There was this really great party, it went on every Friday for seven years throughout the 90s, it was very rock-n-roll and very ambi-sexual (with an accent on the sexual), and if you missed it you really missed out.
That’s the premise (strongly supported by the evidence) behind “Squeezebox!”, a gay event held at an otherwise unassuming bar in a overlooked corner of downtown Manhattan back when Mayor Guiliani was more concerned with shaming graffiti artists and cleaning up Times Square than fixing the really big problems NYC had at the time. Every Friday night for seven years in the middle of the 90s, a mini-revolution was brewing — gay performers (in drag or not) who actually sang (not lip-synched) punk, New Wave and plain ol’ rock-and-roll songs to an audience of hip people of various persuasions who weren’t bothered by misfits and united through their love of really good times. Led by promoter Michael Schmidt and hosted/championed by drag queen Mistress Formika and transsexual punk legend Jayne County, Don Hill’s bar was transformed into a pure, sexy, loud, in-your-face Republican nightmare, like a real live “Rocky Horror Picture Show” happening in your own basement.
Thanks to hours and hours of videotape from the club’s heyday and interviews with patrons, celebrities and employees, the energy, excitement and love poured into Squeezebox is messily recaptured. It’s not just men in dresses singing “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” it’s people, given permission to be totally free and totally themselves, living those songs. This is where the Toilet Boys and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” were born; this was where high fashion designers came to be schooled on what really looked good; this was a club where “normal” was one of the few things never allowed in.
The performances are generally very good, the interviews are usually hilarious and candid, and the filmmakers do a particularly good job at setting the context for this rebellion against the Guiliani adminstration of the 90s (with a surprising amount of help from Guiliani himself, being quite the douchebag we all found out he was later). By the time I got the Duelling (Tallulah) Bankheads performing A Flock of Seagulls’ “Telecommunication,” I was wishing for a time machine so I could be amongst the squalor and decay of the kool kids too.
There are few flecks of flaws amongst the gold of this documentary: the curious omission of any mention of an earlier gay bar that had attempted the same idea, and an overlong rehashing of the Stonewall Rebellion (the target audience for this film is more than passing familiar with this, guys), but don’t let these nitpicks stop you from having a raucous, raunchy, occasionally gross but always delightful time in the now-immortalized world of “Squeezebox!”. With this movie, you really can do the Time Warp again.
It’s just a jump to the left …