“WILDNESS”— Creativity and Conflict

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“Wildness”

Creativity and Conflict

Amos Lassen

One of the new films that many are talking about is “Wildness”, a documentary about a transgender immigrant at the Los Angeles bar, Silver Platter. The bar is part of the underground of the city and has been the home of Latin American immigrant communities since 1963. The bar actually becomes a character in the movie as we watch what happens when a party explodes. The bar was transformed into a once-a-week hangout for Latino transgender people. Filmmaker and director Wu Tsang captures the flavor of the bar in this amazing film. Several different groups try to coexist at the Silver Platter so we get to see a real mix of people.

The bar is the narrator of the film and we get the idea that the bar itself is a mother image to so many that come to spend time with her. She is located at McArthur Park and we meet the owners, Nora and Gonzalo Ramirez as well as some of the drag queens that congregate there. Everyone is treated fairly and nobly, something we do not see a whole lot of.

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Tsang is a mixed race performance artist who is androgynous and magnetic. The bar provides both sanctuary and opportunity for him. We get to a wild party night and the bar that was once a safe place for the Latino LGBT community becomes something else. One of the problems is that many of the denizens are undocumented. There is also the issue that the Wildness parties do no good for the ecosystem. What we see is something like “dress up” and the director’s attempt to capture the goings on at the bar. There is a youthful performance arts community that calls the Silver Platter home but what it really is, we see, a transgendered club that sits right in the middle of the Latino community on the east side of the city. The film tries to deal with the major social issues—immigration, urbanism, safety, politics and equality and it does so with a sense of realism.

Director Tsang shows what must be done to create and keep a place like the Silver Platter and also speaks about a free legal clinic for transgender people and in doing this, the owners of the bar lose something of their control.

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“The film’s best and funniest moments portray stark contrasts. An elderly Mexican lady hobbles over to put dollar bills in the bust of a hot-pink blur, all flamenco dancing and ruffles. Silver Lake hipsters hit on scantily clad, heavily lip-lined ladies; those same ladies look on with quixotic interest at those same hipsters’ odd performance pieces (droning looped synths to faux blood-drenched naked bodies dancing under strobes). These scenes—brought to life through the bright transgendered stars and Tsang’s loving gaze of them—reveal the wonderful potential of places like the Silver Platter and Los Angeles as a whole, where repressed communities are given a home to express their creativity and shared exhilaration”.

The largely transgender and first- or second-generation immigrants from Mexico, El Salvador, and beyond provide the entertainment and  this documentary, “which not only documents but also re-views the complicated processes of identification, gentrification, community building, and dissolution that occur in this particular geography of an immigrant queer bar”. We not only get the history of the bar but also the history of the people who frequent it and those who populate it.

“Often bars like this are uneasy spaces of contestation, existing adjacent to businesses/organizations that would rather not see them survive (The Silver Platter is next to a church). Feelings run fever-pitch and deep, which means everyone cares. So when these communal spaces tear at the seams it is often frustratingly chalked up to infighting, pettiness, and jealousy. But really, if we were to broaden the frame these communities fracture in large parts due to pressures from outside of these queer world-making ventures”.

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“The filmmaker and three musical collaborators produce a weekly party at The Silver Platter on one of the slowest nights of the week, Tuesday. It is the party’s name, Wildness that gives this film its title. Misunderstandings are present, one of the regulars interviewed for the documentary describes the clientele of Wildness as “university students” and “white,” even though most of the organizers are people of color. This woman, and many regulars, refuses to call Wildness by its name and instead refer to the night as simply, “Martes” or Tuesday, minimizing any cultural cache the party may hold for its revelers, effectively leveling it through the powerful process of language. It is, after all, just another day of the week. This is yet another example of the many critical messes presented, and importantly left tangled. In leaving such antagonisms unresolved Tsang allows the audience to approach the bar, and the party, for the chameleonic entities they are… it would be too easy to present the weekly Wildness party as the antagonist to the protagonist of the bar’s regular denizens. The bar speaks gently to the filmmaker, calling him hijo, and not a moment later snarkily dismisses his concept of “safe space,” as though it were some kind of politically correct import”.

Transphobia is evident and many think that the real women at the bar are prostitutes but the party goes on nevertheless. This is a film unlike you have ever seen and as it is shown it picks up more and more steam.

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