The Lady in Question Is Charles Busch (2005) Poster

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Charles Busch, a class act!
jotix10021 June 2006
During the last quarter of the 20th century, New York saw the arrival of artists of the caliber of Charles Ludlum and Charles Busch. These men's love for the movies that had shaped their youth, started their own views of those idols when they established companies that capitalized on the type of 'ridiculous' theater where they, in turn, reinterpreted the way those larger than life figures influenced them.

While Charles Ludlum, the creator of the Theater of the Ridiculous, passed away at the peak of his creative years, Charles Busch went on to establish himself as one of the best exponents of this genre. Charles Busch's humble beginnings can be traced to his days at the Limbo Lounge where he and his friends would perform for his followers, most of whom were gay, and who really appreciated Mr. Busch's humor. It wasn't until the Establishment press, by way of a New York Times reporter, wrote about what Charles Busch and his clan were creating, that New Yorkers embraced this new type of hilarious insanity.

Charles Busch's biggest hit was "Vampire Lesbians of Sodom", a play that established him and his collaborators as legitimate exponents of this new form of theater. All this is the basis of this wonderful documentary shown recently on the Sundance Channel. As directed by John Catania and Charles Ignacio, we are taken to hear first hand by Charles Busch and his close friends and members of his group what it was all about.

Mr. Busch is a kind man whose contributions have brought joy and entertainment to theater lovers. In the film we hear first hand accounts by Theresa Aceves, Kenneth Elliott, Julie Halston, Carl Andres, and others about what it was to be associated to Mr. Busch from those obscure days to the present. We also see interviews by such personalities as Boy George, Michael Musto, Paul Rudnick, Rosie O'Connell, Kathleen Turner, and B. D. Wong, among others where they give praise to an unique voice in the New York scene: Charles Busch!
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I loved this film
Daniel Humphrey (saltsan)11 October 2005
I saw this film at the ImageOut film festival last weekend, and found it a highlight of my film going year so far. The directors take a fascinating person's career and make it even more interesting with a series of great interview subjects (including Kathleen Turner, B.D. Wong, and Rosie O'Donnell), hysterical video footage of Busch's past live performances, and clips from his film work. Busch himself is a wonderful interview subject and the life and career he's had is an inspiration for anyone who feels a little different and still wants to succeed in mainstream society. I would hope this film gets shown to every gay--or even just "different"--young person to show them they can succeed to the level of their wildest dreams, even if they have to make their own opportunities. If you're not a Charels Busch fan yet, you will be after you see this very entertaining and heart-warming film.
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This movie is a hit!
heidianna9 October 2005
Last night, I had the good fortune of seeing this movie for the first time (but hopefully not the last!). This was my first introduction to Charles Busch, and what an introduction it is! The directors have done a great job of giving us a beautifully well rounded picture of who Charles Busch is, professionally and personally.

The movie itself is filled with sincere comedy, and raw emotion. You are introduced to Mr. Busch's biological and theatrical family, and together, they swirl a biographical tale of the tremendous talent that is a Grand Dame of the Stage, and a wonderful author.

Emotionally touching is the tribute Mr. Busch gives to his aunt, and his two sisters, whom have all influenced his work heavily. The profound friendships he makes during his almost accidental rise to stardom along side his comedy troupe leave you laughing and crying. You witness the comedy troupe as being more than just co-stars. They were a well oiled family. With titles such as "Vampire Lesbians of Sodom," they had to have a keen sense of humor to execute the finely honed wit, high drama that takes you back to the early Hollywood starlets, and pop culture references that Mr. Busch crafted into hit after hit.

I wish that I had been able to see some of his earliest performances live, but with this film, it's the next best thing. Footage from his plays, pictures, and stories telling about backstage conditions are such a rare treat to hear.

The directors are to be commended for finding a way to tell the biography of Charles Busch that is informative, enjoyable, and truly inspirational. Charles Busch has never let anything stand in his way. He stayed true to his one passion, acting. When one play, book, or movie ends, he reinvents himself and starts something new. I recommend this movie to anyone in need of inspiration to stay true to oneself while pursuing their own Great American Dream.

And you can bet, I will not miss out on Charles Busch's next endeavors!
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Really good.
Peter Swanson7 August 2007
Other than having heard the title Die Mommy, Die, I was aware of neither Charles Busch nor his work until I caught this film on IFC 6 or 8 months ago. This morning I saw it for the third time, and it's still excellent.

