Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Topp Twins

Showing at the Toronto International Film Festival: The Topp Twins, directed by Leanne Pooley

Synopsis from the TIFF website:

The story of one of New Zealand's most cherished and charmingly irrepressible performing duos finally reaches the big screen in Leanne Pooley's latest feature, The Topp Twins.

Through a compilation of interviews, performance footage, home videos and newsreel archives, Pooley's documentary introduces audiences to Jools and Lynda Topp, the world's only yodelling, lesbian, country-and-western-singing twins. The film combines an array of artful filmic formats, making audiences privy to an honest, intimate and entertaining portrait of two sisters who resist, often through satire and parody, the political and sexual norms of post-war New Zealand.

Their story spans fifty years, starting with their humble upbringing on a small dairy farm and leading to their internationally acclaimed present-day tours. While Pooley undoubtedly succeeds in demonstrating the twins' effortlessly comical stage presence, the film also acknowledges Jools's fight with and recovery from breast cancer, offering a glimpse past the superficial details of their public lives.

Interviews with the girls' onstage alter egos – Ken and Ken, Camp Mother and Camp Leader, and Prue and Dilly – steadily inject the story's biopic digressions with lighthearted humour, reminding audiences that their talents exceed and ultimately subvert the traditional preconceptions that could define or categorize their theatrical antics. The sisters maintain an aversion to classification that has allowed for limitless possibilities over the years. As they wittily put it, “We're not comedians, we're just singers who are funny.”

As the film progresses, it becomes clear that its real task goes beyond a simple showcasing of the twins' considerable skills. Through the use of newsreel footage and photography, Pooley charts their provocative careers alongside thirty years of seismic social change in New Zealand, demonstrating how the country struggled to find and define its national identity.

In this elegantly compiled work – part biopic, part concept film, part comedy – Pooley provides a strong reminder that what resists classification may be the very thing that has the power to restore unity, understanding and compassion in a tumultuous world.

The Topp Twins' website is here.

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