by Douglas Messerli
Guy Maddin (writer and director) Sissy Boy Slap Party / 1994 (lost), remade 2004
Given Canadian director Guy Maddin’s eccentric oeuvre with its commitment to eerie and near-perverted relationships between children and parents, and its overall approximation of silent film epics, it should come as no surprise that hidden among his many gems is the wonderful gay bacchanal, Sissy Boy Slap Party, filmed in 1994 but lost and remade in what is described as The Director’s Cut—as if somehow its precious six minutes had previously been cut and censored—in 2004.
This wonderful work can almost be seen as a celebratory salute to Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures. But whereas the 1963 film was an almost languid portrayal of a multi-sexual orgy harkening back to works such as Cecille DeMille’s Hollywood tribute to the naughty Nero, Maddin goes full forward with a symbolic depiction of a totally gay orgy among sailors, black boys, and native Americans all stranded, inexplicably, on an island headed by a kind of Pasha (Louis Negrin) whose brief departure lets all hell break loose.
Before exciting, however, he scolds his indolent minions for getting too fat, before petulantly declaring, a bit like Divine in John Waters’ Female Trouble: “I gotta go to the shop and buy some condoms. And remember: NO SLAPPING."
We may not quite comprehend what his edict about “slapping” is all about—it was actually based on a game one of the actors Caelum Vatnsdal frequently played with his friends, whose rules required them to attempt to slap each other while keeping their elbows locked to their sides to limit their range of motion—unless we happen to recall all those spanking movies popular as both heterosexual and LGBTQ porno shorts for almost a century.
Like bad boys always do, one of the previously lazy sailor boys slaps an older man across the face the moment the Pasha is out of sight. That act, in turn, quickly leads others to engage in similar behavior, which leads to the entire populace putting their hands across cheeks, ears, and noses, actions which grow and crescendo again and again as the half naked natives grow wildly restless to the beat of the tom-toms and tympani.
Before our very eyes, the facial slaps quickly shift to chests, backs, and finally bottoms, as pants are pulled down and butts beaten what we know would be red if the film were not in black-and-white.
Finally as the action, in its second wave, transforms the camera lens itself into a kind of spinning top refracting the mad orgy of open palms put upon bodies so endlessly until we might almost describe all the participants as becoming so “slap happy” that they fall back into piles of exhausted male torsos.
The Pasha returns, disappointed with their behavior but clearly also having expected it. "Boys, boys, boys. I turn my back and there you are; slapping each other again. I couldn't trust any of you for a second. You make me sick."
But his lines, declaimed with an almost weary recognition of the sexual desires that these men have no other way to release, as if he were simply singing a variation of the ditty, “What Do You Do With a Naked Sailor?” One almost senses, in fact, that he is awfully sorry he has missed all the fun; now what does he do with newly purchased condoms. Stay tuned. We’ll surely have to wait a while longer to find out.
Los Angeles, October 7, 2020
Reprinted from World Cinema Review and My Queer Cinema blog (October 2020).