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Riot Acts: Flaunting Gender Deviance in Music Performance

2011
Distributed by Outcast Films, 652 W. 163rd Street #45, New York, NY 10032
Produced by Simon Strikeback & Madsen Minax
Directed by Madsen Minax
DVD, color, 72 min.
Sr. High – General Adult
Music, Transgender Studies, Gender Studies, LGBT Studies, Indie Rock, Punk Rock, Folk Music, Popular Music


Reviewed by Vincent J. Novara, Curator, Special Collections in Performing Arts, University of Maryland

Recommended   
 
Date Entered: 12/7/2011

The transgender artists featured in the film Riot Acts demonstrate through their commentary and performances that music can serve as an effective means to express the myriad emotions and considerations surrounding transgender life. Director Madsen Minax uses interviews and intimate performance footage to explore the results when gender, creativity, and performance intersect – generating perspectives uncommon to those outside LGBT communities. Visually, Minax’s film is beautifully constructed, especially in the contextual footage that doubles as scene change material. At 72 minutes, Riot Acts moves at a quick pace, while providing extensive opportunities to get to know the artists. The audio fidelity for performance footage is not only clear, but also impressively balanced with the spoken content.

Riot Acts is at its best when the artists are interviewed. Those featured speak freely and openly, and do not appear redundant to their transgender peers heard separately. Ultimately, each has a unique view on their transgender experience, regardless of some similarities from artist to artist. For example, the role that hormone treatments play in changing vocal range and performance considerations is particularly interesting, and demonstrates the technical proficiency and commitment the artists apply to their craft; this is not always the case for independent or deviant-leaning musicians.

The quality of the music featured in Riot Acts, however, is not inspiring. Taken at face value, and when compared to the corresponding non-transgender artists for the various genres on display (indie rock, punk, folk, rap, glam rock, etc.), the music is merely ordinary and lacks any discernible innovation or commanding charm. One exception is the Canadian band, The Cliks, who have proven themselves worthy of the international recognition they presently receive. Geo Wyeth (of Novice Theory) is perhaps the most aesthetically ambitious and shows greater promise as a future artist that will merit serious examination.

The DVD release of Riot Acts, contains a few bonus features. “Deleted Scenes” provides nearly eight additional minutes of interview footage divided equally among four artists. There are three “Extended Performances,” which include a single full song by The Degenerettes, Coyote Grace, and Novice Theory. There is also an informally assembled short feature, “Shinanigans: Stories from the Road,” that is consistent with the visual style of Riot Acts, but lacks the documentary’s clarity and narrative form.

Academically, the topic of transgender and how it informs performance is receiving considerably more attention in print than in other formats. Riot Acts provides necessary visual content to fully embrace what it means for transgender artists to present their work to audiences. It is interesting to note that for a documentary about a community of musicians, a companion soundtrack is not available. Riot Acts certainly belongs in academic libraries that support LGBT and gender studies, ethnomusicology, and popular music.