Turning with Antony and the Johnsons

By Neal Broverman

Originally published on Advocate.com November 16 2012 11:18 AM ET

The voice of Antony Hegarty (pictured on stage, below), the force behind the experimental musical act Antony and the Johnsons, is so distinctive and beautiful that it can astonish and quiet a drunken crowd of Gen Yers at the Coachella festival (believe me, I witnessed it). So when that voice is paired with gorgeous images of 13 distinctive women in a delicately-lit, intimate setting, the experience becomes transcendent, contemplative, and cathartic.

As part of the 2004 Whitney biennial, Hegarty joined forces with Charles Atlas, the filmmaker behind The Legend of Leigh Bowery, to make Turning, a stage show that featured Hegarty singing, while various women, many androgynous and transgender, like Hegarty himself, climbed on stage. The women stood on moving platforms as video cameras, guided by Atlas, captured close-ups of their faces and projected them on giant screens. Hegarty describes it as a “hypnotic journey through this panorama of different meditations on feminine presence.” After bringing Turning around Europe and Hegarty’s homebase of New York in 2004 and 2006, a film version debuts Friday night at Manhattan’s IFC Center for a week long run.

Also called Turning, the film expands on the stage production, with interviews and confessions from the featured women peppering the movie. Hegarty and Atlas, longtime friends, describe Turning as not only a study of women, but also community.

“I chose the 13 models,” Hegarty says. “They’re all women who inspired me in some way or who I looked up to from the downtown community: a lot of artists and other figures from our lives over the last 20 years."

In the film, many of the women describe feeling connected through their associations with the nightclub world or other facets of city life that introduced them to like-minded people who allow them to be the women they’ve always desired to be. One transgender woman speaks eloquently of shedding her skin and bravely entering into a new identity.

“It’s being asked of us as a species to undergo a radical transformation in the way we see ourselves and our relationship to the world,” Hegarty says. “The stakes have never been higher, we’ve never been more alienated in terms of having a sense of our impact on the natural world.”

 Both Turning’s director and star believe now couldn’t be a better time to bring Turning to a larger audience.

“Charlie was reminding me that Turning was done in 2004 and 2006 which was in the depth of the Bush years. There was a strong sense we were swimming against the tide at the time and there didn’t seem an end in sight,” Hegarty says, pointing out that the stage show opens with a booming speech from Martin Luther King, Jr. Says Atlas,“I’m thrilled we’re releasing it when there’s a glimmer of hope coming back to our society."

For more information on Turning, click here.

TURNING THE FILM TRAILER from Bullitt Film on Vimeo.