Film Review: Dzi Croquettes

Very entertaining, poignant documentary about a largely forgotten but truly groundbreaking bunch of entertainers.

A too-little-known chapter of gay show-business history is revealed in the documentary Dzi Croquettes, directed by Tatiana Issa and Raphael Alvarez. This 1970s group of cross-dressing performers, sketchily modeled on San Francisco’s infamous, much less talented Cockettes (the subject themselves of a doc in 2002), emerged like flamboyant butterflies from the repressive, militaristic cocoon that was dictator-run Brazil in that era. Their jaw-dropping dancing, satirical attacks on politics and religion alike, and overall outrageousness gained them a steadfast following among Rio de Janeiro’s avant-garde and ushered in gay liberation to the country.

Issa’s father worked with the troupe as a designer, and her earliest recall is of fantastically long false eyelashes fluttering over her childhood self, making her feel somehow safe and happy. She and Alvarez bring bushels of affection to their project and have been tireless in seeking out appropriate interviewees, who paint a vivid verbal portrait of not only the Croquettes, but the highly charged, often terrifying totalitarian background from which they emerged. They’ve unearthed a trove of vintage clips which convey the excitement of performances which were a far, better cry from the rote, slap-on-a-wig-and-lipsynch drag acts which have been absorbed into today’s mainstream culture. Dzi Croquettes, however androgynous and queer, were men, first and foremost, wearing feathers and glitter, yes, but proudly baring hairy chests, never falsies.

And could those boys move! Their number-one fan was and remains Liza Minnelli, who caught the act by chance in Brazil and became a huge supporter, which enabled them to tour Europe, where they took Paris in particular by storm, gaining the admiration of such as Josephine Baker, Peter Brook and Maurice Bejart. Key to Minnelli’s appreciation was the virtuoso American former Broadway chorus boy Lennie Dale, a Croquettes founder, who brought his dazzling Bob Fosse/Jack Cole technique to the choreography. “Nobody danced like Lennie!” exclaims Liza, who definitely learned a thing or two from him, and, when you see him sinuously sweating it out magnificently here, you have no reason to doubt her trademark hyperbole.

The group sadly disbanded amidst the usual showbiz fallout of egos and internecine conflict, and the horrors of AIDS and even murder tragically beset many of their number. But, thanks to Issa and Alvarez, we now have a glorious, permanent record of their one brief shining moment in the limelight.