Before the Last Curtain Falls

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Thomas Wallner’s inspiring documentary Before the Last Curtain Falls is one that captures the hearts of audiences using the powerful themes of love, struggle, triumph and courage, while delivering them with refreshing originality. Through the two-year tour of the contemporary dance piece entitled Gardenia, queer and transgender performers, who do not identify with the gender assigned to them at birth, in their sixties and seventies received the opportunity to conclude their careers in the entertainment industry by taking the stage for a final time. The film skillfully alternates between excerpts from Gardenia and interviews with each cast member, where they share intimate stories of their own challenges and celebrations.

In a hetero-normative culture, where those who deviate from the standard societal norms are marginalized, it is rare to see a film that realistically documents the lives of transgender and queer individuals, as audiences glimpse into the performers’ households, romantic lives and jobs. Moreover, during the actors’ youths, little social progress toward inclusivity of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, Two-Spirit, and queer) community was made, and the accounts of their experiences then and now allows viewers to appreciate the advancements that have been made thus far, while acknowledging the need to continue with the movement.rainbow_flag

The movie was highly successful for a number of reasons, including its brilliant pacing and organization, as well as the strategic use of music and imagery to set the atmosphere of each scene. As the initial tone of film is set with light, playful instrumentals, Before the Last Curtain Falls begins with an introduction of each actor as they are applying make up and preparing for their final performance of Gardenia. A darker mood is created with haunting, deeper sounds, and the onstage spectacle reveals the performers in suits, a portrayal of the socially constructed masculine man; he is one that must adhere to society’s guidelines of the ways in which a man should dress. This scene reoccurs as the actors are interviewed about their lives before transitioning or coming out as homosexual. The film paces itself beautifully this way, as common themes from the interviews correlate with themes from Gardenia. In addition, the emotional response evoked through a scene involving an actor named Rudy was largely induced by the use of music and imagery. As melancholy acoustics played, he narrated his thoughts of suicide with an image of him in a bathtub. This elicited in the viewer a sense of despair and empathy for Rudy, and possibly an altered perspective on the consequences of societal expectations of gender and sex roles, the heterosexual matrix.

A scene that was especially distinct was one with Richard, a man who shared his experiences prior to identifying as homosexual. For wearing tight clothing, while biking around his neighbourhood, he recalled people yelling profanities and derogatory slurs at him, such as “faggot” or “homo.” He would often be the target of physical violence, and shrugged it off, saying, “you just accept that,” as if being gay naturally came with constant torment and anguish. The treatment Richard received is not unique to only him, as many homosexual individuals are regularly subjected to homophobic behaviour, which is irrational hatred and discrimination of homosexuals, because of binary and hetero-normative ways of thinking.

In the same scene, Richard takes the audience to work, where he is a nurse in a delivery room. Since he cannot have children of his own, his career is significantly meaningful to him and he makes a compelling comment saying, “men can take care of babies too.” It demonstrates how powerfully gender roles and stereotypes permeate our thoughts and behaviours, including our career choices, at the most micro levels of culture. So what if a man is a nurse or a woman is a construction worker? Why is it deemed strange or unnatural? As society dissolves the notions of hegemonic masculinity, where men cannot be anything but dominant, aggressive and heterosexual, gendered barriers in all aspects of life will not hold us back.

Attending Reelout was definitely a unique experience to me, as I frequently go to the movies to see films that cooperate with the standard story. With more people becoming exposed to media that deviates from this, we can become more conscious of the issues facing the LGBTQ community, and thus more critical of popular culture. As members of society increase their awareness of the problems with cultural norms in media, politics will change as well as our overall perspectives on inclusivity.

Check out the Before the Last Curtain Falls trailer!

Works Cited:

Aulette, Judy R., and Judith Wittner. Gendered Worlds. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009-12. Print.

“Before the Last Curtain Falls.” Reelout. Web.11 Feb. 2015. http://www.reelout.com/event/before-the-last-curtain-falls.

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10 thoughts on “Before the Last Curtain Falls

  1. aba

    Great film review! The imagery you described and the small snippets in the trailer makes me wish I had gone out to see this film as well. And as you said, individuals in the transgender community are often marginalized for the way that they are and films like this really work to humanize and even show how their art in performance can be as captivating as any other. I also like how the film works towards diminishing that which contributes to gender binary and gender stereotypes.

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    1. Ash Post author

      Hey aba! Because of the way transgender and drag performers were humanized, and how the audience was taken through their past experiences, it really made me think about the privileges I have and how they work to marginalize those who do not have such privileges. This movie opened my eyes and made me question gendered barriers in the realm of the performing arts especially.

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  2. MJ

    I think this film is similar to the film Born to Fly in the sense that it address and disregards gender socialization and the expectations of certain genders. Many artists have a hard time expressing themselves and this becomes even more diminished when they are a part of a sexual/gender minority. From your description, the film seems to defy the gender binary and stereotypes that are present within society – another theme that I believe in consistent with most of the Reelout films.

