Sisters frocked up in Rome make for frills
IT’S local fashion legend that Perthborn Anglo- Polynesian catwalk and advertising model Megan Gale got her big break doing mobile phone commercials in Italy, catapulting her — if that is the right word — to become the face of a leading department store.
Neil Hansen has had no such luck since returning from Rome 14 years ago after a long stint living la dolce vita . But after training as a landscape gardener, he may not have wanted it. After all, he was, for more than a decade, more famous than Gale.
After trying his luck acting in London, the handsome young blond washed up in Venice and from there it was on to Rome and appearances in some rather raunchy Italian flicks, one filmed in the Caribbean.
Hansen had his sights set on being a macho leading man but ended up as one of a trio of drag queens known as the Flag Sisters ( Le Sorelle Bandiera). His cohorts were Italian Mauro Bronchi and Mexican Tito Le Duc.
It was Rome in the 1970s, the Rome of legendary filmmakers Federico Fellini and Luchino Visconti, and folks were seeking some escapism from the murderous terror campaign of the Red Brigades.
The fairly wholesome burlesque of the Flag Sisters, honed in the gay bars of Rome, became an unlikely hit for all the family on Italian television. Endless tours, hit singles and films followed. These included a provocative satire on the Vatican, Il Pap’ Occhio , which was banned for 20 years in Italy.
Clearly men in frilly frocks are not as subversive as any satire on those other men in frocks.
This documentary takes Hansen back to Italy on the 30th anniversary of the birth of the Sisters, to meet old friends and retrace the steps that led to his unexpected fame.
It’s delightful. Hansen comes across as likable and surprisingly straightforward for someone who spent so many years living the high life. Maybe Perth can do that to a person.
What helps make this documentary work a treat is the seemingly endless footage of the times. And there are some nice brushes with fame: Isabella Rossellini, Roberto Benigni and Italy’s first transgender member of parliament, Vladimir Luxuria.
If this film ends with a slightly illadvised Priscilla - esque coda, you will forgive it because it is a such a lovely tale. Australia is a long way from almost everywhere. Men and women who set out overseas in their 20s hope for a big adventure. Boy oh boy, did Hansen get his.
Sweet memories: The Flag Sisters in their prime in the 1970s