) and beyond],

he counsels without being corny, he's a free spirit while still firmly grounded in reality, and he's a drag performer who somehow manages to keep fresh those same old bits we've seen a thousand times already. The journey is a compelling one, and you're as likely to stumble upon moments of true poignancy as you are an under-the-muumuu striptease:

or pseudo-leather daddies with metal dildos in their pockets:

or... the film debut of one of my greatest celluloid heroes: Michael Ironside. Billed as 'Drunk,' I'm not sure that I'd go that far- he's really just "intense audience member with glasses" at the Manatee Club when Russell does his Bette Davis routine.

He doesn't even have any lines. So, I guess what I'm saying is: don't necessarily see it for Ironside- but certainly see it. Four stars.

-Sean Gill

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