Hot Docs 2014 Review: Before The Last Curtain Falls
The orchestral piece Boléro, by Maurice Ravel, accompanies the cabaret performance of older gay and trans cabaret performers of the Belgian stage show Gardenia, captured in Before the Last Curtain Falls. The film is a Canadian production, directed by Thomas Wallner.
Scholar and critic Allan Bloom wrote in The Closing of the American Mind that: “Young people know that rock has the beat of sexual intercourse. That is why Ravel’s Bolero is the one piece of classical music that is commonly known and liked by them”.
Before the Last Curtain Falls transports the viewer to the Gardenia stage, (a Gardenia of Eden, it seems, for many of its performers), backstage at the show, and into their homes. But the Last Curtain falls when the action moves off the stage, and allowing access into the private lives of the performers. Though initially fascinating, repeated shots of older photos of the performers, (often in dramatically different appearance and clothing), starts to lose its majesty about halfway through. How the audience longs to return to the stage, to drink in the images and sounds from Gardenia’s final performance on the Belgian stage where it once began, instead of knowing intimately which performers decided or not to elect for certain types of surgery.
One of the performers, Vanessa, the de facto chemist of Gardenia, (the inspirational speech that she delivers to the troupe is memorable), channels Norma Desmond towards the end of the performance, along with the line about she was big, but it was the pictures that got small. The Gardenia cabaret is a fascinating showcase, and had we stayed with the show the entire time, the picture may not have gotten small. The playing of Bolero portends the seduction, but the middle is flabby, and the ending, though triumphant, suggests that the viewer may not have needed to peek behind the curtain.