The Cockettes
dir. David Weissman and Bill Weber
Opens Fri July 26 at the Varsity.

Drunken tranny-FLapper floozies. Tripped-out hippie communists, acid queens, and fringe artists out on a gender bender. A bizarre study in social engineering. A fabulous spectacle of drugs and glitter. A sign of the apocalypse. I could crack a thesaurus in half trying to describe the Cockettes.

The Cockettes were a short-lived phenomenon of sorts, a distillation of everything that pops into your head when you think "late '60s San Francisco": psychedelia, sexual revolution, anti-war, anti-capitalism, queers and hippies running amok, at a time when sartorial eccentricity was a fierce political statement that could really get one noticed.

The story of the Cockettes begins with a drugged-out lefty homo called "Hibiscus" (née George Harris), who was famous in '60s San Francisco for being weirder than the rest of '60s San Francisco (and that's really saying something). He believed in and preached the values of free food, free love, and, most of all, free art. In no time, Hibiscus attracted an almost equally freaky group of friends and followers who were all in outrageous drag, dropping acid and performing in the streets. As their popularity grew, the group began to score real gigs in legit theaters, thrilling energetic audiences with musical revues like Gone with the Showboat to Oklahoma, Tropical Heatwave/Hot Voodoo, and their first all-original script, Pearls Over Shanghai. The acid-addled drag revue was soon renowned as the hallmark of creative spontaneity--each production a must-see event more sumptuous than the last.

David Weissman and Bill Weber's documentary is a loving window into the lives of the Cockettes--interviews with those still living, volumes of film footage, and remembrances of the fallen. The film contains over 11,000 photographs and every known scrap of Cockettes footage in existence. If you think this sounds like overkill, you're right. But it would be a screaming tragedy if this story was lost to time, and a little overkill is a small price to pay to preserve this singular moment in American pop culture history.

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