Wildness, Wu Tsang, The Tanks, Tate Modern, London
Zoe Pilger is an art critic for The Independent and winner of the 2011 Frieze International Writers Prize. Her first novel, Eat My Heart Out, will be published by Serpent's Tail in February 2014. She is also researching a PhD at Goldsmiths, University of London, on the subject of romantic love and sadomasochism in the work of contemporary female artists. She has appeared on BBC's The Review Show and Sky News
Tuesday 05 February 2013
Nostalgia for more “urgent” times compelled artist and film-maker Wu Tsang, 31, to document the life of a transgender bar called the Silver Platter in MacArthur Park, L.A.
While the ferocity of Stonewall-era protest may have receded, Tsang reminds us in the programme for this absorbing documentary that the average life expectancy of a transgender person worldwide is 23.
Part of Charming For The Revolution, a two day “experimental congress” on gender politics, the UK premier of the film is a powerful call for a socially engaged kind of art. It is also an exercise in self-mythologization.
Wildness was a Tuesday night party that Tsang and his friends ran at the bar from 2008-10. College-educated hipsters mixed with the local transgender working-class Central American community.
The night became legendary. It attracted so much press that Tsang had to write to various newspapers in order to protect the bar’s status as a “safe space” for those who suffer persecution and even death.
This seems strange – since the film’s US premier last year, the bar has received a vast amount of publicity, which must have altered its clientele. Indeed, the slightly queasy aspect of the project is the self-referencing hipster aesthetic.
Tsang has self-identified as “transfeminine” and “transguy.” He is “multi-multi”: born in Massachusetts of Chinese and Swedish descent. He is stunning and charming, and his charisma carries the film, which is narrated by a transgender Guatemalan actress playing the bar itself.
This is a magical realist twist. Beautiful shots of L.A at night are combined with elliptical statements such as “All anyone can do is show up… and refuse to go away.”
The hipster invasion seemed to be welcomed by the Ramirez family, who has owned the bar since 1963. There are plenty of scenes of transgender middle-aged Mexicans dancing with performance artists and DJs with innovative hair-cuts.
The atmosphere is genuinely electric and the soundtrack of original music by Total Freedom and Nguzunguzu makes you wish you’d been to the party.
Tsang and friends took over the abandoned print shop next to the bar and turned it into a legal clinic, advising immigrants about their rights. The film includes harrowing testimonies about crossing the Mexico-US border and the fear of being deported.
Wildness is indebted to Paris Is Burning, the 1990 documentary about ball culture in Harlem, but it is less savage and astute. Still, Tsang's is an exciting talent.
Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beachart
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Pro-Russian rebel 'admits to shooting down plane'
- 2 Israel has discovered that it's no longer so easy to get away with murder in the age of social media
- 3 Israel-Gaza conflict: The myth of Hamas’s human shields
- 4 Amy Winehouse unpublished 2004 interview: ‘Ten years from now I’ll be 30, so I’ll maybe have one baby’
- 5 Dutch paedophile club to fight their ban at the European Court of Human Rights
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?
Hercules, review: Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson takes centre stage in preposterous film
Fight Club 2: Chuck Palahniuk sequel is a 'meta-fictional comment on the cultural response to the original'
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash: 'Nine Britons, 23 Americans and 80 children' feared dead after Boeing passenger jet is 'shot down' near Ukraine-Russia border
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Vladimir Putin is given 'one last chance' to end hostilities in Ukraine
The 'scroungers’ fight back: The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Ukrainian military jet was flying close to passenger plane before it was shot down, says Russian officer
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Massive rise in sale of British arms to Russia