As a child I was not the beaten path, shall we say, as young Master Busch, but I definitely felt myself to be outside the main stream of my suburban home town. Even at what is now a late point in life, it's refreshing and vindicating to see someone succeed by being true to himself and having fun. The spontaneity and talent of Busch and his troupe are impressive, and I'm thankful that films of the Limbo Lounge shows exist. It must have been some experience to see those early shows live.

This film made me a Charles Busch fan, even though it's the only thing in which I've ever seen him. I'm a fan of the person as much as the performer, and an admirer of his perseverance through quite a stack of obstacles and adversities. Go Chuck! P.S. After reading Julie Halston's filmography I realized that I have seen her before, as Nathan Lane's unexpected bride in Sex and the City. She's terrific, too.
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A joy to see an old friend and a must-see for those who haven't yet had the pleasure....
ekeby14 October 2006
I was delighted to find this film now on Netflix . . . It was a true pleasure from start to finish . . . but then for me, it was something of a trip down memory lane . . . having lived in NYC in the 80s, I well remember the Limbo Lounge where Busch's Limbo players got their start. I saw most of his plays during the 80s and each one was sheer joy.

This film told me much more about Busch than I had known and all of it was fascinating--to me at least. There is a lot of footage from the early Limbo productions. How great it is that somebody had the presence of mind to record them. I laughed back then and I laughed again seeing the archival videos of those wonderful productions like Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and Coma. They capture the energy of the times, the cheesy ambiance, and the subversive subtext of Busch's dialog.

For me, Busch's two films (Die, Mommie Die! and Psycho Beach Party) were a little disappointing. I loved (and had expected) the manic over-the-top quality of his plays which is dialed way down for the films . . . Not to say that the movies aren't over the top, but compared to the stage shows, they're positively sedate. Either way, if you liked his movies or didn't, this documentary will help explain the "back story."

If you have the slightest interest in gay cinema and gay art/theater, this is a must-see.
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An inspirational journey
Gordon-1120 September 2014
This documentary tells the journey of Charles Busch, the legendary drag performer who makes it onto the mainstream Broadway shows through his incredible talent and hard work.

I have not heard of Charles Busch before, but this documentary gives me a pretty good sense of his work through the generous use of footages of his theater productions. His quick rise to fame is chronicled in detail, and it's a very interesting story. The transition from the rest village, gradually moving up and onto big things is lifted right out of an inspirational film, and I found myself very moved by his journey.

It's unusual that a documentary can move me to the point of tears. Not only that, it also makes me very interested to watch Charles Bush's work.
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Interesting for a non-fan, and the silent short is fabulous
jm107011 January 2014
For those unfamiliar with Charles Busch, he is an actor who almost always plays highly dramatic female characters, inspired by the great Hollywood stars of the 1920s through the 1950s, in plays or movies he writes himself. He first found success in the early 1980s on the far fringes of New York's East Village; from there he moved gradually to more mainstream theatrical venues, movies and television.

Although he's often called one, he's not actually a drag queen. He's an actor who happens to play female characters, but his makeup and costumes are never any more outlandish than those of the great female stars who inspire him. Although he's also often called "camp", he really is a serious actor and writer. There is nobody else like him.

This movie is a documentary of his life up to about 2004. A typical online review of it says, "You will laugh and you will cry as you follow Charles Busch's path to the bright lights on Broadway!" Well... no. I did enjoy this movie, though; and I guess it's not surprising that his fans would gush like that about him. It fits.

I wasn't a Charles Busch fan before I watched this movie, and I'm still not a fan, but I'm very glad there are people like him in the world. I'm also glad he has found productive venues for his eccentric talents.

I greatly admire anybody - and he is a PERFECT example - who fits nowhere in the world and so makes a place just for himself where nobody was before. Good for him. And everybody who knows him evidently truly loves him (even his own family!), which is remarkable for anybody in any field. Although I neither laughed nor cried a single tear, I'm very glad I watched this movie.

I actually liked the silent-movie short included on the DVD (Her Royal Escape to Love, filmed in and around Central Park's wonderful Belvedere Castle after a snowstorm) better than any of his speaking performances. His acting style, which is far too hammy for me, is absolutely perfect for silent movies. He is a terrific silent-movie actor, and if he did more such movies I would become a big fan fast.
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Not just about the dress and the sequins....
evening110 July 2010
Warning: Spoilers
I never thought I'd come across a drag performer I could take seriously, but I liked Charles Busch both as an actor and the central talking head in this intriguing documentary.

The film does a great job showing how Busch drew inspiration from classic film and opera, as well as his dysfunctional family, where he lost his mother early and learned to equate performance with love.

"I was desperate to become a childhood star but there was no one in my family willing to exploit me," Busch states in a typically endearing confession.

