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DVD Review

DVD cover

To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995)
(2019 Reissue)


Starring: Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze, John Leguizamo, Stockard Channing and Blythe Danner
Distributor: Fabulous Films Ltd / Fremantle Media Enterprises
RRP: £9.99


Certificate: PG
Release Date: 08 April 2019

The idea for a movie can come from the most incidental places. Dining in a Times Square Chinese restaurant, screenwriter Douglas Carter Beame looked up among the celebrity autographed photos adorning the wall and saw the image of Julie Newmar inscribed with what would become the title of this movie. Wong Foo was the head bartender of the restaurant. The iconic Newmar was known for her stint as Catwoman in the TV Batman series (1966-67) and aficionados still argue she was the best compared to Lee Merriweather and Eartha Kitt. She also asserted herself in George Michael’s 1993 music video Too Funky ( But Newmar’s legendary status had already been well established before Catwoman. When JFK was still alive, she had splashed bigtime on the Route 66 TV series episode 'How Much a Pound is Albatross?' (1962) a script by Stirling Silliphant and directed by David Lowell Rich - an early attempt to capture the unconventional Beatnik generation, wherein she introduced popular audiences to the unicorn as a metaphor for free thinking categories - or rather non-categories - something that percolates through Wong Foo literally and figuratively. So popular was her Route 66 characterization and so voluminous the tsunami of fan letters, her character got a second episode. TV Beatniking was often surfed for laughs in those days but Julie Newmar rode the serious crest of the wave. She was funny but also challenging and to many, inspiring. albatross and its sequel episode are both viewable on YouTube.

This is all très important to intra-gambits of Wong Foo because Newmar is a patron goddess to three mid-nineties drag queens played to nineteen-nineties period perfection by Swayze, Snipes and Leguizamo: Vida, Noxema and Chi-Chi. (Nota Bene: PGA golf champion Chi-Chi Rodriquez won an undisclosed settlement fee from Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment complaining that Leguizamo’s character name had harmed his reputation. We don’t know what the legal purse was but it was meant to compensate for the cruel and unusual besmirchment Rodriquez felt in golf tourney country club locker rooms. It was probably equitable with anything the champion won on the PGA circuit.) Julie Newmar did not sue the producers and, in fact, makes a cameo appearance at the film’s finale. Icon worthy, I might add.

Vida and Noxema tie in a New York drag queen contest and get to compete in the grand finale in where else but Hollywood. Instead of flying (against the advice of their contest producer, Robin Williams in a wonderful cameo) they decide to drive, procure a vintage Cadillac convertible land yacht and take along their pal Chi-Chi who suffers from low self esteem. After a bad experience where they think they’ve left homo-hating (his terminology, not mine) sheriff Chris Penn dead on the road, they have car trouble and are stuck in the little midwestern town of Snydersville for a long weekend of waiting for the car part to arrive.

It’s all here. Clodhopper male bullies, repressed women with secret fantasy lives, wife beaters and young men unsure of how to express sensitivity. Each problem is dealt with drag queen winning panache, always for laughs but also for the expression of humanity. Vida and Noxema grow too and Chi-Chi finds self-appreciation. Director Beeban Kidron never loses balance between heart and soul and all the ensemble characters have solidly developed arcs.

Wong Foo predates by two years the ‘solidarity resolution’ ending of In and Out (1997) and is in some ways more daring. The endings of both these films must have valence in popular culture in that they provide templates for emulation. In the community in which I live, five years ago a priest excoriated same sex marriage to the graduating class of a high school. Without prior planning, the students stood up and marched out en masse (no pun intended). Some of this credit, at least a tiny bit, goes to movies like Wong Foo.

The movie’s soundtrack is bejewelled with classic hits and golden oldies, all chosen for double entendre value and commentary on the action. And there is action. Males who come on abusively to Swayze and Snipes get an ass whooping, explained to incredulous onlookers as, ‘She’s been working out.’ The pace never falters kinetically or musically.

It’s a joy to watch Patrick Swayze and be reminded of the range and reach of this great working-class star. Truly his passing is a loss for all of us. Wesley Snipes is snappy, always funny and suspenseful in what will pop out next. He takes the outrageousness award with eye-batting aplomb. Leguizamo has the toughest role as the soul searcher in need of encouragement and pride.

Deleted scenes are included and actually contribute to story and character and make one wonder why they were left out. Alas, the exigencies of theatrical wiener thinking, if the movie’s too long it can only be shown fewer times in the day, bla, bla, bla… In these days of home theatre and streamed movies that win Oscars, to borrow an expression of some of the good ol’ boys in Snydersville, that dog don’t hunt.

The Fabulous Films remastered print is sharp, even, never a strain to watch and faithfully vital in its bright hues as well as truthfully flat when tonality is shackled. Bright where it should be, restrained in daily surroundings desiccated of outward emotion.

Stockard Channing’s formerly battered Carol Ann gets the summary line: "I don’t think of you as a man. I don’t think of you as a woman. I think of you as an angel."


John Huff

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