November 13th, 2022
MOVIE: QUEEN OF THE DEUCE
DIRECTED BY: VALERIE KONTAKOS
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
The new documentary Queen of the Deuce tells the story surrounding Chelly Wilson, a grandma in New York City who owned several gay porn theatres during the 1970s through 90s. It’s the kind of film that benefits from all of the found footage that exists in people’s homes. Director Valerie Kontakos does an admirable job of combining home video footage of Chelly from the early 1990s with New York films from the 70s, as well as the audio recordings that Chelly did before she died. All of these archives create a portrait of a woman who clearly loved her family and community. Yet, the film is also very talky which takes something away from the visual material Kontakos has to offer.
The film, through its many interviews, does provide some history as to how Chelly acquired her many theaters. Some of this is glossed over a bit and not much detail is given as to why most were established for gay patrons. The fact that Chelly was married to men but was also a lesbian might have something to do with that. But the film could have expanded its attention on both of these fronts which may have made it come alive a bit more. As is, the film coasts through Chelly’s story without a lot of major high or low points, making the experience a bit flat. I’d have liked to hear more about what happened to these theatres after Rudy Giuliani took over the city and essentially Disney-fied it. (I remember visiting New York in the early 1990s and having contests with my fellow travelers to find the best porn title on a marquee.)
What does stand out about the film though is the use of animated recreations to depict some of the stories associated with Chelly. Kontakos also uses plenty of stills that look in great condition and supplement much of the talked about material.
Still, given that Chelly lived and operated in a now bygone era, it would have been nice to really delve into the streets of 8th Avenue and 42nd Street in New York which have rich histories of their own. Yes, it’s great to hear that Chelly was a supporter of her community and that she raised some pretty insightful children, who are interviewed here, but I wanted more. The film briefly mentions that two of this Greek/Jewish woman’s siblings were killed during the Holocaust. She was also said to be rather emotionally explosive. However, details surrounding these aspects of the woman are left a bit too untouched.
Is Queen of the Deuce worth seeing though? Sure. There is enough history embedded in the film which also pays nice tribute to Chelly. Like New York, she was, as one interviewee says, a clear “force of nature.”
QUEEN OF THE DEUCE IS PLAYING AS PART OF DOCNYC AND CAN BE STREAMED VIA ITS WEBSITE AT DOCNYC.NET UNTIL NOVEMBER 27TH.
Written by: Dan Pal