You know the film Southern Comfort, the one about a group of good ol' boy National Guardsmen on maneuvers in the bayou who run afoul of some Cajun trappers who begin hunting them Deliverance style? This is not that film, but it does feature some good ol' boys, though ones of a very different sort. Very different.
This Southern Comfort is a 2001 documentary and winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. The documentary concerns Tococca, GA resident Robert Eads, a female-to-male transsexual and his small circle of similarly female-to-male transsexual friends, as well as his drag queen girlfriend, Lola Cola. Just to clear any confusion- Robert is a woman, who lives as a man and whose girlfriend is a man who dresses in female drag. Got it?
Southern Comfort definitely reveals a fringe aspect of society that hasn't been deeply explored. And it is a very puzzling one too. At least it was initially difficult for me, a heterosexual male, to wrap my head around a woman who lives as a man (added hormones gave her a beard, mastectomy got rid of the breasts, but no work was done on her genitals) whose girlfriend is a man who occasionally dresses in drag. It is clear they refer to their relationship as a strictly male to female relationship, only in their case the male has a vagina and the female has a penis and testicles. But, I guess their world can best be summed up by Robert himself, who says, "Being a man has nothing to do with your genitalia. It has to do with what is in your heart and what is in your mind." For them, that may be the case, but it doesn't deter from the fact that Robert develops full-blown terminal cancer of the uterus. The title borrows its name from an annual meeting of the transgendered which Robert hopes to live long enough to attend one more time and give a speech.
Living their lives in a very Southern, beard sportin', barbecuing, gun totin', overall wearing, rural, down home fashion, Robert and his fellow female-to-male friends are an interesting lot. Robert is a very engaging personality, full of swagger, wit, and good ol' boy chivalry. He definitely comes across as more male than his transgendered friend Maxwell, whose feminine mannerisms and voice betray the male facade. Robert's accounts of his life are very interesting, growing up a girl and hating it, getting married and having children, then living as a lesbian for awhile before finally deciding to live his/her life as a man. Robert's parents refuse to be identified and are bittersweetly ashamed of their daughters choices, a shattered dream of a daughter living a life with a loving successful husband and normal family. We also meet one of Roberts sons, who still calls Robert "mom".
As the film progresses with the changing seasons, the Southern Comfort conference draws closer and Robert's condition gets worse. He becomes more debilitated and dependent so he moves in with Lola, takes morphine for the growing pain, is semi-wheelchairbound, and has bad days of hallucinations and general unsteadiness. His life is geared just to make it to the conference and be lucid enough to give his presentation and attend the big dance with Lola. Whether or not you agree with their lifestyle and their philosophy of gender, it is still easy to sympathize with their plight as outsiders, that basic human desire to love and be loved, as well as Robert's wish to just make it to the conference (which he does), sort of his final swan song in a very interesting and unusual life.
The DVD: Documdrama
Picture: Full Screen, standard 1.33:1. Given the video equipment used the picture is as good as can be expected. Colors are fairly good, as is the contrast, and the picture is adequately sharp. Its forgivable in the documentary genre to have a more skeleton crew and cheaper equipment, so all things considered the transfer is fine.
Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. Same as above, given the nature of the production, the sound is just fine. No flash or dynamics, just the basic dialogue heavy tracks with light bits of unmemorable music. Presentation is clear with no nagging distortions.
Extras: Chapter Selections--- 3 Deleted Scenes. All are interviews with Robert. He talks about Maxwell (7 min), about his family (10 mins), and recounts the painstaking process of getting medical treatment (15 mins). All are quite good and articulate.--- Cast Interviews. Lola, Maxwell and his girlfriend Cori are interviewed about the films impact and their general surprise over its success and visibility. ---Photo Gallery--- Filmmaker (Kate Davis) Statement--- Awards and Honors--- Crew Bios--- About Docudrama text info, catalog, including some trailers to other Docudrama releases--- DVD Credits
Conclusion: I give the filmmakers kudos for their presentation of the subject matter. It is a story that could easily illicit nothing but laughter or groans, but they manage a very deft and have made a fine documentary filled with emotion and humanity. The DVD transfer does a good job with the materials and has some nice extras. Definitely worth a purchase for the curious documentary fan.