Joshua Reviews David McMahon’s Skanks [Slamdance Review]


It’s said that, we as a nation, are a melting pot of cultures, creeds,and religious sects. However, few places are quite as singular as “The South.” Distinctly conservative and with a history as troublesome as any section of this very country, states like Alabama have seen their history embroiled with racism, violence and religious persecution, all while still to this day feeling as though it is its own country all to itself.

Now, when one describes this part of the country in those words, it’s hard to believe that there would be people attempting to create things like full on drag musicals. However, as shown in a new documentary hitting Park City, Utah for this year’s Slamdance Film Festival, that just so happened to be the case in a small, far Right Southern town.

Entitled Skanks, this new documentary looks at the creation of a new musical entitled Skanks In A One Horse Town, a drag musical from a local community theatre in none other than Birmingham, Alabama. Ostensibly revolving around the idea of “what if partiers at Studio 54 got thrown back through time into the Wild West,” the musical is a funny and lively piece of work, but one that itself is as opposite the culture from which it comes as one could possibly imagine.

Now, while the musical at this film’s center is itself a really fun and entertaining piece of work, it’s rightly left to playing second fiddle to the stories of the men and women that make up its cast and crew. Director David McMahon not only gives us superb and detailed access to this small troupe’s creative process from first read to the final performance, but we are thrust into the lives of everyone from its creators to the actors that play each respective character, themselves having numerous obstacles to overcome both on stage and off it.

A perfect example of this comes in the fact that the play itself is the most profitable in the theatre’s history, and yet, that fact is little relatable when compared to the various human interest narratives being woven into a yarn as universal and resonant as you’ll find. This rag tag group of outcasts in what is this nation’s conservative heart, the musical’s cast and crew become not only singular and fleshed out characters on their own, but in a way one of the most familial collection of characters you’re bound to see on the screen this January.

It also helps that the film is immensely charming. The picture introduces us to various charming and magnetic characters, each and every one a singular story of a singular human experience. This isn’t a small town story, this isn’t a Southern story, this is a purely human story so universally relatable that the film becomes an intimate portrayal of various lives in what is an ever changing world that we are living in.

Both enjoyable and emotionally resonant, this wonderfully paced documentary is a raucous and crowd pleasing tale of various lives in modern America. With an entrancing focus on growing up in the South and what that part of the nation has been through itself, Skanks is a superb documentary that should hopefully find an audience after a festival run to start off 2014. It’s more than worth hunting down, if you have the chance.

Joshua Brunsting

Josh is a critic, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, a wrestling nerd, a hip-hop head, a father, a cinephile and a man looking to make his stamp on the world, one word at a time.