Judy and Babs—Happy days/Shout Hallelujah
I need a moment to compose myself. I just got out of the theater at the Angelika. I saw Judy. It’s Friday and I thought I’d treat myself to a movie after the fracas that was yesterday.
Some days hit me harder than others. Yesterday was about staring in a mirror and seeing what others see. At least in terms of comedic writing. Everyone’s awful in the beginning, right? Or at least they get better?
I wanted to take stock this morning. After the umpteenth night of fighting to sleep, I managed to get some rest in at 4 a.m., lulled to sleep with an album of Beethoven piano sonatas. Someone once played one for me, or rather he played it for himself in the shower after a similar night of restlessness. It stuck with me. Even if he didn’t.
This morning I had to decide if, after four months, I’m ready to throw in the towel and go home. But what makes a home anyway? I’ve been lonely and worthless in Tucson. At least in NYC there’s some glimmer of hope. Which brings me to Judy.
Biopics are always a gamble. Since they’re based in reality, the question always is, “Can they pull it off?” And after seeing the movie, all I can say, is goddamn it did they! Renee is phenomenal as Judy. In the same moment, she manages to inhabit the character in a way that doesn’t outshine it while at the same time just shining in her craft.
The script is somewhat lacking in the boogeyman department. It could probably have been a little more artistic and a little less pastiche in the flashbacks. But when Renee is front and center, the movie is grounded and terribly tragic.
Tragic. A word I know a little about. Judy the star had to be on, on, on. But all Judy wanted was to be was a human being. To be the best mother she could be she had to perform. And to be the best performer she could be she had to give up her humanity. Gay men knew what it was to smile through tears. And so they identified with her.
Two weekends ago, I was video chatting with someone, a hetero male. In the middle of the chat we got disconnected, so I took time to get ready to go out. The look was 90’s gothic vamp. Dark lipstick…the shade Chanel put out that was constantly out of stock. I glued my hair down. Put on a nude colored babydoll dress, two different colors of fishnets and black patent leather loafers covered in rhinestones and chains.
When I got back on the phone, hetero man said he liked me better natural. But I don’t think he understood. Straight men love saying that. They want to see you without makeup. It’s like a gauge of authenticity for them. I used to have this friend who spent giant gobs of time putting on makeup to look completely natural, only to be hiding behind a happy façade. When I get dressed up, which is always in drag, that is when I feel natural.
How do I know? Because that night I was approached by a handful of gay men who told me I looked phenomenal. I guess it’s just that I feel free to be myself, my most self, when I’m in drag. If people are looking at me, it’s because I made them. And that is my tragedy: live for myself and alienate straight men who can’t accept me for me, or live for the adulation of straight men and lock myself away in a tiny box that won’t offend them.
The end of the movie is worth every minute leading up to it. Judy, after becoming a washed up laughing stock, finds redemption through vulnerability. And the gay men are the first to shore her up. I cried. Just buckets. Hope, she said, or something to the effect of it, is a walk we take every day. And then she sings about being somewhere over that rainbow, where clouds all melt like lemon drops, away above the chimney tops. That’s where you’ll find me.
Alfie, my new Puerto Rican friend, told me something a while ago. “Wear color. This city is black enough.” And so I think I will.