Unidentified Fabulous Objects

Left: IFC Film Center’s Queer/Art/Film guest curator Lady Quesadilla, Sasha Velour, and Linda Simpson. Photos: Linda Simpson.

AS WINNER OF season nine of RuPaul’s Drag Race, in 2017, Sasha Velour distinguished herself as a cerebral contestant, a Vassar graduate who regards drag as an artistic expression. So when she was asked by New York’s Queer/Art/Film screening series to present a movie of her choice, she decided to boldly go where no other drag queen has gone before. On February 4, she arrived at IFC Center in green face paint and a bejeweled headpiece to pay homage to the 1991 cult favorite Vegas in Space. (The event was part of the “Winter’s a Drag” program, which continues through April.)

“I discovered Vegas in Space during season three of Drag Race,” Sasha explained to the sold-out crowd. “It was alluded to as part of a B-movie challenge.” At the time, she was still developing her drag persona, and with her curiosity piqued, she bought a DVD. “I thought it was incredible,” was her rave review. She was so wowed by the campy parody of cheesy sci-fi flicks that she even took her last name from a couple of its characters, the overbearing mama Ms. Velour and her rebellious daughter Babs, both habitués of the all-female planet, Clitoris.

Left: Queer/Art/Film staff Río Sofia, programs and operations coordinator, with Adam Baran, cocurator.

The movie, which Sasha described as “an epic production on a shoestring budget,” was made by members of San Francisco’s drag community in the early 1980s (a few years before she was born in nearby Berkeley). A lack of funds kept the project in post-production hell for almost a decade. Upon release, Vegas received limited distribution, although it has generated an enthusiastic following over the years through midnight showings, festival revivals, and YouTube.

Sasha took her seat and the audience was whisked into the twenty-third century. The film’s star is Doris Fish, who plays two roles. The first is Dan Tracy, captain of the USS Intercourse, on assignment from Earth to solve a crime on Clitoris, located in the Beaver System. In order to blend in with the populace, he and his crew take gender-reversal pills and—viola!—the pretty and vivacious Tracy Daniels is ready for action. (Fish is also credited as the film’s creative director, screenwriter, makeup artist, and set and wardrobe designer.)

Vegas is the planet’s capital and a mecca for shopping. (Panoramic shots feature toy rockets on string soaring over perfume-bottle skyscrapers.) Its colorful royalty includes Miss X as menacing Veneer, Queen of Police; Tippi as rascally Princess Angel; and Ginger Quest as Empress Nueva Gabor, whose green hue Sasha copied for the night. The dizzying plot, which concerns a jewelry theft, isn’t nearly as vital as the dazzling visuals, over-the-top acting, and snappy one-liners. Like all good sci-fi adventures, the film ends with a mission accomplished.

Left: Audience members Joe and Queen Minty.

After the movie, there was a discussion moderated by Queer/Art/Film cocurator Adam Baran and special guest curator Lady Quesadilla, who comes from the same experimental Brooklyn drag scene that Sasha joined after college. They both gushed about the movie’s aesthetics. “The makeup and fashions are so ahead of its time,” said Sasha. “It shows how contemporary drag is completely in line with its predecessors.” Lady Quesadilla, in a voluminous salmon-pink wig, nodded in approval.

Ms. Velour also spoke about her own career. While many Drag Race winners go on to lives of whirlwind touring, she has focused on endeavors closer to home and, in the process, has become kind of a guru to the gender-fluid set of Brooklyn and beyond. Her baby is her popular avant-garde variety show “Nightgowns,” which she has been producing since before her boob-tube success. It is a chance to “show off drag that doesn’t have a place on TV,” and the wide range of expression includes trans- and cis-girl performers.

It’s a shame that Doris Fish isn’t able to join the “Nightgowns” ensemble. By the time her long-delayed project made it to the big screen, she and other Vegas cast mates and crew had died from AIDS. As director Phillip R. Ford recalls in his online chronicle about the making of the film, its grand premiere at San Francisco’s Castro Theater was “a bittersweet victory.” As far as Sasha is concerned, the inventive tenacity of Fish, Ford, and the rest of the Vegas gang is all the more reason to keep going forward. “I think it’s important to write yourself into history books by creating stuff that will last forever.”

Audience member Linda Felcher.