Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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DENNIS KEIGHRON-FOSTER, AMY WATSON: DEEP IN VOGUE (2019)

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STILL FROM DEEP IN VOGUE

A film about Northern Vogue and its people

What is vogue or voguing? An 8-minute film, "Night Visions Episode 1: The New York Vogue Scene" depicts it at the source, New York City, and explains some aspects of vogue further than this longer film, such as its "six elements": hands, spinning, the dip, floor performance, duckwalk and catwalk. There's a lot of hip-swinging and butt-wiggling, and a lot of flopping the arms back and forth and around in all directions in reverse, in unison, helicoptering, as in the 1990 Madonna song, "Vogue."

The version depicted in Deep in Vogue isn't generally as swoony and elegant as Madonna's gorgeous soft-focus black-and-white music video, which evokes pop culture icons as wide-ranging as Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin. It's campy, it's exhibitionistic, it's individualistic, it's empowering and fun, and it's often pure invention on the spur of the moment, using moves long practiced, like the "Soul Train" of seventies TV line but more provocative and crazy. It could also be a coordinated dance performance, like a group of four in Deep in Vogue dressed in orange. It developed in the Harlem ballroom scene in the sixties and then was a thing "more for the drag queens and the transsexuals." And because they were illegal they did it - as an empowering display of their inventive movement of their bodies and of their originality in creating personas and costumes - at 3 a.m., when safe from prying eyes. It grew into a wider-spread event in the eighties.

Voguing is now widely known and popular. It still thrives in New York City today as the Night Visions film shows, and its embowering, underdog quality remains, but those participating have expanded to a wider social cross section, though the LGBT community remains an essential element and so does participation of black, Latin and multiracial people of both sexes - and of fluid sexuality. All this applies also to the pursuit of vogue transplanted to England that we see depicted in Deep in Vogue (the title comes from the name of a 1989 song by Malcolm McLaren). Now the word "queer" has come into it, as shown in this new film from Manchester, where, someone says, people know better what it is to be misunderstood or downtrodden than Londoners do. "I may be not be gay but I certainly am queer!" someone exclaims. Another germane term to learn: QTIPOC people: Queer Trans Intersex People of Color. "This is a time of fluid sexuality," someone says. But white and yes, even straight people may participate - and definitely may and do come to watch and enjoy.

In the north of England, they're in the boonies; they're disadvantaged, hard hit by hard times. As we see here, the social concept and organization into "houses" with "mothers" remains the same in Manchester as in New York, because vogue is not only a platform for self-realization and liberation from constraint but very much a source of personal empoerment, a support group, and a substitute family, with parents who welcome you as your own parents have failed to do. And vogue as before and as in New York centers around competitions or balls (by "house"), always with the principle, mentioned in the New York short and the Manchester film, that the aim isn't primarily to win, though winning is enjoyable, but to have fun and express yourself.

Deep in Vogue was shot over the course of a year, leading up to the Manchester Icons Vogue Ball. It explores the roles played by LGBT issues, a shrinking welfare state, a dearth of art spaces and means of expressing yourself, as well as a commercialized gay scene and lack of safe spaces for people marked out as "different." Iet's mainly a lot of people talking, and briefly, dancing - though "voguing" sometimes seems a lot like just posing or posturing, as indicated by the opening line of Madonna's "Vogue": "Strike a pose." We meet the House of Suarez, the House of Ghetto, and others.

The fluid gender folks of Deep in Vogue, with their distinctly northern accents, show us that if you have enough style and attitude you can make a white bed sheet look good; indeed there is one dance that's done by a group of four dancers in pieces of white sheets spattered artfully with red dye.

The interviews are often collectively conducted in packs from a particular "house," showing how it's all about being mutually supportive, a family. The dancers have as many different styles and looks as LaMello Ball coming up had basketball team uniforms: it's also all about rocking your own distinctive look.

Deep in Vogue, 62 mins., debuted Mar. 2010 at BFI Flare, the London LGBT film festival. It won the audience Award at Dublin's Gaze International LGBT Film Festival; it had its US East Coast premiere at New York City’s NewFest 2019 OutCinema. It has also showed at a number of other LGBT and queer fests. Filmrise will release the film in North America on VOD Dec. 8, 2020.

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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