Editor’s Note: This review originally ran as part of our coverage of SFIFF, and we repost it now as the film opens today at the Quad Cinemas with a national rollout to follow.
It seems like the appetite for widely-loved trans/glam/camp musical/rock operas can take a new one about once every two decades. Rocky Horror Picture Show was released in the late ’70s, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the end of the 90s (even if it wasn’t made into a film until 2001). With Peaches Does Herself, electroclash musician and performance artist Peaches is gunning for an early next spot. The career retrospective/genesis story of the “electro-artist persona Peaches,” Peaches Does Herself is told with the help of trans porn star Danni Daniels, veteran stripper Sandy Kane, and the Fatherfucker dance troupe. It’s a high-energy, transgressive, genial revue with barely a word of dialogue. As the title’s double-entendre suggests, it does risk being a little too self-regarding, solipsistic, or – excuse me – masturbatory to transcend its subject and resonate with a new generation of genderqueer kids looking for a new musical soundtrack to sing along to. But who knows? Peaches and company create an appealing vision of a world where people ardently give zero fucks about gender in order to sing, dance, and dry-hump with abandon, which might be just what it takes to join the trans/glam musical/rock opera pantheon.
Peaches plays a theatrical version of herself with unsurprising ease – she’s a successful singer-songwriter with five albums and at least as many tours under her belt. But this is more than just a concert documentary, even though the staging is theatrical, with the camera rarely breaking the proscenium and Sandy Kane stepping out in front of a lowered curtain for a bawdy singing stand-up routine. The tagline for Peaches Does Herself is “The Jukebox Musical that got a Sex Change,” and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. With Peaches’ earlier hits like “AA XXX,” “Boys Wanna Be Her” and “Mommy Complex,” the show is a non-stop exploration of the holes in the categories of gender, put to dance and set to a punchy beat.
The Fatherfuckers, Peaches’ backup dancers, are a motley crew of shapes, races and genitalia. They prove that everyone looks sexy in a jockstrap, and no one looks good in a leotard. Early on, they strip a young Peaches just learning to finger her groovebox of her youthful attire and thrust to the beat, creating the most literally orgiastic tableaux vivants to grace the screen in a long time. But this is barely the lower limit of the transgression we’re about to see. In the next scene, the Fatherfuckers are swathed in dark glittery fabric, like fabulous ghouls. Out of the eerie mist jetés a tall ballerina, naked from the waist up. She’s baring her tits, all right, but the dance belt’s packing, too. This is Danni Daniels, the beautiful she-male we were promised. And like the deer whose antlers she’s sporting on her head, our beautiful she-male darts offstage again, out of sight.
After doctors put her under the knife while a nurse plays the laser harp, Peaches emerges from her gurney with weapon-sized breasts and an equally dangerous phallus, curved like a scimitar. Newly empowered, she leads her dancers in a rousing rendition of “Boys Wanna Be Her,” stomping the stage like the best androgynous rock stars. But when Danni Daniels re-emerges, fully naked and fully erect, Peaches is shown up. This, here, is beauty. A whirlwind courtship unfolds, girl-boy and boy-girl wooing each other on a conveniently placed park bench. It seems like this might lead to a happy ending to the Greek myth at the beginning of Hedwig, whereby the gods created both sexes to inhabit one body, and their sundering from each other was a tragedy only to be overcome by loving union. But unfortunately, this is not to be. The Naked Cowgirl, the muse who started it all, struts on stage, sticks matches in her nipples, and asks Daniels for a light. Sparks fly. And just like that, the flame of love that flickered between Peaches and Daniels is out. Peaches has lost her beautiful love.
It’s a silly, light-hearted plot. But that’s not to say that it doesn’t do important cultural work. The simplicity with which Peaches Does Herself presents the still rather fraught categories of sexual and gender identity, and the pleasure with which she casts them to the wind, could be of real help to young people who struggle with these things daily. And the infectious beat she sets these gender voyages to could also help bridge the gulf between the queer communities where such practices are a relative norm and the still more rigidly gender-policed straight world, which often doesn’t have to confront these questions.
Peaches Does Herself is self-consciously un-self-conscious. It proudly flies the pink and black flag, highlighting the anarcho-queer affinities of Electroclash. Clearly in the lineage of Rocky Horror and Hedwig, Peaches Does Herself finds its own beat and adds a punkier, punchier, and – importantly, despite the gender play – female figure to the glam rock opera canon. In doing herself, Peaches does us all a service.
The Upside: It’s a high-energy, transgressive, genial review. Peaches and company create an appealing vision of a world where people ardently give zero fucks about gender in order to sing, dance, and dry-hump with abandon.
The Downside: “Peaches emerges from her gurney with weapon-sized breasts and an equally dangerous phallus, curved like a scimitar.” I don’t see any downside, myself.
On The Side: The last time I saw Peaches perform in person she was performing Jesus Christ, Superstar as a one-woman show. She will be attending the SFIFF to perform and promote the film.