The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual Costume Institute Gala, otherwise known as the Met Gala, is a huge night for the fashion industry and celebrities alike. It’s a mix of museum fundraiser and celebration of the Costume Institute’s annual exhibit, with the show dictating the attire theme for the gala.
And while the annual themes have always ushered in outrageousness on the red carpet, this year’s gala, happening on Monday evening in New York City, is bound to bring the most over-the-top looks yet. That’s because the theme is camp.
And if you’re thinking “summer camp,” then this quickie visual primer is for you.
“Camp: Notes on Fashion,” the name of the exhibit that opens on May 9, gets its inspiration from Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay, “Notes on Camp,” which gave a cogent explanation.
“Not familiar? Not to worry. Sontag’s easily Google-able essay is broken down into 58 bullet points that explain what she sees as the camp sensibility,” noted Vogue, the event organizer. “First note: Camp is a sensibility, not an idea.” The show’s curator, Andrew Bolton, found Sontag’s notes — to be surprisingly relevant.
“Bolton explains that he found Sontag’s writings—in a nutshell, she argued that camp is the ‘love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration… style at the expense of content… the triumph of the epicene style’ — so timely with what we are going through culturally and politically that, ‘I felt it would have a lot of cultural resonance,” Vogue noted.
That’s particularly true in 2019, which marks the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots — largely considered the birth of the modern-day LGBTQ-rights movement — because a campy sensibility has strong queer roots. It’s the stuff, after all, that (increasingly mainstream) drag queens are made of.
But how to grasp the concept if it’s completely new? Camp classic movies — which have inspired everyone from drag queens to designers to the celebrities they clothe — are a good place to start. Below, find 7 GIFs taken from some of the campiest classics on film.
The film: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, 1962
Why it’s camp: “While still heralded as a staple to the horror genre, it has since crossed over into camp territory,” noted Film Inquiry in 2017, when the master of TV camp Ryan Murphy had turned the backstory into the F/X drama Feud. “Look at it this way: two of the most renowned and glamorous actresses of their era, ostensibly ‘washed up’ by this point in their lives, attempt to revive their dying careers with this tour-de-force examination of madness and showbiz? It’s no wonder that both Blanche and Jane have influenced gay culture, drag culture, and horror buffs alike. Look no further than its comedic spin-off “Wha’ Ha’ Happened to Baby JJ” on RuPaul’s Drag Race.”
The film: Mommie Dearest, 1981
Why it’s camp: “Mommie has so many ridiculously over-the-top scenes that it becomes a parody of itself,” legendary drag queen Linda Simpson tells Yahoo Lifestyle. Plus, the subject is Baby Jane film legend Joan Crawford herself (played by Faye Dunaway), who already had plenty of camp cred.
The film: Showgirls, 1995
Why it’s camp: “Showgirls tries to be a sexy drama,” Simpson says, “but it comes across as a slutty b***h fest.” And there you have it.
The film: Norman… Is that You?, 1976
Why it’s camp: “A flop movie based on a flop Broadway play, this has Redd Foxx as a gruff man who's horrified to learn his son is gay and tries everything to short-circuit that short of conversion therapy,” NewNowNext columnist Michael Musto tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “This tragi-comedy has its heart in the right place, and offers delicious turns by Pearl Bailey, Tamara Dobson (as a prostitute Foxx desperately tries to set up his son with), and Madame the puppet!”
The film: Valley of the Dolls, 1967
Why it’s camp: Sex, betrayal, booze, dope, catfights, done. “It’s a hoot to watch,” Susan Arosteguy, who produced the Criterion DVD release, told Vanity Fair.
The film: The Baby, 1973
Why it’s camp: “Ruth Roman is a crazy lady who keeps her adult son in diapers and a crib. Along comes Anjanette Comer as a social worker, who's out to get ‘the baby’ — though she has her own perverse agenda,” Musto tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “This rib tickling thriller is in on its own joke, and provides camp giggles for days.”
The film: Xanadu, 1980
Why it’s camp: “Ultimately, Xanadu is the ideal sort of camp masterpiece,” noted Slant Magazine, “one that (as Susan Sontag stipulated) naïvely revels in its own essence because it doesn’t have the foggiest clue of just how ridiculous it is…”
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