The old template for documentaries ever since the first, the silent "Nanook of the North," was that the director should take a "God’s-eye view" of his subject. That’s been upended in recent years with advocacy directors like Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock.
Wu Tsang gives us a loving look at the Silver Platter, a seedy East L.A. dive that became over the years a haven for Latino drag personalities, but the title of his documentary betrays his own agenda. "Wildness" was the name of a Tuesday night party that Tsang and some other multi-cult hipsters threw at the Silver Platter that became trendy among L.A. fashionable self-styled avant-garde. (And yes, the party looks as obnoxious -- at least to me -- as that description.)
Way too much of "Wildness" is devoted to the endless kind of navel-gazing to which urban hipsters, from New York’s Williamsburg to San Francisco’s North Beach are all too addicted. Hey, guys, it was just a bar party, not a "movement," as one of the organizers pretentiously terms it.
The inevitable clash between the mostly non-Latino hipsters of Wildness and the drag queens -- most of them poor, undocumented, non-fluent in English and uneducated -- provides much of the dramatic tension in "Wildness." But behind this fairly unremarkable conflict -- unremarkable and inevitable in a gentrifying neighborhood like MacArthur Park -- are the "girls" and the bar’s owning family, and they give some wonderful anecdotes.
The Silver Platter’s very ordinariness -- nearly every big city with a substantial Latino population has such a bar -- gives it a kind of charm. Tsang’s use of a female Spanish-speaking narrator at the bar itself actually works much better than it has any right to, mostly because this allows him a shortcut to relating the basic history of the place without the normal verbosity of talking heads.
Where Tsang stumbles is in giving too much weight to his own party and to inconsequential "controversies," like a review of the bar in the local alt-weekly paper L.A. Weekly’s "Best of" issue, which seems to be no better or worse than the usual filler in such newspapers. Where he succeeds is in covering how the Silver Platter and its patrons react to political issues, such as the murder of a local transperson.
What really distinguishes Tsang’s work, however, is his outstanding cinematography and editing. "Wildness" is a valuable slice-of-life of L.A.’s hardscrabble working-class drag personalities. If it drags in parts, it’s still well worth a look.
This article is part of our "Miami Gay And Lesbian Film Festival" series. Want to read more?
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