The Queen is presented in collaboration with Houghton Library’s exhibition American Drag, curated by Matthew Wittmann, running from September 6, 2022 – January 7, 2023.
A tour of the exhibition at Houghton Library will be held at 5:45PM prior to the film screening.
Frank Simon’s rarely screened documentary follows the lead-up to and culmination of the 1967 Miss All-America Camp Beauty Contest held in New York City, in one of the first feature films to point the camera at a then underground scene of drag performers. Instead of dramatizing the culture and people documented in the film, Simon utilizes a “fly-on-the-wall” technique, much like the documentary work of Frederick Wiseman, who released Titicut Follies the same year that the beauty contest took place. The Queen exposes the authenticity and empathy of its characters as they openly and unabashedly discuss their sexuality, gender, relations with their partners and parents, prejudiced encounters with the US draft board and viewpoints on racial tensions. Filming from a behind-the-scenes perspective, Simon shows audiences the intricate process and preparation work—nails, shaving, wig care, eyebrows, makeup and costumes—that drag queens endure in order to invent their self-styled glitzy and glamourous stage personas. Though well-known icons exist on the edges of The Queen—such as Warhol superstar Mario Montez—the film carefully and systematically passes over these celebrities to focus on the true stars of the film: the drag performers themselves. At the time the film was released—prior to the 1969 Stonewall uprising in Greenwich Village—dressing in drag was perceived as a public offence by authorities under nineteenth century “masquerade laws.” The Queen transcends narrowmindedness to explore the dedication and craft of a select group of brave artists who risked everything to share their true selves. – Alexandra Vasile