Queen, The (1968)

Queen, The (1968)

“All drag queens want is love — and they try to get that love by being beautiful and sexy.”

Drag queens from all over the country compete in 1967’s All American Camp Beauty Pageant in New York.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Beauty Contests
  • Documentary
  • Gender Bending

Made more than two decades before Jennie Livingston’s Paris is Burning (1990), The Queen offers a compelling cinema verite glimpse at the subculture of competitive male cross-dressing. At just a little over an hour long, The Queen stays firmly focused on the task at hand, documenting the participants (all winners in local contests) as they arrive in New York for the ultimate American “camp” beauty pageant, spend days primping and preening, then actually compete against one another for the coveted title of Queen (“There can sadly be only one…”). The most compelling scenes are those in which we get to eavesdrop on the participants chatting in their rooms about topics ranging from sex change operations to homosexuality to the Vietnam War draft; they’re remarkably comfortable with one another, despite their status as rivals. While it’s difficult to imagine some of these men effectively turning themselves into glamorous beauty queens, the results on the Big Night are impressive indeed. Be forewarned that the bitter coda at the end comes as a surprise, yet offers an invaluable glimpse at the underlying politics of any “high stakes” competition.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A revealing glimpse of a unique subculture
  • The contestants talking frankly with each other about the draft, sex operations, and homosexuality

Must See?
No, but it’s a worthy time capsule snapshot, and must-see for documentary fans. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.


One thought on “Queen, The (1968)

  1. Not a must.

    Subject matter aside, I find it wanting as a documentary: there’s little insight – and, at 68 min., not much time for that anyway. What we’re left with is an ultimately sad, pre-Stonewall peep show.

    I’m not even sure how illuminating gay ffs will find this. Although there is at least one extended scene in which a few queens discuss sex changes, what ‘real’ men want from other men, etc., it’s of little consequence.

    I recall this ‘door-opener’ being somewhat ‘notorious’ at the time of its release; this world had not really been captured – perhaps quite this way. But there have since been other docs, as well as feature films, that point up what’s deficient about ‘The Queen’. (‘To Wong Foo…’, for example, shows queens in a better light – although it’s true we are now in more enlightened times.)

    There’s some needlessly intense melodrama about wigs, the tirade near the end is particularly disturbing, and the winner’s fade-out walk is tinged with melancholy.

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