Film Review: Turning

The keening, otherworldly sound of Antony and The Johnsons provides the aural backdrop for this exploration of femininity in its myriad forms.

It doesn’t get more cult than Charles Atlas's Turning, which records a collaboration between the director and androgynous singer/songwriter Antony Hegarty, which debuted at the Whitney Museum's 2004 Biennial. Behind Antony performing with his band, The Johnsons, there was a complexly assembled video backdrop featuring, in his words, “13 remarkable women,” transsexuals as well as actual females, individually striking poses for the duration of each song.

Atlas’ film takes the Biennial concept further with interviews between Antony and his models, who talk about their sexual orientations and various gender issues. Nascent childhood lesbian questioning, the fertilizing avant-garde art scene, as well as the urban transgender scene, the personal toll AIDS exacted on some interviewees, and individual empowerment are addressed. For the susceptible, a woozy spell and free-floating sense of dislocation are created with this oh-so-arty juxtaposition of live performance and talking heads, exacerbated by Antony’s spacily impassioned warbling.

For the less willing, the film may just seem another example of the art world’s “Emperor’s New Clothes” effect, a lot of elaborate fuss with a numbing rather than uplifting or particularly enlightening result. As such, Turning is enthusiastically recommended to die-hard fans of Antony’s music, provided they don’t mind their idol’s performance moments being parsed out between interviews, and those interested in revelations from the progressive sexual/transgendered front.