The Trixie Mattel Documentary Pulls Back The Curtain On The Darkness Within ‘Drag Race’
Not just fan service, the Trixie Mattel doco is more than the sum of its moving parts.
RuPaul’s Drag Race isn’t just a reality show anymore. It isn’t even ‘just’ a cultural phenomenon. It’s an empire, complete with chocolate bars and spin-off shows, two yearly ‘DragCons’, countless podcasts and YouTube shows.
There’s an entire industry build around the explosion of post Drag Race drag; there’s hundreds of wigs and drag essential stores, merch, worldwide management companies, drag cruises and drag queen makeup-collaborations.
At its centre isn’t the show itself, but the near 150 queens the show’s seen through the workroom — queens who compete not necessarily for the crown anymore, but the ability to become a brand. It’s a harsh game.
As Silky Nutmeg Ganache’s run on S11 proved, even bringing a log of merch-ready catchphrases and memeable moments won’t necessarily win over an audience, especially given the editor’s get the final cut. Fans (and publications) rank not just the show’s lip syncs, but the queens themselves, as if Drag Race was a sport.
While some queens have been spat out by the machine, turned into jokes for one bad performance or on-camera nerves, others are catapulted to fame — and then have to stay relevant, with each year bringing a new crop of queens. Others, like Trixie Mattel, make their name off the show, while she went back to (controversially) win All Stars 3, Trixie was an early out on Season 7, and, in her own words, “kind of sucked”.
Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts, a documentary produced by Drag Race‘s production company World Of Wonder, follows Trixie on tour and booked and blessed during All Stars 3 in 2018. Accidentally or not, it paints a picture of the frustrating but wonderful world of being a RuGirl.
The result is a documentary more than the sum of its parts. More than fan service (though, yes, there are plenty of cameos), it offers an insight into queer culture in 2019, and questions whether we are demanding a little too much from drag queens.
“Give The Gays What They Want!”
Trixie Mattel, aka Brian Firkus, made her name off Drag Race with UNHhhh, an absurd YouTube talk show with fellow S7 queen Katya Zamolodchikova.
The style showed off her wit much more than Drag Race‘s Shakesqueer or music video parody challenges, and soon, she had her own ironic-tinged trademark lines and bits, like ‘Skinny Legend’ and ‘Oh Honey’ — used to make fun of gay men who spoke in catchphrases rather than have a personality. Moving Parts, directed by Nick Zeig-Owens, picks up when UNHhhh turned into a full-fledged Viceland show, The Trixie & Katya Show.
The 14-episode season didn’t go quite as planned; during filming, Katya relapsed and began using meth after several years sober, prompting an eventual stint in rehab and months away from touring and drag.
“[Trixie & Katya’s] our whole career. No one’s going to want to see me without her.”
S8 winner Bob The Drag Queen filled in for the last few episodes the show, and in Moving Parts, for the first time, we see why. Katya has psychotic breaks on-set, and it’s harrowing to watch. But this is not her documentary, and instead, we see Trixie struggle to help her friend and colleague — one who she’s signed a contract with, and who without, she’s worried that fans won’t care about her.
In an Uber after a particularly taxing day, we see that last part slip.
“[Trixie & Katya’s] our whole career. No one’s going to want to see me without her,” she says — and it’s clear she knows how it sounds. In multiple moments, Trixie comes off as more careerist than a friend, though it’s later clear that Katya’s breakdown carried a lot of cruelty. There’s no black-and-white in addiction, and Zeig-Owens is focused on making sure you really feel the mess.
“Trixie’s Like My Crash Dummy”
Trixie’s on-the-rocks relationship with Katya lingers in the background of Moving Parts, which largely follows Trixie around while she tours as All Stars 3 airs in early 2018.
On tour in the UK, she meets fans who offer notes and trinkets. She seems a little bored by them all screaming ‘Skinny Legend!’ at her, as if she’s trapped in a coffin of her own design.
Still, she’s gracious; returning home, she reads notes from fans who pour out their hearts, detailing how her drag saved them from a deep depression. “See what I mean? They always want to kill themselves,” she says after reading one.
Trixie’s humour is equally blue as it is dark, shaped partially by a tumultuous upbringing. In Moving Parts, we gain further insight into her family life, and scenes where she tries to move on from trauma with her mother serve as a reminder that RuGirls, like all LGBTIQ people, carry their own baggage.
Drag Race often talks of drag as an armour, and Trixie’s clearly done that — her name comes from an epithet that her stepfather threw at her alongside physical abuse. But it doesn’t make you invincible, even if, like Trixie, a wig and makeup give you “delusional confidence”.
While Moving Parts doesn’t paint the life of a RuGirl as terrible, it’s clear that it is a world of constant criticism, and an ever-looming possibility that the machine might move on without you. Through some impeccable cinematography, we see Trixie wrestle with being seen as an overrated catchphrase and a literal reason-to-live, all at once.
It’s a lot; maybe too much.
Unfortunately, the film’s rushed ending is too inconclusive. Even if Trixie’s ‘story’ is still unfolding, it lands unsure of itself, suggesting the critical moments it left in might’ve been somewhat unintentional. Particularly grating are the two-or-so lines in the credit explaining that Trixie and Katya are friends again.
While neither queen owes us an explanation, it seems odd to include the corrosion but not the solution, especially since UNHhhh (which like Moving Parts and Drag Race, is also produced by World Of Wonder) is back with new weekly episodes. There’s no time to stop; the empire must move forward.
Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts is playing at Sydney Film Festival Sunday 16 June, and is currently seeking distribution. Junkee is a proud media partner of Sydney Film Festival.
Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee, and co-host of Sleepless In Sydney on FBi Radio. Follow him on Twitter.