Nestled amongst the blockbusters - Last Man in Aleppo winner of the Sundance Grand Jury Prize, and Whitney "Can I Be Me" a reputed warts and all (accent on the warts) recounting of the diva's druggy demise - at the Hot Docs Film Festival, is Take A Walk On The Wildside, a loving portrait of the inimitable Paddy Aldridge and her cross-dressing clientele.
Aldridge is such a familiar face to the queer community that is shocking to learn that her store Take A Walk On The Wildside has only been in operation since 1987. Aldridge has dressed drag queens, transwomen, crossdressers and anyone who has wanted to convincingly present as female. And glamorous. Take A Walk On The Wildside is light on the historical and the political, concentrating more on the sheer joy that the transformation brings. It is touching wish fulfillment as a man, who notes that he is very masculine, says, "It's a side of me I've always fancied. I always wondered - could I do it if I tried."
After Aldridge's expert ministrations, he becomes radiant as they prove to him that, "I can become whoever I want to be." Not a bad message for anyone, gay or straight or anywhere on the spectrum, to get from a short documentary.
There is mild comedy as Aldridge blithely asks "What colour is your underwear?" and she is smooth at upselling that she could make a killing at Holts. But she is dedicated to her cause and though we never learn from Take A Walk On The Wildside why that is, we do understand the pleasure beyond the financial that it brings her. It's comforting to know that in 2017 we no longer need an explanation or justification as to why people have sexual or fashion quirks, we can just enjoy seeing them indulged.
Aldridge is also, as anyone who has worked in gay media knows (and it was nostalgia of another sort to see her clippings from fab magazine), a mash-up of a canny promoter and a charming attention whore. Her innate warmth comes across in Take A Walk On The Wildside but her clients are the true stars. Even an extraneous photo shoot featuring Enza Anderson (to attract a more youthful clientele?) can't offset the mood of striving glamour.
Director Lisa Rideout obviously spent time earning the trust of these transformers who are notoriously camera shy, and it pays off. I just wish that all the footage that must be on the cutting room floor could be used to expand Take A Walk On The Wildside into the larger piece that it longs to transform into. Though I'm sure that Aldridge is delighted, Take A Walk On The Wildside is a glowing advertisement for her store and services.
Take A Walk On The Wild Side screens during Hot Docs before Grey Violet - Odd One Out, a portrait of a mathematician who is also a queer activist/performance artist in gay-unfriendly Moscow. Similarly themed is Divine Divas where Brazil's first drag/transvestite revue reunites after 50 years for a performance that can only be spectacular and heartwarming. Also of queer interest is Forbidden Games, the story of Justin Fashanu, the first openly gay British athlete. Forbidden Games's tackling of issues of sexuality and race pave the way for, just in time for Pride, The Force documents the conflict between the Oakland police force and Black Lives Matter.
And of course the ubiquitous RuPaul and Michael Musto make appearances in Susanne Bartsch: On Top.
There are also First Nation spelling bee champions, Philippine beauty queens, sexually exploring Down Syndrome caterers, mermaids, Gilber Gottfried, the disposable Japanese pop stars NMB48, donkeys recovering from abuse, photographer Chris Hondros, an inquiry into the legal battle between Gawker and Hulk Hogan over a sex tape, a horror theme park set in an Australian asylum, and the revelation of just what happens when a body is donated for medical science. If only John Waters were to appear in the documentary recounting the socio-political ramifications of Baltimore's rat infestation, Hot Docs would have transformed itself into a literal walk on the wildside.
Hot Docs Canadian International Film Festival runs from Thurs, April 27 to Sun, May 7 at multiple venues. hotdocs.ca