Wigstock: The Movie

Director: Barry Shils

Institute History

  • 1995 Sundance Film Festival


Wigstock brought drag out of the dark and into the light of day, and Wigstock: The Movie throws it onto the screen in a vibrant film that is more of a celebration than a concert. For those of you who haven’t noticed, drag is totally in vogue. It was always around, in out-of-the-way bars or chattered about in hushed tones on afternoon talk shows. But now Hollywood is embracing cross-gendering with Tootsie; The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert; and Mrs. Doubtfire; even Arnold is pregnant. The difference is that Wigstock is the “real thing,” relatively speaking. It’s the Superbowl of drag.

Wigstock is an annual event, held on Labor Day in downtown Manhattan, that burst onto the hip underground scene ten years ago. Its first incarnations took place in Thompson Square Park, but it has since become a major extravaganza, now boasting a record-breaking twenty thousand people in attendance. The Lady Bunny, the creator and reigning diva, emcees the festivities, an all-day affair that has been described as Woodstock without bad hair.

Barry Shils, the director of the movie, has captured the essence of this event. He dives his cameras into the very roots of this tangled, teased-up, high-gloss festival. Going behind the scenes on an expedition of sorts, we witness rarely seen preparations and a remarkable rehearsal scene that jump-cuts to the actual performance. We realize that under the makeup and glamor, true talent is on display. The performers are a wonderful lineup of well-known and cult artists of our time, including RuPaul, Lypsinka, Debby Harry, Deee-Lite, and Jackie Beat, whom festivalgoers may remember as Jo in last year’s dramatic competition film, Grief. But this movie claims “a cast of thousands and all in wigs” and definitely lives up to its boast, with the audience as decked out and outrageous as the stage show.

As with the event, Wigstock: The Movie is about fun and style but mostly celebrates uninhibited imagination. The film is a refreshing adrenaline boost of pop culture. Throughout the years, freedom has come in many guises, but its look for the nineties may entail donning a wig, sporting a dress, and strutting in size-fourteen heels.

— John Cooper

Screening Details

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