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May 01, 2007

Shelley Novak: I'll Shave Tomorrow

Shelley Novak.jpg

I feel ambivalent about The Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. My problem with these kinds of film festivals in general is that many of the films booked are qualified by content but not quality. The programmers at Miami actually turned down the opportunity for a rare theatrical screening of Tropical Malady, waiting for the Miami Beach Cinematheque to premiere the film when it was on DVD. As I don't have a car, I'll be missing the more interesting films such as The King and the Clown which is playing up in Fort Lauderdale, and Dai Sijie's new film, The Chinese Botanist's Daughters in downtown Miami. The most interesting stuff at the festival this year is being presented by the Cinematheque, and it's not necessarily on film.

Films like The Birdcage have cemented an image of Miami's South Beach that persists in the imagination of people who haven't been here for years. Shelley Novak is a link to that particular era when Miami Beach seemed to be re-discovered for its art deco buildings, and attracted a younger crowd of artistic and sexual adventurers. A South Beach resident since 1992, Novak, also known as Tommy Strangie, created a one-man show retelling his story of growing up gay in Massachusetts, and becoming a drag queen icon in Florida.

Through most of the performance, family and "family" photos are used to illustrate Novak growing up, and later in performance. Two film excerpts are used from the films that Novak took his stage name. First up is the scene from Lolita where Shelley Winters shows prospective tenant James Mason around the house, a long glance at bikini clad Sue Lyon clinching his decision. Next up is Kim Novak, lit to first appear like a ghost for obsessed James Stewart in Vertigo. Novak's South Beach stories include how he chanced into becoming a professional drag performer, as well as his life as Tommy Strangie, doorman at the now defunct dance club, Crobar. As Shelley, he impersonated Madonna with the star in the audience. As Tommy, he suffered from an untimely upset stomach in front of Ricky Martin, ruining Martin's shoes. Shelley found himself doing performances in unexpected situations, at one finding himself alone in a kitchen with George Harrison.

Part of Novak's popularity comes from the fact that he looks like he shouldn't be a drag performer. He's refered to himself as "Barney Rubble in a dress". Novak also hosts movies at the cinematheque, when possible the kinds of films that can be enjoyed as "camp" or display a performance by a classic screen diva. In spite of the economic and demographic changes in South Beach, Strangie has continually found ways to keep Shelley Novak active. While Novak performance is mostly comic, there is a sadness about a part of Miami Beach that no longer exists.

Posted by peter at May 1, 2007 06:50 PM


Wait- did the Miami Cinematheque premiere Trop[ical Malady on 35mm or on DVD?

And how did your Tears of the Black Tiger event go?

Posted by: Brian at May 4, 2007 04:42 PM

The Miami Beach Cinematheque uses a projector system for DVDs and videotapes. As the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival chose not to present Joe's film, the Cinematheque had the first public presentation of Tropical Malady. Had the festival taken the chance, they would have shown a 35mm print in a theater. What makes this more annoying is that the festival director at that time is a friend of Tony Rayns as I recall. The presentation of Tears went well. Everyone who showed up enjoyed the film. Were there more public support, the Cinematheque would present 3mm films at one of the theaters here.

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at May 4, 2007 07:01 PM

thank you

Posted by: shelley novak at May 24, 2007 04:52 AM