Yet I found it hard to care about the many excerpts from Theatre in Limbo. They were often too campy, soap operatic, and sitcomish to capture let alone hold much interest, but I realize many would disagree with me.

I really admire the way Busch created his entire professional world. He needed to act, so he became a writer to create scripts, and he created companies so that he could perform. Now that's indomitable!
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Blegh - more like a home movie
TooShortforThatGesture18 March 2008
A not terribly interesting documentary about a modestly successful performer/writer whose work -- at least as it is shown in the movie -- comes across as fairly "one-note" and hilariously amusing only to those who participated in making it.

You have to be a little suspicious of the need for a documentary about someone's life when 80% of the interviews are with his family, his lover and a single member of his old theater company whose insistence on the "importance" of the work she did with him in the late 1980's seems geared just as much toward her own importance as it might be to explaining why we should spend all this time learning about Busch. Perhaps the filmmakers had a hard time finding anyone outside their subject's immediate circle who felt a need to say anything about him. There's no way to know whether that's the fault of the subject matter or the fault of the documentarians.

Maybe you had to be there. But a good documentary should give you the sense that you were.
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Living in Limbo
nycritic21 November 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Sometimes being 'too gay' can be an asset. In a world that celebrates clones and a sheep mentality, there are those who from the get-go march to the beat of their own drum and decide to make something useful of their own existence, even when they may be moving counter-clockwise and well aware of it. THE LADY IN QUESTION IS CHARLES BUSCH introduces us to -- who else -- Charles Busch, a performer I was until DIE MOMMIE DIE unfamiliar with. Without being too self-promoting (even though it's logical that Busch be in nearly every frame of this documentary, being the central subject), the movie details how as a child Busch became obsessed with movies from Hollywood's Golden Age. He quickly identified with the heroines of such features such as NOW VOYAGER, LADY IN BURLESQUE, and THE WOMEN, competed with his siblings for the attention of his father, and later moved to San Francisco to make something out of his life as a performer only to return to New York City at the middle of the AIDS crisis where he became introduced to the Limbo lounge via a performance artist. It would be there where he would create what has now become a massive following, displaying the wild excesses of camp that has been elevated to a near art form. Seeing snippets of "Vampire Lesbians of Sodom", "Kiss the Blood Off My Castanets", and "Theodora -- She Bitch of Byzantium" were immense treats, but in revealing the powerhouse performer Meghann Robinson was in "The Lady in Question", it becomes a mini-tribute to this incredible actress with a voice and personality that went beyond what I've seen in movies.

THE LADY IN QUESTION IS CHARLES BUSCH, despite dragging just a tad with the opening night of "Taboo", doesn't over-stay its welcome but is a fantastic glimpse into the life and times of this great actor and playwright. I only would have wished to have been there when it all happened at the Limbo lounge. At least, with this movie, as with DIE MOMMIE DIE, I can see his mannerisms capturing acting styles from an era gone by (and he has them down pat to perfection, especially seen in a silent-movie clip where he plays the heroine in her dying moments holding a glass ball in a tribute to CITIZEN KANE). It's enormously entertaining to a fault. I loved it.
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The gay elitism of New York theater
MOSSBIE27 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
To see any reviews of Charles Busch, it appears he is definitely more of an East Coast phenomenon since elsewhere there is less of an adoration of formal theater.I would consider the reviewer from Wisconsin more "Eastern". To see an ensemble group producing camp theater which is more serious in presentation than outlandish raucous camp one is used to in, say, LA, where the brassier, the better.For San Franciscans,EVERYTHING is camp and dying a fast death in the Castro but still available in clubs, but definitely not "theater" with, say, an intermission.....just drinks at the bar while feathers fly onstage. As for the rest of San Francisco, it is a more "straight" theater town but has one of the best satirical giant productions in BEACH BLANKET BABYLON which is now a SF institution with humor that outlandish to very "in" and much more relaxed, informative and not a showcase for a drag like Charles Busch who falls into a "diva" category...That would never work on the West Coast and is one of those distinguishing markers which separate the snobbery than has been handed down through the years from taste, fashion, society, and money. With the outbreak of the computer industry,and the billionaires flourishing in CA, art is in a state of limbo because there is also a big divide between what is offered in SF vs. LA. I found the entire Busch idolatry overdone, very "clicky", and his self deprecation indulgent and that heart business was like Laurette Taylor playing "humility". DIE MOMMIE DIE was amusing but just a takeoff on Douglas Sirk films.His ensemble was just so adequate as to make me wonder if their performances were sincere or a put on.
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