BABS JOHNSON (2005) 74 minutes Filmed June 22-24, 2004
A.K.A. Babs Johnson and the Cavalcade of Perversion: An Exploration in Exploitation
Director: Nick Karner
With: Mark Thomas, Michael Williams, Shana Williams, Erin Van Eck, Randy Light
IMDB SYNOPSIS: Mark Thomas stages a farewell performance in order to retire his drag queen alter-ego Babs Johnson at Legends Night Club and Bar in Raleigh, North Carolina. His shows have been censored over the past five years in previous productions, and this occasion is no different. Director Nick Karner follows Thomas and his crew of friends, misfits, weirdos, and the Cavalcade of Perversion over a tumultuous three-day period. The performance is cancelled twice, the promotional flyers are rejected and torn down, and most of the props and costumes for the performance are created on the day of the show. While attempting to pull the show together, Thomas realizes that his freedom of speech and expression has been challenged. The film becomes an allegory about censorship, and he continues to argue with the owners of the nightclub all the way to the opening night, where the show is a triumphant success and Babs Johnson's swan song.
History and Trivia:
My first official feature film. Although I'd previously made an attempt at a feature with The Littlest Dancer, that film was edited on two VCR's while this one was cut on Pinnacle, a glitchy but user-friendly editing program. It was shot on the Sony DSR-PDX10, beginning my love of using Sony camcorders for their low-light performance and overall ease of use. The performance was shot on a Hi8mm camera with night vision, a DV camera my girlfriend at the time owned, and the DSR-PDX10. It gave the final product a weird, disjointed, even grainy look, although it turned out to be pretty effective, but the aspect ratio kept changing. I've learned since then.
I met Mark Thomas through a waitress named Erin Van Eck. I don't recall whether it was Mark or Erin's idea, but it was felt that documenting Mark's final show would be fun. As soon as I walked into Legends, I knew I was in for something out of this world. I'd never attended a drag show before but I'd seen them portrayed in films and tv. This was an entirely different beast.
Mark's vision for the show was dark. Really dark, which, of course, I loved. Three days later, it was over. Most of the shoot was interviews, behind the scenes stuff, although one bizarre(if you could call what was happening in the show normal) moment occurred when I was shooting late into the night and things were getting a bit boring, so a couple of the actors decided they'd take me off-roading with the camera. Thank God it didn't get broken. It was pitch black so I couldnt' see anything, and they couldn't see the ground at all so there was no telling what or even whom we were about to hit.
The film did very well at festivals, even snagging a midnight screening spot at the Cucalorus Film Festival. It was covered in the News and Observer and we held a screening at King's Barcade in Raleigh, NC. There was a screening scheduled at Legends, but they got a copy of a rather nasty 61 minute cut which was pretty much just the show and a bit of interview and was meant to be just shocking, and they cancelled it. A copy of the film was available at every Visart Video, a local and very important independent video chain. It might still be, at least to me, the strongest feature documentary I've ever made.