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What an unexpected treat.Long before Pricilla and all the others, there was Craig Russell. His impersonations remains vividly embedded in my brain because besides the look and mannerisms, I perceived the soul of the characters in question. They are not caricatures but tributes. His Judy Garland is heartbreaking and his Mae West hilarious.As if all that was not enough we have a screenplay of such intelligence and wit that I'm surprised this film is not a classic. When Holly's doctor finds out she lives with a man, he tries to warn her about the risks (she's bi polar) of an emotional, sexual entanglement. She reassures him telling him "Don't worry, we sleep in separate worlds" Lovely.
... has made me think of this movie thousands of times since I saw it (and marveled at Taylor) at the old Playboy Theater in Chicago on a particularly nasty winter night. This was when it (and I) first came out, and I've not seen it since, so pardon my fumbles on the details, but.... One character is *waaay* down in the pit of despair toward the end of the film, and second character basically delivers a get-over-it slap: "You're just like everybody else. You're alive and sick and living in Toronto...." The audience roared. Who needs "alive and well"? We all *are* alive and sick and living wherever. And alive and sick (or sick of heart, or sick of it all) and living lots of places since, it's slapped me back into a smile more times than I can count. It was quite a gift, in its sweet neurotic way.
The late Craig Russell is the star of Outrageous! It was a cult favorite
here in the Boston area, playing for weeks at the late lamented Orson Welles
Cinema. I had a bright red T-shirt with the movie logo on the front that I
treasured for years.
First and foremost, the film is a document of his brilliant performances; he not only got the look and mannerisms of his subjects down cold, he also spoke and sung all the voices himself!
The plot, such as it is, is a tale about his attempts to become a successful performer, and about his schizophrenic friend and how he and she support and heal each other. It's not bad, but the performances are the heart and soul of the film.
Outrageous! was long out of print; happily for the world, it's available again. Get it while you can.
Both leads are spectacular. Unlike most early (pre-AIDS) gay films, this still hits the spot. I've been ruined for life by these (actual, not lipped) impersonations. All by themselves, the impersonations are worth renting/buying this film, but the rest of the story is also superbly done. This should prove to those who get their kicks out of ridiculing Canadian films that they were wrong.
Outrageous is a very special film. Imagine you live in the 70s and you were in a club or theatre anywhere in Canada or the USA. The announcer says: Ladies and Gentlemen. Mrs. Judy Garland. You think by yourself. Judy Garland? I thought this woman is dead. But the women on the stage is not Judy Garland but Craig Russell (a Canadian), one of the best female impersonators of our century. Because he was not only able to imitate the look of his idols (many great actresses and singers from the 30s to the 60s). He could also imitate the voices of the women. In the film he plays a gay character (which he really was) who shares a flat with a schizophrenic woman and makes his unbelievable shows at the evening. Craig Russell died too early of AIDS and he made only two films: Outrageous and the sequel. Craig Russell was a unique person and after his death Canada and the world had lost one of its greatest idols.
Outrageous! is a truly remarkable film, and an attest to
the genius of Craig Russell. The film opened in Manhattan
during the early fall of 1977 without so much as a trailer or publicity of
any kind...just word of mouth. Within one
week people were queuing up in droves to see it! Not
coincidentally, Craig Russell, the film's star, was
staging his brilliant one man show "A Man And His Women"
right around the block from the cinema. This masterful
stroke of showmanship made him the toast of Manhattan.
Outrageous! is a film about human relationships and
acceptance...of loving, supporting and encouraging those
people whom you care about. It's filled with character
studies that are rich and evocative.
Craig Russell was truly a genius. He was in my opinion
the greatest female "impressionist" of all time. By
utilizing his own vocal talents, facial expressions and
simple make-up and costume changes, he would transform
into Mae West, Talulah Bankhead, Bette Davis, Judy
Garland, Carol Channing or Peggy Lee (to name but a few)
so seamlessly, one would easily forget they weren't
witnessing the genuine article. His one man show "A Man
and His Woman" which played at "Theatre East"in Manhattan allowed
to see the true extent of his talent
that was only touched upon in the film.
Outrageous! is a film that dramatically changed and
enriched my life. The film should be restored and reissued both
and on DVD. It sends a profoundly
positive message that should be passed on to future
R. Stephen Weber Burbank, CA
["If a caterpillar was afraid of wings it would never
become a butterfly, and people would say, 'Look, there's a
worm on the tree....' But they'd never seen it spinning
colors into the air......"]
