“I don’t think there’s anyone who isn’t an ABBA fan; I just think there are people who aren’t out about it,” says Frank DeCaro at the opening of What’s the Name of the Dame?, a film that is part documentary, part music video. The movie is the result of a years-long multimedia project that also saw the release of an all-drag ABBA tribute CD, ABBAlicious!, and a slew of stage shows around New York City.
“It’s one of those projects that defines itself as you’re making it, ” says director and producer Allan Neuwirth, who got involved with the project through his friend Jack Chen, the creator of the tribute album. “It kept organically growing and blossoming into something bigger and bigger.”
Neuwirth interviews a wide array of commentators, from drag historians Esther Newton and Joe Jeffreys to Joan Rivers and ABBA’s own Benny Andersson. It’s no surprise, then, that the documentary comes at the sensational Swedish group’s legacy from some unexpected angles.
The performers each do a unique interpretation of their chosen song, including a country-western “Dancing Queen” by The Chixie Dicks and an R&B crooner take on “Knowing Me, Knowing You” by a queen named Sade.
Although the live aspects of the project had been packing New York clubs for months, the rights necessary to release the film were delayed by the enormous success of the film adaptation of the ABBA musical, Mamma Mia! After some frustration, however, the delay worked in the film’s favour, giving it yet another lens to consider the group’s legacy.
This change brought Mamma Mia! star Christine Baranski into the fold. When asked why the drag and LGBT communities might connect so strongly with ABBA’s music, Baranski laughs, “Two words: Dancing. Queen.”
Indeed, there is something natural about this connection, which was also prominent in the recent musical Priscilla: Queen of the Desert. “The emotions are wrought large in ABBA songs, and drag queens are bigger than life,” says Wolff. “That’s very attractive to the gay community. We love to be enveloped by the music.”
Between celebrity interviews, outrageous musical interludes and a dash of history, What’s the Name of the Dame? is barrels of fun. For those who haven’t come out about their love for ABBA, this film’s Canadian premiere at Inside Out is sure to tear off the closet door.
What’s the Name of the Dame
Sunday, May 22, 2:45pm
TIFF Bell Lightbox
350 King St W