• What Really Happened To Baby Jane? And The Films Of The Gay Girls Riding Club (AGFA) Blu-ray Review



    Released by: AGFA
    Released on: September 28th, 2021.
    Director: Ray Harrison
    Cast: Claire Brennen, Felix Silla, Warren Fremming, Jarman Christopher
    Year: 1962-1972
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    What Really Happened To Baby Jane? – Movie Review:

    A seriously interesting collection of vintage underground gay films from the sixties and seventies, The American Genre Film Archive’s release of What Really Happened To Baby Jane? And The Films Of The Gay Girls Riding Club brings together a selection of shorts and features all making their home video debut with this Blu-ray. AGFA has partnered with Outfest UCLA Legacy Project on this release. The Gay Girls Riding Club was a collective of sorts, hosting drag events and pumping out oddball films, and this collection compiles roughly ten years of their filmed output.

    Things start off with the eight minute Always On Sunday, directed in 1962. Directed by 'Connie B. DeMille,' this silent film opens on a serene beach, some flamenco-style guitar music playing overtop. A title card tells us this is Piraeus in Greece, the ancient port of love. Inside a bar filled only with men, a quartet of women (drag queens) appears. A man named Taki talks to one, telling her that Ilya is the only woman for him, while some of the others make it with some of the other clients. Ilya shows up, looking not unlike Dee Snider, and takes over the place, dancing with Taki until the original four women beat up on Ilya only for Taki to then run off with some sailors! Clearly made for little money, it’s an amusing time killer made all the more fun by the fact that the cast are clearly having a blast hamming it up.

    From there, we get the thirty-one minute titular What Really Happened To Baby Jane? from 1963. Shot shortly after the release of the infamous What Happened To Baby Jane?, the film starts in 1917 where we learn of Baby Jane Hudson's star power, which faded as vaudeville died in the advent of the rise of the cinema. This leads to a rivalry with Oscar winner Blanche Hudson, her sister. When Blanche is hit by a car and left in a wheelchair after winning said Oscar, Blanche falls spends her time watching old movies and getting shit on by her pet bird while Jane gets smashed on vodka. Of course, like the film that so clearly inspired it, things go from bad to worse for the pair as it all builds towards a pretty insane conclusion. This one is pretty amazing, and quite well done! The GGRC did a great job of replicating the sets used in the original film and the campy, over the top performances really suit the tone of the story very well. Silent save for some music and narration, it’s a pretty impressive, and frequently very funny, send up.

    Also from 1963 is the nineteen minute The Roman Springs On Mrs. Stone, which opens in the Hollywood Hills. This one follows Karen Stone, a famous actress whose youth is fading. She travels to Italy where she hits it off with Paulo, who does quite a good job of wooing her while basically working alongside the sinister Countess Vaselinni! An amusing send up of The Roman Springs Of Mrs. Stone, directed by José Quintero in 1961.

    The forty-four minute Spy On The Fly, made in 1967, follows the exploits of Agent 69 (Warren Freeming) who has to disguise himself as a woman to drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco to pick up some top secret plans at a beauty parlor. Highjunks ensure in what is essentially campy, drag-heavy spoof of the James Bond films and novels. It opens with a great scene where two women paint our man's nails while he drinks martinis and reads Playboy, only for them to get up and randomly start go-go dancing! For some reason there's a Batman poster on the wall in his home. This one was also shot without live sound but features some amusing intertitles and opening narration in it, as well as a great soundtrack. It also features a few amusing 'action set pieces' (some done in drag), and some great, very exaggerated sound effects worked into the mix.

    Last but certainly not least is the sixty-eight minute All About Alice, from 1972. Clearly meant as a send up to All About Eve and the only color film in the collection, this is the most ‘serious’ of the films included in the collection, though we’ll use that terms loosely here. Shot with live sound, it opens with a lengthy sequence set at a Tony Awards ceremony where actress Alice Barrington (Jarman Christopher) takes home the gold. From here, we see, via flashback, how exactly Barrington worked her way up by messing with some of her associates along the way, most notably Mona Manning (Fremming again) when she becomes her understudy. Alice even crosses some of her closest friends and makes a move on Mike (Ken Sprague), Mona's boyfriend. It follows the basic plot of All About Eve pretty closely and features noticeably stronger production values than the earlier pictures included here. The performances are also much more grounded here, it seems like the entire cast and crew was taking this project much more seriously than the other entries. It’s quite well done and while it does still feature some camp to it, as well as some nudity courtesy of Sprague, it proves to be a pretty engrossing film.

    What Really Happened To Baby Jane? – Blu-ray Review:

    AGFA brings most of this material to Blu-ray taken from 2k preservations of the only known 16mm prints in existence, save for All About Alice, which is taken from a 2k restoration of the 16mm camera reversal. The black and white material can be a little rough around the edges at times – expect print damage throughout and some obvious scratches that are hard to miss – but it’s all stable and more than watchable with good contrast and better detail than you’d probably expect. All About Alice, understandably, looks better than the earlier films with decent color reproduction and less visible print damage. Given the age and obscurity of this stuff, it all looks just fine.

    The DTS-HD English language Mono tracks are in similar shape to the video, with the earlier black and white shorts, which are essentially silent, having a bit of hiss in the background but otherwise sounding fine, and Alice sounding superior. Levels are balanced, but again, expect a bit of hiss here and there. Optional English SDH subtitles are included.

    Extras start out with a commentary over What Really Happened To Baby Jane? From queer film historian Evan Purchell and AGFA’s Bret Berg. Lots of talk here about the history of The Gay Girls Riding Club and Ray Harrison's life and times. They go into some detail about the gay film scene in Los Angeles at the time and discuss not only the film but some of the other projects that the members of the club were involved with. It's a pretty interesting talk that covers the influence of classic Hollywood films on the gay underground scene, the history of the drag scene and its relation to filmmaking and more. This is definitely worth a listen.

    Also included on the disc are ten minutes of outtakes from All About Alice, menus and feature selection options. AGFA also packages this with some reversible cover art that features some neat archival Gay Girls Riding Club promotional material on the reverse side.

    What Really Happened To Baby Jane? – The Final Word:

    What Really Happened To Baby Jane? And The Films Of The Gay Girls Riding Club is as fascinating as it is frequently very funny. Seemingly an influence on filmmakers like Andy Warhol and John Waters, these campy, low budget projects are both historically charming and frequently very creative. AGFA has done a nice job preserving and releasing the film with solid presentations and a very informative commentary tracing the history of those who made them. Recommended!

    Click on the images below for full-sized What Really Happened To Baby Jane? screen caps!