Roy Cohn was Senator Joe McCarthy's right-hand attorney and a vociferous opponent of the loosening of gay rights; Jack Smith a wild performer and film-maker whose celebration of transvestite perversity, Flaming Creatures, became a notorious underground film of the '60s. Both men died of AIDS within a year or so of each other. As 'presented' by Jonathan Demme and filmed in New York, Vawter's one-man show places these two apparently dissimilar individuals side by side, focusing on the element of performance that seems to have enabled each to have survived in his particular stratum of society. Vawter is extraordinary in the way he switches roles: zeroing in on a toweringly homophobic speech Cohn gave to the American Society for the Preservation of the Family in 1978, then adorning himself in glitter for a distilled re-creation of one of Smith's languorous, fragmented monologues. Some jarring cross-cutting aside, the film's an absorbing, intelligent take on the compromises of gay identity and the masks people hide behind. It's also a testament to Vawter, who himself died of AIDS, shortly after this performance was recorded.
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