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    1. Ash Post author

      The performing arts can both be a place of exclusivity and barriers, but can also be a place for expression and being who you really are. For example, some men feel as though dancing is not masculine or “girly” because of the social constructions built in society. That’s what hold many back from dance and other fields within the performing arts. However, when you have a film like Before the Last Curtain Falls, the barriers collapse and so many good things come from it as a result, one of them being inclusivity.

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  3. mac2121

    Thank you for the great review! I really enjoyed how you included images and videos to keep the reader interested. Before the Last Curtain Falls definitely sounds like a must see! I believe the film would be very educational, as you stated that it provides the stories of the transgender performers’ challenges and celebrations. I think it is important to get an insight and knowledge of the journeys individuals go through to develop a better understanding. I too believe that films rarely tell stories of those who deviate from the standard societal norms, which make it that much more interesting to watch. I’m glad you were able to enjoy the new experience of attending Reelout!

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    1. Ash Post author

      Before the Last Curtain Falls was definitely a movie that I have never seen before. I believe this speaks to the way the media fails to portray realistic stories of transgender and homosexual individuals. I read that the director of the film spent months with the performers he interviewed, so he could build a trusting relationship with them. Because of this, audiences were able to get real accounts of what they went through while living in a hetero-normative culture. As I mentioned in the review, there were moments of sorrow and moments of celebration, which were all interesting to watch and learn from.

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  4. Jac

    I really love this review, and would love to see this show! 🙂

    I’ve noticed that this cast tends (as I noticed in the films I watched at Reelout) to really feature a lot of white characters. Since I haven’t seen the entire movie, I can’t really say this is concrete, but even based on the posters and trailer which makes me question the whiteness of the LGBQT movement, especially around the 60’s-70’s where this takes place. The overall aesthetic of this reminds me a bit of the life of a prominent activist named Marsha P. Johnson who was an African American transgendered woman who worked extensively in gay rights and black rights movement from the 60’s to her death in 1992. Like a lot of these characters, she struggled with who she was in society. I think it would have been great for the creators of the film to incorporate more women of colour like Marsha into their works to point out that these people did, and still do, exist in these communities. They, like Marsha, also have a strong contribution to the movements as well, and I always find it a bit saddening that people of colour in general do not necessarily make it to films like this. That aside, I think that this film really explores a lot of issues of LGBQT people, as well as taking jabs at things like gender binaries, and our heteronormative culture.

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    1. Ash Post author

      Your observation was very astute! I completely agree that there was a lack of representation of coloured people in the film. Although this film is great for the social progress of the LGBTQ community, it falls short when there was no diversity. I’m interested in reading more about people like Marsha P. Johnson. It’s quite unfortunate that those similar to her, who stood for her cause, don’t often get media attention.

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  5. rau

    First of all, thank you so much for including the trailer for “Before the Last Curtain Falls”. This really helped me, as a reader of your film review, understand what you are talking about. To touch upon your comment about why nurses are usually seen as women, and construction workers as men, I think that has to do with society. I realize that the gender roles in society started out way back in history when women were solely housewives and/or mothers, and nothing else. However, I believe society to this day views men as the stronger gender who are better off in the labour roles and the dirty work as opposed to women who may be viewed as too “delicate” to get the job done. I believe that today’s society has the power to change these stereotypical gender roles in the workforce, but I don’t think people are willing enough to fight for an equal dollar between men and women. Do you think society has enough will-power to make the changes needed to make men and women equally represented in society and in the workplace?

    Back to the main focus of your film review, I can totally relate to your statement about standard gender roles in films and movies. While reading your review, I realized that the majority of movies that I have seen have so many stereotypes in terms of gender and race, and I think Reelout shows such a positive message about today’s media and how it could improve greatly if all types of people were represented. Reelout definitely made me more aware of the unequal treatment towards LGBTQ individuals in media and society.

    While watching the trailer for this film, there was one quote said by one of the drag queen’s that stood out to me: “I’m not acting. I’m myself”. It seems silly when I think of it, but up until now I viewed drag as acting- costumes, make up, inhabiting a different personality. However, I realize now that to these individuals, they are not inhabiting a different personality and portraying it on stage in costumes. I now realize that the stage is just a safe place to portray who they really are, where they can feel a sense of pure joy.

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    1. Ash Post author

      Hey Rau! I do think today’s society has enough will-power to make the changes necessary for equality. The internet is such a powerful tool for spreading knowledge, and we live in an age where information is booming. Because of this, the media is an incredibly powerful force. With more people becoming knowledgable about the struggles of the LGBTQ community, gender inequality, etc., I believe we can tear down social constructions and introduce more inclusive ideologies. I think it’ll take a while, but I’m optimistic that it’ll happen one day!
      I, too, used to think drag queen performances were silly, however this movie truly opened by eyes and even made me more accepting. Dance was a way for the performers to express themselves in a safe space and tell their unique stories.

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