aGLIFF Goes Behind the Flounce and Bounce of Trixie Mattel
Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts spotlights the Drag Race alum and musician
In the opening of documentary Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts, the "Skinny Legend" introduces herself over the lilt of an Autoharp: "I am a comedian and musician" – she pauses – "who dresses like this."
"This" meaning a pastel pink dress-and-heels combo, a blond bouffant teased as close to God as possible, and equally dramatic makeup contouring. Moving Parts, the closing night film at this weekend's All Genders, Lifestyles, and Identities Film Festival (aGLIFF), takes viewers into the world of one of the most successful drag queens to come out of RuPaul's Drag Race. Despite being booted off the show not once but twice in 2015, Mattel has fashioned a renaissance career that includes two country folk albums, one web series, a TV show, multiple internationally touring musical comedy shows, and most recently, a cosmetics line. Life in plastic, for the Barbie-influenced queen, is pretty fantastic.
At first blush, Mattel's candy-flossed persona seems at odds with verité-style filmmaking, so why subject your career to a probing documentary? "It was just a time in my life where there were so many things [that] were about to grow three times their size," explained Mattel, phoning in from London where she's headlining Europe's biggest drag convention, DragWorld. "Everybody close to me was like, 'How are you documenting this? How are you going to keep track of this and remember it?'"
Mattel already knew producer David Silver, who introduced her to his former college roommate, documentarian Nick Zeig-Owens (Monsters Inside Me, Mysteries at the Museum). For nine months, Zeig-Owens, who Mattel admitted "went into it knowing nothing about me," witnessed some of the most defining moments in the star's career so far: last year's win on RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars season 3; the release of Mattel's second album, One Stone; and her subsequent tour, "Now With Moving Parts." On revisiting these wins by way of the film, Mattel reflected, "It doesn't feel magical when you're in it because it's just part of your workday, but when you're watching it back, like the part where I win Drag Race in the movie, I cry every time. ... I'm watching myself win the gay Super Bowl."
Moving Parts, however, doesn't sashay away from dark realities. There's Mattel's troubled childhood in Wisconsin – her name, in fact, is partly inspired by her abusive stepfather calling her "Trixie" when she acted feminine. There's the souring of her friendship with fellow Drag Race alum Katya Zamolodchikova (who co-stars on the duo's web series, UNHhhh) and its effect on their Viceland talk show, The Trixie & Katya Show. "[Moving Parts] is not the Justin Bieber experience. It's not a music video for how great I am," said Mattel. "It's actually like both sides of the coin."
On a macro level, the doc captures a snapshot of what Mattel calls the "golden age of drag," a time in which drag performers (mostly queens, it should be noted) are traveling around the world to perform and appearing on television and red carpets. Acknowledging she's been one of the "really lucky" ones, Mattel agreed her work illustrates the possibilities of a drag queen's career in this day and age. The benefits are being felt outside of the spotlight, too, with a growth of wigmakers and costumers whose entire careers rely on outfitting performers. "The trickle down is everywhere; like, you don't have to be a television drag queen to experience the boom in this industry."
For all the mainstream attention drag culture has received in recent years, there's still progress to be made when it comes to public perception. "I can't tell you how often we are made to feel completely secondary," Mattel said, citing how people will often see drag queens as either a drag queen or a celebrity – but never both. "People really just see you as a cross-dresser."
Still, Mattel never sees her success as an opportunity to sell out. "[Drag queens] represent what it means to not be mainstream," she said. "No matter how big we get, we get to be underground and dirty and absurd and obscene. ... We're like the celebrities in the 'Upside Down.' We're just as famous, but a little dark-sided."
aGLIFF presents Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts Sun., Aug. 25, 4:30pm.
All Genders, Lifestyles and Identities Film Festival
Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar, 1120 S. Lamar
Tickets and info at www.agliff.org.