Waxie Moon in Fallen Jewel is a fractured fairytale, a pop art extravaganza, “a rich, glittery, live-action cartoon,” in director Wes Hurley’s words.
“It’s my love letter to Seattle,” he says. And Seattle is a much a character in this fable as is the titular star, Waxie Moon, the “boylesque” performance art diva who is seen striding about the city in dangerously high heels, looking for love in all the wrong places, but never looking less than her best—absolutely fabulous.
Moon’s previous cinematic outing was the 2009 documentary Waxie Moon, also directed by Hurley, which traced the career of the gender-bending artiste, revealing how classically trained dancer Marc Kenison evolved into burlesque queen Waxie Moon. But Waxie Moon in Fallen Angel is a different creation all together, a luridly colored amalgamation of The Women and Douglas Sirk, Sex in the City and John Waters. And the film, which has its Seattle premiere on Oct. 19 as part of this year’s Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, has a full cornucopia of NW talent: Sarah Rudinoff, Marya Sea Kaminski and Polly Wood, as Waxie’s closest girlfriends and confidantes; John Osebold (the man behind Spidermann, the “tiny ass” deconstruction of the lavish Spider Man: Turn Off The Dark musical that played in Seattle and New York last year) as the love of Waxie’s life; plus appearances by such performers as Inga Ingenue, Miss Indigo Blue, The Swedish Housewife, and many, many more.
Moon and Hurley met when Moon was one of Hurley’s acting teachers at the UW (where Moon was studying for his MFA in acting). When Moon co-founded the Washington Ensemble Theater, Hurley found an opportunity to learn how to use the camera by filming the company’s shows. “Over the years, we became closer and closer friends and collaborators,” he says. “Marc is my art mentor, best friend, and my creative soul mate. I’m so inspired by how Waxie Moon can marry high brow performance art/dance and low brow cabaret/burlesque. I’m equally inspired by B-movies and art films, so that kind of love/reverence for the opposite sides of the creative spectrum really speaks to me. Marc comes from a place where he can do Isadora Duncan to a Beyoncé song and make it the most heartbreaking, poignant, and absurdly hilarious thing you’ll see in your entire life. His 20-minute striptease to ‘Bolero’ is the best live theater I’ve ever seen, like ever.”
A documentary on Marc/Waxie was a natural project for the two to collaborate on; the next step was seeing what else they could do with the character. “We started talking about putting Waxie in various film genres to see how these Hollywood conventions and clichés can be deconstructed by recasting him as an iconic heroine,” Hurley explains. “We wanted to explore some of the same themes and the treatment of women in popular culture by inserting Waxie into these situations.”
The two holed up at Seattle’s Edgewater Inn for a few days to write the script. “The hotel was definitely inspiring to us, if for no other reason than just being steeped in all that naughty Seattle history—the Beatles’ visit, the Led Zeppelin controversy,” says Hurley, referring to a notorious 1969 incident when a member of Zeppelin’s crew used a red snapper as a sex toy during an encounter with a groupie, which has passed into rock ‘n’ roll legend. “It certainly felt like the right place to write this kind of avant garde film.” “I love the Edgewater, it is ripe with history,” Moon enthuses. “It’s both elegant and tragic—being slightly run down—which seems appropriate to Waxie. Not that I’m run down! Tragic? Yes! Run down? No! The Edgewater is also very, very Seattle, like our film.”
Indeed, the film makes copious use of its Seattle location; parks, nightclubs, city streets, the waterfront, all of it shot on the sly. “All of the outside scenes were shot without a permit,” Hurley admits. “I don’t believe in permits. I’m not a big Hollywood production. I’m not disrupting traffic or blocking the sidewalk, so why would I pay to shoot in public spaces?” Though such guerilla shooting tactics do mean you occasionally have to rely on some fast thinking. For a scene shot in a cemetery, Hurley and co-producer/art director Jen Zeyl scoped out their location in advance, then hustled their actors in to shoot post haste. “Waxie, Inga, and Lou Henry showed up looking amazing,” Hurley recalls. “We started shooting, and immediately some security person showed up and told us to leave. So I made up a sad story about my grandfather—pointing at the random grave next to us—who wrote plays in secret, and he never saw them produced in his lifetime, and we were honoring the anniversary of his death by putting on a little performance, which we were filming to send to the rest of the family. The security guard, bless his soul, nodded in appreciation and let us shoot there for ten—‘But only ten!’—more minutes.”
The film’s other notable feature are the dance numbers, which often erupt at the most unexpected moments. As when Nick Garrison, playing an aerobics instructor, suddenly turns into the reincarnation of Klaus Nomi, delivering the haughty number “The Cold Song” with techno precision. Sarah Rudinoff has a flashback to the ‘80s in “Everything is on Fire,” boogeying down alongside the requisite male dancers in tight shorts (why did everyone seem to be having so much more fun in that decade?). Waxie’s own brief dance unveiling after a night out with the girls is positively restrained by comparison (well, there is that cameo as Jesus Christ….).
But not to worry, Waxie fans. All the stops are pulled out at the film’s conclusion, which takes the storyline in an unexpected direction, one that totally up ends the meaning of lust, sex and desire. And as with the rest of the film, there are classic influences lurking underneath. “I wanted the film, and Waxie’s reality, to completely shift one more time,” Hurley explains of the film’s final moments. “I was very inspired by the ending in Goddard’s Breathless; that was my starting point. It evolved into something so different that no one would probably suspect where the initial inspiration came from. Either way, it’s probably the only movie ending that’s an equal homage to Tom of Finland, Goddard, and ‘70s sexploitation films.”
Waxie Moon in Fallen Jewel had its world premiere last June at the Tel Aviv LGBT International Film Festival. The Seattle screening on Oct. 19 follows “The Fifth Wall” walking tour of gay sites that’s part of the City Arts Fest; the tours end up at the Culture Club, with the film’s cast and crew then leading a parade over to Pacific Place Cinemas, where the film screens (another party follows the screening, naturally).
With other festival screenings on the horizon (including a screening in Japan), Hurley is excited about getting more exposure for the singular Seattle performer that Waxie Moon is. “I’m grateful for today’s thriving film festival scene,” he says. “To know that anywhere from 30 to 600 people in another city or country just watched your film and some of them even reached out to you and told you how much they liked it is very gratifying. When the Waxie Moon doc was playing festivals, I had several people approach me in tears, telling me how much the movie moved them or even changed their life. At that point you don’t care whether they saw your film at a tiny film festival or on HBO. I’m just grateful to be able to share my work.”