When I first met Kelly, our conversation went almost immediately to talk of drag queens, and mention of Die, Mommie, Die! soon escaped our lips. Straight out of Colorado Springs, here’s Kelly Nora Buettner with a lovely story of queens, uncles, and Charles Busch’s camp opus.
When someone brings up the idea of “favorite” movies, there always seems to be this scramble to mention the most indie, the most artsy, the most Difficult (with a capital D) movie that they can come up with. Lots of Seventh Seals and 2001: A Space Odysseys and the like. But for me, when I think of a list of my favorite movies, they always seem to end up being the movies that are associated with the best memories. Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?is one of my favorites not only because of the striking visuals and the great comedic timing, but because I remember losing one of my last baby teeth in the theater and feeling like I truly was a big time adult. The movie Laura was also a favorite because it’s one of my favorites not because of Vincent Price’s adorable southern accent and Gene Tierney’s gorgeous face, but because I distinctly remember my mother and I discovering this movie together, feeling the warm glow from her nostalgia and the closeness of sharing an experience together.
And then there’s Die Mommie Die!
You see, I have always been a huge fan of drag queens. I have probably seen every single movie that ever involved drag queens, and (honestly) hoped that I could grow up to be as beautiful and as fabulous as the lot of them. They were always the perfect paragons of womanhood, never had a hair out of place, and lived like the heroines of the black and white films that I loved so much. Truly, every Shady Queen wishes she could be as beautiful and barbed as Bette Davis, or as angled and exotic as Joan Crawford. (Truly, even these ladies grew to become drag versions of themselves in their later years.)
But my family never really seemed to share the same feelings towards the queenly arts as I did, except for my uncle Greg. My uncle Greg was always that family member that I didn’t actually talk to that much, and didn’t always feel that excited to see, but I always felt a certain strange connection with him. He was always the showier family member, the wittier one, the one who knew all of the interesting people and had the interesting tidbits about my father’s side of the family, with stories of mixing my grandmother’s favorite cocktail from a young age to racy tales from his many, many international trips.
As I grew up, my mother finally let me in on what seemed to be a secret (but was really just secret from me): my uncle Greg was gay. (Coming from a Catholic background and having a very Republican father figure, I didn’t even know what the word gay MEANT until probably about freshman year in high school.) When I found out about it, I was very excited and wanted to talk to him all about it (because, as it turned out, gay people are the best kind of people) but found that he refused to really…..come out about it. I suppose that everyone has their own feelings and own pace, but a man who had that many roommates and that many buttons with pink triangles hanging around the house didn’t exactly worry about subtlety.
I began feeling resentful towards him, feeling like maybe he just didn’t like ME, and that’s why he wouldn’t be his most open self around me, so I started avoiding him. But finally, one day, I was over at his house and I stumbled upon a gold mine: a copy of Die, Mommie, Die!This movie was the block upon which my uncle and I began to build a closer and happier relationship. I can thank my uncle (and his wonderful stories) for my long and lasting love affair with live theater as well as the love of the grand and tragic lives of film stars and the drag queens that love them. And that is what makes this movie one of my favorites, because those feelings and attitudes are so well reflected in the writing, direction, and the DRESSES (oh dear god, the dresses!) of Die Mommie, Die!
There has never been a film that so perfectly portrays the beauty and grace (as well as the intrinsic hilarity) of “Ross Hunter-style big screen soaps of the ’60s” (direct quote from the DVD box, btw). In this film, Angela Arden (played by Charles Busch, drag legend and playwright, who literally had his apartment featured in the New York Times and I am DYING with jealousy) is an aging songstress, formerly part of a singing duo with her twin sister Barbra, who kills her angry and manipulative husband/ex manager. The family maid catches wind of the plot, Angela’s children conspire to unearth her deeds, and intrigue and sex ensue. Really, the plot is almost irrelevant to the hilarious quotes, the fantastic costume work, and the performances by some of the best indie/off-the-beaten-path character actors.
Watching this film again really brought out the squealing fangirl in me, but that doesn’t mean that it does not have its flaws. The pacing, while perfect for the stage play the film is based on, is by no means quick. There is also a lot of playing to the audience (which, of course, isn’t supposed to exist), but again, that could have a little something to do with some of the material it’s based on. One of my favorite things about this movie is when it lifts directly from material, like a scene in which Angela is practicing her scales and cracks on a higher note. She’s drinking her scotch and looks into the mirror above the piano, and looks away disgusted. It’s so very, very Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, an absolute classic. (Seriously, if you haven’t watched the battle of the broads that is Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, go, now, run to your Netflix queue and WATCH IT NOW). This is not even mentioning the costumes (seriously, this black and white coat and dress is to die for, and you will know it when you see it). But really, this movie is three fingers of gin and a Virginia Slim and a Judy Garland record all rolled into one. It’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you slightly sick from the laughing, and it will remind you of a time just beyond your grasp. Thank you, Charles Busch, and thank you, Greg, for reminding me that all I really need is a good laugh, a shoulder to cry on, and a fantastic seamstress.
One of my favorite quotes from sassy maid Bootsie: “That minidress is two inches shy of giving away the entire candy counter.”
Constant awesome overwrought sentences> “One feels a memory lingering like smog over the canyon.”
Angela always has that fantastic bar of light that follows her eyes everywhere. (Where can I get me one of those?)
Bootsie finds a bottle in Angela’s dresser marked “arsenic” and decides to taste it. Because that’s what smart people do, taste things from bottles marked arsenic.
Alright, other favorite Bootsie quote. While she’s ushering Angela back inside following the death of her husband: “You’re much too fragile, and way too famous!”
Tony Parker: Sex Detective
Really, I have to stop here, because I could seriously quote the entire film, verbatim, and every line would be my favorite.