TRAMPS! attempts to show the glamour of the ’70s new romantics movement, but instead reveals the harsh reality of being a queer artist.
The Kingston Canadian Film Festival (KCFF) encouraged its community members to bring out their lawn chairs and blankets on July 14 to sit and watch the outdoor viewing of the punk documentary TRAMPS! in the Limestone City Animal Hospital parking lot.
Directed by Kevin Hegge, the interview-based documentary film investigates the interwoven lives of punk artists who lived and squatted on the fringes of society during the ‘70s new romantic punk movement.
The new romantics movement is characterized by the flamboyant hair and makeup associated with the techno-pop music scene that emerged at the end of the 1970s. The movement’s futuristic aesthetic looks to defy prescribed gender roles.
Released in London, England as the closing film at the 2022 British Film Institute (BFI) Flare Festival, Hegge gives voice to figures such as Boy George, Judy Blame, and John Maybury as they reflect on the fashion, art, and club culture of underground England in the ’70s.
The artists in the film challenge conventional ideas of identity within the setting of the British night club scene.
In the film, David Bowie and Marc Bolan are said to influence the scene, but very little is mentioned of them because the film contextualizes them as too mainstream, too rich, and too famous.
The artists in the film were so destitute they lived in buildings with no running water or electricity just to get by.
Synth pop music and previous punk culture influenced youth to dress up in outrageous clothing with cement filled purses and layers of chiffon.
However, the freedom the youths expressed through their clothing was juxtaposed against the need for concealed weapons. The cement filled purse protected artists from violence associated with appearing outwardly queer.
This period brought a new wave of hair and makeup that defied gender conventions. Eyeliner and lipstick were trademark features, signaling the artists’ place in the community.
It seemed the bold clothing and bright colours distracted these figures from the poverty they experienced. The beauty of the new romantics movement is only seen in clips of their nights out which leads one to believe their days were nothing remarkable.
The films repeated imagery of the artists’ endless nighttime partying denoted an emptiness in social connections. They had to continuously prove themselves by being the most outrageous or theatrical, and only seemed to value themselves when they gained this recognition from their peers.
While it attempted to portray the thrill of the new romantic movement, the film could have been more direct in representing the hardships the artists faced.
Despite the documentary providing a glimpse into the lives of artists such as Mark Moore and Princess Julia, there is an overarching glance into the “subversive culture” embedded in queer politics.
The film looked at how the new romantics movement built a culture of accepting queer people without the constraints of otherwise being labelled a deviant.
Though the film attempted to glorify the artistry of the new romantics movement, TRAMPS! depiction of the artists’ experiences evoked pity in the viewer.
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