Film “festival” might not be exactly the right word to describe this brand new monthly queer film series at Williamsburg’s Macri Park, but clearly the curators, Daniel Kessel and Ben Miller, are willing to bend things slightly for a solid pun. The Cans Film Festival pops off tomorrow night with the 1962 cult classic Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
The organizers are hoping to give people access to classic, nostalgic, and just straight-up weird films that have inspired local drag queens and other queer artists. “For queens, these films really shape your aesthetic– and not just queens but every person really, especially artists,” Daniel explained. “Everyone has their own set of films that they particularly love and that have shaped them, especially when they were younger and were coming into their own as people and artists.”
In fact, Daniel said that he and Ben, who’ve been friends since attending NYU together, attribute their inspiration “really to the Brooklyn drag scene.” Last year, while attending Bushwig, the raucous annual drag fest in Bushwick, the pair saw one local performer, Crimson Kitty (a female drag queen who contributed to Vym magazine’s first issue) do a film-inspired number. “She did a mashup between an Ariana Grande song and parts from Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” Daniel recalled. “We had this idea, that it would be great if there was a venue where classic films like this were being shown.”
And, really, the connection between cult films in particular and drag is a profound one– Divine became a counterculture icon for weirdos everywhere as the star of many a John Waters film, Rocky Horror Picture Show is probably the only case anyone ever finds Tim Curry attractive, and really any film that employs camp and outrageous glamor has likely found reincarnation in various drag homages.
Daniel said that, like Jinkx Monsoon, a drag queen who was cast on Ru Paul’s Drag Race he’s “really inspired by the film Death Becomes Her“– which, as a campy-as-all-hell, super dark and hilariously gruesome comedy, combines all of the above: Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep are super glammed-up betches throwing so much shade at one another that they enter into a death match (only, neither of them can die, exactly.)
“The idea is to show a range of films by curators so they can share which ones were inspiring to them,” Daniel explained. The series hasn’t locked in anyone just yet. “But we have a few people in mind,” he said. “It’s still open.”
As for the venue… Macri Park? Yeah, you know it. It’s the dark, open-air but also completely cavernous bar fit for a cast of troglodyte regulars, or just you and your friends after you pulled the naughty kill-switch plot, aka pulling a liquor bottle out of your pocket right in front of the Union Pool bouncer to avoid a horror show of a night. Believe me, I’ve been there and so have you. Perhaps it’s been a while though, and so you may not know that Macri Park rebranded as a gay bar, reportedly overnight at the end of last summer. Since then, the bar’s been slowly filling out their calendar.
Daniel said the series will be a “combination” of quiet-ish screening and rowdy booze fest. “There’s not much else happening on Tuesday nights,” he said. “But it’s the kind of thing where you can come and relax, but it should also be pretty wild, and people are encouraged to make noise and express how much they’re enjoying the films.”
The first film in the series, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, stars Bette Davis as an aging child star, Jane, and Joan Crawford as Blanche, the wheelchair-bound sister she’s creepily implicated in her shut-in life. Also, Jane drunkenly ran over Blanche with a car, which explains why her sister is disabled. And she still refers to herself as “Baby Jane” even though she’s clearly middle age. So, there’s that. Sibling-on-sibling violence, darkness, beauty marks, epic pouts– what more could you ask for? Oh, right– $2 Tecates and a $6 beer an a shot special. Entrance is free, but keep your fingers crossed for free popcorn.
The Cans Film Festival starts Tuesday, Feb. 23, 8 pm at Macri Park in Williamsburg: entry is free, but be a doll and buy a drank will ya.