There is a beautiful future ahead of us—one in which the infinite variability of gender, sex, and sexuality is recognized and accepted with love, love, love. You can see that future glimmering on the horizon in Turning, Antony and the Johnson’s collaboration with filmmaker Charles Atlas and thirteen of downtown New York’s reigning queens of fierceness and fragility.
Turning began its life at the 2004 Whitney Biennial, where Antony’s concert performance was accompanied by Atlas’ “live video portraits” of women—some trans, some not—slowly rotating on a turntable. Footage from the concert’s European tour was combined with interviews to create the Turning documentary, which will receive a DVD release from Secretly Canadian on November 11. The release will include a CD recording of Turning’s London stop, featuring songs from Antony and the Johnsons, I Am a Bird Now, and The Crying Light and two rare studio recordings from the period.
Full disclosure: I have an especially gooey spot in my heart for performance art and the East Village, genderfuck aesthetic of the early 90s (and 70s and 80s). However, even if you’re already on board the Antony express, the idea of women—no matter how fascinating and heroic they are—rotating on a turntable during an otherwise straight-ahead concert may sound, at best, boring and, at worst, objectifying.
I assure you this is just a case of words doing their typically terrible job of capturing something that is ideally experienced live or, at least, in full. The multiple exposures of Atlas’ live video combined with Antony’s performance of such near-anthemic songs as “You Are My Sister” creates a lush and, at times, transcendent examination of identity’s mutability and the beauty born of women’s resilience.
In an interview with downtown NYC institution Paper Magazine, Antony said, “If I had to be stuck in…a Christian idea of heaven—paralyzed in some internal space, I would want to be watching the image of these women turning.” And, if that heaven was broadcasting, you can be sure that Antony’s quavering, angelic contralto would be in heavy rotation.