The Cockettes | Chicago Reader

The Cockettes

Aptly described by John Waters as a troupe of “hippie freak drag queens,” the Cockettes debuted in 1969 at the Palace Theatre in San Francisco, entertaining a midnight-movie crowd with their outrageous psychedelic camp, and over the next three years they mounted more than a dozen musicals and became the toast of the town. Documentarians Bill Weber and David Weissman interview the surviving members, who converged on Haight-Asbury in the late 60s searching for chemical enlightenment and sexual freedom, and unreel home-movie footage that chronicles the troupe's growth from a high-spirited commune to a semiprofessional company making its New York debut in November 1971. A harmless but complacent exercise in 60s nostalgia and self-congratulation, the film becomes more engrossing as the troupe begins to splinter under the demands of staging more elaborate shows and ultimately loses its flamboyant founder, Hibiscus, who quits to form the more open-ended Angels of Light Free Theater Collective. Prior to their New York opening the Cockettes caused a sensation among the city's glitterati, but onstage their amateur theatricals were a colossal flop—a revealing climax that locates their endless party somewhere between show business and personal theater. 99 min.

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