I first saw "Outrageous" 22 years ago, (this will sound strange) I was so moved by it's greatness and at the time didn't have a VCR that I recorded it with a hand held tape recorder-audio-and that was how I 'watched' the movie for years til I got it on video. That is how incredibly touching, and GREAT this movie was and is! In it's unique way it almost reaches out and literally touches your heart if you let it. (And maybe even teach you a thing or two about life, love, people, and most important, FRIENDS!!)
It's low budget shows in its grainy print and poor sound, but the quality
performances by the entire cast make up for the films shortcomings.
The late Craig Russell pulls out all the stops as he displays his talent for female impersonation. Hollis McLaren is the ideal nut case. And Helen Shaver, in one of her earlier roles, is ideal as the friend who is accepting of people for who they are, embellishing their positive traits.
My one criticism of the film is the costuming. Not Russell's drag apparel, which matched each of his impersonations perfectly. But other wardrobe choices in the film were distractingly awful, especially during the Christmas party scene. Russell's jumpsuit was about 3 sizes too small, and Shaver's dress was something out of Ringling Brothers' clown reject closet.
Still, students and lovers of independent film will admire this one for its style, its daring, and its overall effort.
Bittersweet story of a hairdresser in Toronto who becomes a drag star
(sort of) and his friendship with a schizophrenic girl trying to start
a life away from her mother and hospitals. As played by Craig Russell
and Hollis McLaren we see two fragile-but-believable characters
struggling to find themselves in New York City.
McLaren's character of Liza has been released after years in a mental ward. She's still defiant and wants to experience life. She moves in with Russell in Toronto and has ups and downs and ends up pregnant. Russell is drawn to performing in a local club and loses his job, giving him the excuse to pursue his drag act full time, eventually moving to New York. After Liza loses her baby, she follows Russell to New York and realizes that the "bone crushers" she often hallucinates have stayed behind in Toronto.
The main focus though is Russell as he prepares for and then performs his act. He channels Tallulah Bankhead at the drop of a hat and with a series of wigs and quick changes he impersonates Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Carol Channing, Pearl Bailey, Ella Fitzgerald, Bette Midler, Ethel Merman, Marlene Dietrich, Mae West, Barbra Streisand, and Judy Garland. The Midler is not great but the others are pretty much spot on.
Best of all is is a full-dress Peggy Lee singing "It Ain't Easy." This is Russell's best act and the song is terrific (Paul Hoffert wrote it). It also bring us to the marvelous and surreal ending when Russell, still in full Peggy Lee drag tells Liza that she's not crazy, just special, and that she must simply be herself, embrace her madness and make it work for her. He tells her we are all mad and then teaches her to do a deep Bankhead laugh saying maaaaaad, maaaaad.
Also in the cast is the very funny Richert Easley as Perry, a would-be drag queen who has a passion for Karen Black. As he's begging Liza for the loan of a dress he grabs one out of the closet and she tells him "that's my best dress." He looks at her and opines, "This is your best?" Also in the cast are Helen Shaver as a lesbian friend.
A word must be said for the wonderful music by Paul Hoffert, who in addition to "It Ain't Easy," also wrote "Step Out" sung by Cecille Frennette.
At first I reacted against the sentimentality of the madness-as-nonconformism theme, which is really mostly down to Hollis McLaren; as Craig Russell's heavily medicated roommate, she gets more than a little familiar when she expresses her downturns with hushed gibberish or staring through her fingers. But in between episodes she really gets to articulate the bill of outsiders' rights, and Russell is right there with her. No comparable clichés in this film's depiction of the Toronto gay scene, a diverse yet claustrophobic enclave that places transvestites on the bottom of a depressingly rigid hierarchy - an economic threat to closeted hairdressers, stealth patriarchs to the second-wave dykes. At a time when cinematic queerness was synonymous with effete self-loathing, this sympathetic and detailed depiction of a complex, vital skid-row subculture was decades ahead of its time, and has real time-capsule value today. All of which to say is that they're far from just marking time between Russell's impersonations, which are definitive even if he did steal them from Mae West herself. Put the two together and you've got a film that synthesizes social engagement and entertainment value with almost unprecedented verve.
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