When International Mr. Leather founder Chuck Renslow describes his almost 35-year-old pageant, ostensibly a contest for members of the leather community, as being "all-inclusive," he isn't kidding. In documentary filmmaker Mike Skiff's Kink Crusaders, a record of the 2008 IML pageant, the parade of tattooed and pierced humanity dressed in their finest kink wear everything from leather to rubber accessorized with dog collars, the usual chaps, leashes, harnesses, belts, whips, etc.is enough to titillate anyone interested in this wide-ranging aspect of queer culture. The film, which played at last fall's Reeling Film Festival, is now out on DVD from Breaking Glass Pictures with a raft of special features.
Seemingly, everyone in the Chicago queer community knows that IML weekenda three-day celebration of all things kinkyhappens over Memorial Day. It's been that way since 1979, when Renslow's Mr. Gold Coast pageant outgrew the confines of his leather bar and moved to roomier quarters at a series of large hotels mostly catering to business conventions and tourism. However, city officials and the hospitality industry quickly learned to not only tolerate but actively court Renslow and pageant officials, thanks to the lavish revenue the contest's popularity and enormous attendance guarantee city coffers. (Renslow now cites a figure of $18 million dollars a year.)
Acceptance for the once admittedly fringe community, with its extreme uniforms and far-reaching sexual components, have taken longer to reach mainstream approval. Skiff's breezy, entertaining tour of the pageant's festivities (including the infamous, eye-popping fetish market and something called the IML Pup Party, in which participants act out their doggie fantasies) incorporates interview footage that touches on this with Renslow who relates its history along with former IML winners accompanied by archival footage.
Glimpses of the actual pageant and backstage interviews with several of the unique 2008 contestantsa South American hunk representing Palm Springs (the eventual winner), a paraplegic, a Viet Nam war vet and senior citizen, and even a straight guyround out the footage. The film concludes with yet another triumphant assertion of Renslow's "all-inclusive" mantra. This was the crowning of the 2010 winnera wheelchair-reliant, female-to-male transgender who exclaims with delight, "I'm going to Disneyland!" At that moment, the ironies inherent in this once completely fringe culture as it has increasingly become familiar to the mainstream (coming this year to Chicagoit's Kinky Boots the musical!) are palpable.
Of related interest: A complete biography of Renslow and his impact on queer history in Chicago and beyond is detailed in Leatherman: The Legend of Chuck Renslow by Windy City Times' publisher Tracy Baim and Owen Keehnan. The 414-page book is available at www.amazon.com, Women & Children First Bookstore and Unabridged Bookstore. It is also on Kindle and Apple iBooks.
Cinema Q IIthe free, LGBT-themed, weekly mini-film seriesreturns for the second year on Wednesdays in March at the Chicago Cultural Center with screenings at 6:30 p.m. in the Claudia Cassidy Theater. Admission is free.
This year's series, focusing on queer youth, kicks off March 7 with a screening of lesbian director Jamie Babbit's hilarious 1999 black comedy But I'm a Cheerleader; it's about a notorious "ex-gay" camp for teenagers and stars Natasha Lyonne, Clea DuVall, Cathy Moriarty, RuPaul, Melanie Lynskey and Michelle Williams.
Subsequent installments in the series include 2003's Blue Citrus Hearts, a gritty, coming-of-age/coming-out tale (March 14); 2009's I Killed My Mother, the funny, moving dramedy of a 16-year-old gay teenager and his daily battles with his single mother, from French Canadian queer auteur Xavier Dolan (March 21); and Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin, about the early struggles and later triumphs of the civil-rights pioneer who was also openly gay.
Documentary filmmaker Bennett Singer will attend the screening and dessert reception (courtesy of Ann Sather) following a post-screening discussion (March 28). The series is a joint presentation of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, Center on Halsted, the Legacy Project, Queer Film Society and Chicago Filmmakers (presenting organization of the Reeling Film Festival). Windy City Times is one of the series' media sponsors. www.queerfilmsociety.org
The Talking Pictures Festival kicks off on Thursday, March 8 and continues through Sunday, March 11. Now in its fourth year, the festival, organized by the non-profit Percolator Films, celebrates the diversity to be found in indie cinema.
The opening-night screening is Pink Ribbons, Inc., a documentary examination of the breast cancer movement by Canadian filmmaker Lea Pool. It will take place at NEXT Theatre at the Noyes Cultural Center (927 Noyes St., Evanston) at 7:30pm. The film will screen in honor of International Women's Day and many of the fest's entries are selections by women filmmakers.
Performance artist and former Chicagoan Paula Killen, starred, wrote and produced Fully Loaded, the tale of two feisty, single moms who hook up with a sexy loner (Dweezil Zappa) on a rare night on the town. Killen and the film's director, Shira Piven (of the Piven theatrical family), will attend the Saturday, March 10 screening (also at NEXT Theatre), taking place at 7:15 p.m. Another highlight of the fest includes Joffrey: Mavericks of Dance, about dance mavens and onetime couple Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino (which I reviewed recently for WCT). It screens Friday, March 9, at 8:15 p.m. at Northwestern University-Medill School of Journalism/McCormick Tribune Center, the other venue for the festival (1870 Campus Dr., Evanston). Director Bob Hercules will be in attendance. Complete film line-up and schedule at www.talkingpicturefestival.org
Check out my archived reviews at www.windycitymediagroup.com or www.knightatthemovies.com . Readers can leave feedback at the latter website.