Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Only in New Zealand? Leanne Pooley's doc THE TOPP TWINS: UNTOUCHABLE GIRLS

A joyous new documentary, THE TOPP TWINS: UNTOUCHABLE GIRLS, opens here in New York City this Friday, May 13, at the Cinema Village and although its main audience will probably end up being the LGBT contingent, TrustMovies surely does wish it could be seen by the "other side": That is, by the "straight" population of these United States. The reason? In addition to its being a damned enjoyable, oddball movie, with good music and a bunch of fascinating comedic characters (the likes of which we haven't seen since the heyday of Lily Tomlin), with two truly original heroines, this film posits something extraordinary: that a pair of aging, talented lesbian twins who sing, yodel(!) and make people laugh could become national icons who bring together seemingly just about all the facets of a country's population, including straight country music fans. Imagine, if you can, that happening here in the U.S.A.

How it happened there, in New Zealand, is one of the subjects of this fascinating, provocative and above all enjoyable documentary (directed by Leanne Pooley, shown at right). The first question I am going to ask the twins when I meet them later this week is: What might it take to make this happen else-where around the world? Right off the bat, I'd guess the answer might be a pair of culture-specific performers so full of life, talent and joy that they could somehow unite disparate factions of  their own country, whatever that might be. To begin with, however, it might take a country as special as New Zealand -- which, unlike, so many other "fresh" lands invaded by European whites -- did not massacre and/
or force into slavery the indigenous population, as happened with Australian aborigines and American Indians, to name just a couple (we won't even go into the situation of Africa's blacks). While prob-lems of parity are still to be handled, New Zealand's indigenous population is so very much a part of that country that it has inter-married to the point that few full-blooded Maoris remain.

We'll hope to talk more about all this with the twins, shown above, later this week. Right now, we'll tell you about the movie -- which, gol' darn it, you just have to experience. These Topp Twins -- seen from their very early days as kids, until now, when health problems crop up -- seem very nearly irrepressible, full of high spirits and hijinks. As one of the many (and interesting) talking heads in the film explains it: "Think of them as a kind of Anarchists' Variety Act."

Sure, they've got a political agenda, and, sure, it's a liberal one. (Has any real artist (even Ayn Rand) ever been genuinely conservative when s/he was busy creating? It goes against the grain of freedom.) At one point, as the girls talk about (and we see old footage) bringing to a halt the rugby game between New Zealand and South Africa in the days when the caring part of the world was still trying to bring down Apartheid. Those of us who've also seen Connie Field's major documentary Have You Heard from Johannesburg will realize that this event was part of that film, as well. We really are all connected.

We meet the twins' parents and learn of their favorite day as kids: Calf Club (think of a Southern Hemisphere version of our own 4-H Club) and see and hear them in their early days as singing  "Buskers" (above).  The movie puts us with them at all steps in their career, meeting the many hilarious and bizarre characters they've created over the years who have now become staples of New Zealand's world of humor. The funniest of these, for me, is the pair of proper ladies (below) who have been invited, in character, to an  important New Zealand fund-raising event at which are included the rich and famous of the country.  How the pair manage to do their own little fund-raising project, at the expense of their hostess -- and her own, very dear reaction to this -- is one for the books.

But then the Topp Twins -- the ladies and their movie are also one -- actually, three --  for the books.  No wonder the film has won so many awards, and not at GLBT festivals, by the way. Instead, it has walked off with prizes and/or audience awards in Toronto, Seattle, Portland, New Zealand, Melbourne and Göteborg. In fact, the single GLBT award for which it was nominated the GLAAD Media Award -- it did not win. Go figure. (Too New Zealand maybe?)

As mentioned in the lead paragraph, the movie opens this week. So, New Yorkers...Go meet these delightful ladies (and gentlemen, too... the gals do one hell of a "male" act, as well). If all goes as planned, I'll have that interview with the twosome up this weekend....

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