The Queen, directed by Frank Simon, is a documentary from 1968 that is again seeing a theatrical release thanks to the restorationists at Kino Lorber Repertory. The film, groundbreaking at the time, is an enormously interesting snapshot of the LGBTQ community even before such landmark movies in LGBTQ cinema as Paris is Burning.
This film follows a group of contestants in a competitive drag contest, the type of which has been popularized in the modern day by shows such as RuPaul’s Drag Race. However, at the time, this was very much a niche form of entertainment and artistic expression, and this movie was among the first of its kind, focusing on subjects and issues as they pertain to the LGBTQ community.
It is worthy of note that American society was not particularly welcome to the LGBTQ community in the time in which this film was shot. The events of The Queen are in 1967 and the Stonewall Riots, the event often held synonymous with the birth of the LGBTQ rights movement, did not occur until 1969. As such, this movie was not only among the first to discuss these themes — it also discussed these themes when many of them were still taboo.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the film is a conversation between the contestants in the pageant about the Vietnam War. They discuss the discriminatory practices of the U.S. military at the time and how they would be drafted and turned away during the medical examination for “liking boys” or even “looking” like they may be homosexual. It is definitely eye opening to think with how much LGBTQ rights have developed that this was a common way of thinking not too long ago.
The only area in which this movie could have improved is the development of its subjects. Ultimately, the focus of the film is less on the competition and more on the issues that affected the community so massively at the time, but the movie would have been able to resonate more emotionally had it spent more time developing each of the contestants on an individual level.
That said, the film manages to keep your interest for the entirety of its extremely brief (one hour and six minutes) runtime. The movie does intersperse the competition scenes well into the rest of the film, a majority of which is comprised of conversations between the contestants about their struggles and performances.
The movie is also very well-made on a technical level. Simon’s style is definitely very unorthodox, even by today’s standards, so it is interesting to see the unique ways in which he approaches the story. Kino’s restoration, led by Bret Wood, is very impressive too, preserving the old-school and classy look and feel of the 16mm film that really helps immerse you in the era.
The Queen is definitely an important movie in cinematic history and simply a very well-made one on its own terms. If you get the opportunity to see this, especially if you can experience it on the big screen, it is worth your time and money to see this landmark piece of cinema.
The Queen is now playing in select theaters.