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.
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!
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.