Knight at the Movies ARCHIVES
A gay icon in the making is profiled in a delicious documentary
When I hail John Catania-Charles D. Ignacio’s documentary The Lady in Question is Charles Busch which profiles the gay
performer-playwright-jack of all trades who often performs in drag I’m aware that it may have affected me a tad more strongly than
it might others. So many things in Busch’s life story resonated with me that I felt at times I was connecting with an old friend. The
Lady in Question will have this affect, I believe, on a lot of other middle aged gay men who found early solace in the glamour queens
of classic Hollywood and learned to channel that love into their own lives.
Ironically, Busch’s own life as revealed in the film has all the ingredients of a Hollywood classic – a sort of cross between the “Live!
Live! Live” exhortations of Auntie Mame and the tragic inspiration of Dark Victory. It’s sort of like seeing what would have happened to
Mame’s nephew Patrick if the character had grown up gay.
To tell this Cinderfella like story, the movie draws on Busch’s two sisters, close friends, creative associates, and his long time partner
Eric Myers (who incongruously wrote a wonderful biography of Auntie Mame creator Patrick Dennis a/k/a Edward Tanner). Especially
funny and charming is his longtime gal pal and fellow performer Julie Halston. After Busch, a native of New Jersey, loses is mother
at an early age, he goes to live with his Aunt in Manhattan who encourages him in his dreams of becoming a performer and
playwright (though it isn’t noted whether she actually advised little Charles, “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to
Busch’s dreams and love of old movies melded in his delirious pastiche/parodies that he wrote and starred in for his nascent early
80s theatre company, Theater-in-Limbo. Busch and company struck gold with one of them, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and from that
pinnacle Busch went on to create Psycho Beach Party, Shanghai Moon and numerous other plays. The movie draws on a lot of grainy
video footage from these shows for this section (as did The Nomi Song about performance art vocalist Klaus Nomi) which clearly
showcases the hilarious brilliance of Busch and his players.
Then came Busch’s Broadway smash play, The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, the adaptation of the much troubled Boy George musical
Taboo, and finally movie stardom (at least of the indie variety) with Psycho Beach Party and Die! Mommie Die! These career highlights
are detailed along with personal and professional losses (Busch’s career rise parallels that of the AIDS epidemic in New York) as well
as a terrifying and unexpected health scare. Throughout, Busch is an ingratiating and compelling camera subject who still seems
star struck by his own success and perhaps unaware that he has reached a pinnacle on par with that of his beloved Hollywood divas –
a gay icon that the community will embrace and justifiably tout for decades to come.
Chicagoans will have the opportunity to meet Busch and the documentary’s directors, Catania and Ignacio at an exclusive, one night
only screening of the film on Friday, June 2nd at 7pm at Film Row Cinema at Columbia College (1104 S. Wabash Avenue). A
reception honoring the star and filmmakers with hors d’oeuvres from J&L Catering and cocktails from Stolichnaya Russian Vodka
immediately follows. The screening is a benefit for Chicago Filmmakers and Reeling, in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the
annual gay and lesbian film festival and is being underwritten by local philanthropist Michael Leppen. Tickets are $75 and available
online at www.reelingfilmfestival.org or by calling 773-293-1447.
The Lady in Question is Charles Busch
5-31-06 Knight at the Movies/Windy City Times Column
By Richard Knight, Jr.