The camera pans to a young fey man preening before the mirror, as half-dressed drag queens cluck and bitch around him. But it’s not an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race—it’s The Queen, the 1968 documentary chronicling a drag pageant at New York’s Town Hall.

The Queen

While the sound quality gives away its age, The Queen is astonishingly modern: In between rehearsing for the Miss All-America Camp Beauty Contest, the girls talk about being queens, transitioning, even serving in the military. And the humor, sisterhood and, yes, drama, we’ve come to expect from Drag Race is right there. (If you think Shangela was robbed, wait until you hear Crystal LaBeija go off after losing the crown.)

At the heart of the documentary is that 24-year-old boy, Jack, better known as the drag matron Flawless Sabrina, who both produced the pageant and narrates the film.

JOIN US! MAY 10, 2018 • 8:00pm In 1967, Jack Doroshow aka FLAWLESS SABRINA produced a legendary drag pageant at The Town Hall. It was documented in the film, “The Queen,” which was selected for Cannes Film Festival in 1968 and came to be regarded as a landmark of queer culture. Over the years Flawless served as mother and mentor to hundreds of artists and musicians, and countless more people. On November 18, 2017 Flawless Sabrina passed away at age 78. The Town Hall celebrates the legacy. Featuring a screening of the film, followed by musical tributes by Taylor @taylormacnyc Mac, Justin Vivian Bond, @mxviv The House of Labeija @houseoflabeija and more. https://www1.ticketmaster.com/event/0300547613605A8A #mothersabrina #jackdoroshow #taylormac #drag #flawless #hailthequeen #icon #artsandculture #townhall #townhallnyc #youngpatronscircle #nextgeneration #connect #community #nyc #newyork #history #flawlesssabrina #performance #arts

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Directed by Frank Simon, The Queen made a splash when it was first released, including a premiere at Cannes in 1968. Sabrina rubbed elbows with Warhol and the Factory superstars, and was photographed by Diane Arbus. In more recent years the film fell into obscurity but the rising fascination with drag culture has brought it back to the fore. In fact, Aja impersonated Crystal on “Snatch Game” just this year.

RuPaul’s Drag Race

Sabrina passed away on November 18 away at the age of 78. The flurry of articles after her death brought The Queen even more renewed interest, and prompted downtown impresario Tigger! to plan a unique tribute. On May 10, Town Hall will host A Flawless Night: Long Live the Queen, featuring a screening of the film, followed by live performances by artists influenced by Sabrina.

“It was always just around,” Tigger! says of his first encounter with The Queen. “It was this video cassette that was just passed around. I already knew about Jackie Curtis and Holly Woodlawn, but this was something else entirely.”

The Queen

Years later, in the early 2000s, he actually met Flawless Sabrina at the Parkside Lounge’s Cheez Whiz party. “Not performing,” he clarifies. “She was—well, I wouldn’t say ’holding court’ because that wasn’t her style—but she was just hanging out.” A rapport developed and the two continued to see each other on the scene. Still it wasn’t for a few years that Tigger! connected the dots. “I had already been to her apartment—which was this amazing, like, salon—when someone mentioned something about The Queen and I was like, ’Wait a minute, YOU’RE HER?!?”

He praises Sabrina, Crystal, Harlow, and the other queens in The Queen, not just for being great entertainers and the foremothers to today’s queer nightlifers, but for their bravery: Homosexuality and cross-dressing were still against the law in the 1960s: Sabrina could have been arrested just for screening the film. “The balls that it took to do those pageants back then,” says Tigger!. “It’s hard enough now, let alone then. Do it at Town Hall—and to have FILMED! That took chutzpah.”

Sabrina stayed active in New York nightlife for decades, forging relationships with future generations of drag queens, burlesquers, musicians and performance artists. Performing in Taylor Mac’s holiday show last years, which ended up focusing heavily on Sabrina, Tigger! decided he wanted to make a more formal tribute to the late icon. Mac will perform at A Flawless Night, as will Justin Vivian Bond, Linda Simpson, and the House of Labeija.

“All the performers represent performers Sabrina loved and supported,” he says. “We thought celebrating that would be a much better to honor her than with an evening of endless speeches.” Rather than a memorial, he adds, “We want to make the kind of show she would piss herself at.”

Long live The Queen.


A Flawless Night takes place May 10 at 10pm at Town Hall in New York.

 

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