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Antony Hegarty in Turning

Gender, sexuality, identity and empowerment are core concerns in the art of Antony Hegarty, the hulking, cherub-faced British-American androgyne who brings a singing voice of trembling sweetness and penetrating honesty to his work in Antony and the Johnsons. Small wonder, then, that those same issues dominate this documentary by video artist Charles Atlas that’s based on a stage collaboration he and Hegarty mounted at the 2004 Whitney Biennial, then took on the road.

Understand that if Hegarty’s songs are your chief attraction, you may come away disappointed. Though his music permeates the film like a misty aura, the actual performances are doled out in fleeting fragments. Instead, the film emphasizes Hegarty’s costars: the 13 women who appeared with him onstage. Each woman rotates slowly on a turntable platform, her features blown up and transfigured on a screen behind the band, while Hegarty quivers, flaps and intones gorgeously in the foreground.

If the process sounds like objectification, it actually has the opposite effect. These women—performance artists, models, butch lesbians and transsexuals—expose their unique beauty under close scrutiny, and rather than simply chronicling a concert, Atlas incorporates candid interviews and playful banter to define his picturesque subjects. That their idiosyncrasies grow comfortable, even relatable, and help turn a rock-doc into a transformative journey is surely Turning’s intended revelation.

Follow Steve Smith on Twitter: @nightafternight

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