There’s not too many films that sell me within a minute of its two minute trailer with a want, no, a need, to see the movie it shills. Oh, do I ever want to stream this movie.
If Quentin Tarantino decided to make another retro-homage to his video store memories of old — only trading out the blaxploitation-slanted Jackie Brown or grindhouse-inclined Rick Dalton with a doesn’t-take-any-guff drag queen by the name of Champagne White for a celebration of ’70s Russ Meyer sexploitation flicks — this brilliant, deliciously decadent feature debut by the creative tour de force that is D’Arcy Drollinger is that movie.
Practicing his craft with a series of campy stage productions at The Oasis, a famed San Francisco alt-lifestyle nightclub that he owns and operates, Drollinger (who’s portrayed Frank-N-Furter in productions of the Rocky Horror Show) takes those stage-steps to its ultimate, theatrical destiny as the writer, director and star of S**t & Champagne. During interviews, Dollinger describes his labor of love as “dragsploitation” and name-checks Pam Grier’s Foxy Brown and Linda Blair’s Savage Streets, along with the Zucker Brothers’ slapstick comedy films, as well as the ’70s TV series Wonder Woman and The Bionic Woman as his inspiration.
Just a caveat: Outside of a couple drag-kings and men playing men, no one is actually a playing a “drag queen” as a character: they’re all females, got it? So plant your suspension of disbelief firmly between the teeth and gums, and enjoy.
Champagne White, actually Champagne Horowitz Jones Dickerson White (“So, I’ve been married a few times, it’s none of your fucking business!”), is a stripper, ahem “exotic dancer,” in 1975-era San Francisco. After witnessing the murder of Rod, her walrus-stached and polyester suit-clad fiancé (Mario Diaz), then having her “adopted half-sister,” Brandy (Steven LeMay), die in her arms, by the same thugs (the chemistry-perfect Adam Roy and Manuel Caneri) who murdered Rod, the cork, as it were, pops on the whoop-ass.
As Champagne descends into San Francisco’s sex and drugs and murder-ridden underbelly — complete with a back-to-school clothing ring stumbled upon by the retail-managing Rod — a world rife with one-liners and song and dance numbers, she comes face to face with underworld king, well, queen pin, Dixie Stampede, the corporate-owning mogul of the world-famous Mall-Wart (expertly played by Matthew Martin, who gives Dollinger a run for the award-winning thespin’ money). Along the way, Champagne finds romance with an oh-so-’70s-splotitive detective named Jack Hammer (a slicing it nice n’ thick Seton Brown) as she battles the Keystone Cops-ineptness of Dixie’s minions (I’m really diggin’ on Adam Roy’s — in his film debut — Jim Carrey-comedic vibe with his Tony character; here’s to seeing him in more roles; a Kung-fu fightin’ Manuel Caneri portrays his boss, Johnny the Gun).
Yeah . . . I had a lot of fun watching this: It is quite clear the cast is cognizant of their material’s John Waters, Mel Brooks (think of a glitzier-slanted High Anxiety), Russ Meyer (one of Drollinger’s stage productions was Above and Beyond the Valley of the Ultra Showgirls, if that’s a clue), and Charlie’s Angels (even campier) roots. They’re having a lot of fun . . . more fun than any Don Edmonds flick of old starring the awesome Dyanne Thorne.
D’Arcy Drollinger has made it quite clear: his celluloid jam is the ’70s drive-in exploiters of yore, which, for many of us, were absorbed during the VHS ’80s. So, if you feel a warmth in the ol’ analog cockles for sexually-liberated bachelorettes (or multiple divorcee/widows!) who work their long blonde hair and even longer, silky legs, à la Cherie Caffaro’s James Bond’in Ginger McAllister from Ginger (1971), The Abductors (1972), and Girls Are For Loving (1973), or Joyce Jillson working it in Crown International’s Superchick (1973), as well as Francine York and Tura Satana kicking it Ted V. Mikels’s The Doll Squad (1973), and 1967 Playmate Anne Randall takin’ names in Andy Sidaris’s Stacey (1973) — each which, ironically, foretold Charlie’s Angels — then you’ll appreciate Dollringer’s over-the-top homage. Is there a tip o’ the hat to Chesty Morgan’s Doris Wishman two-fer of 1974’s Deadly Weapons and Double Agent 73? You bet!
To that “’70s” end: A special shout-out is necessary to Production Designer Olivia Kanz, Art Director Elena Nommensen (the upcoming Venom: Let There Be Carnage; the great Texas-bred horror shot, The Devil’s Passenger, and looks awesome horror-western, Ghost in the Gun), and Costume Designer Maggie Whitaker, as this film is a retro-junkie feast of the senses that looks way more expensive than its production budget probably allowed.
So, what’s the deal with the title . . . and the coprophilia of plot? Well, to hear Drollinger tell it, many of those films and TV series of the ’70s always had a subplot with the bad guys shootin’ up prostitutes or those “too smart for their own good,” with heroin, then selling them into white slavery. But heroin “isn’t funny.” So he developed the “Booty Bump”: a new, fab drug raging across San Francisco that causes, well, a very bad case of diarrhea.
Considering the just-go-for-it scripting and over-the-top thespin’ of the material, I can see Drollinger’s comedic point. However, I feel the coprophilia “drug addiction” sub-plot is actually to the determent of the brilliance of the material, as not everyone thinks defecation is funny. Part of my inner critic wishes the film was simply titled Champagne White (the title of the originating stage play) and another “comedic” drug addiction, à la a Kevin Smith or Cheech and Chong joint, was developed for the story, instead of an overly-extreme Todd Phillips (think The Hangover series meets the retro Starsky and Hutch) or Judd Apatow (think The 40-Year Old Virgin meets Pineapple Express) raunch-approach.
Does that mean I am hating on the film? No, not at all.
If Dollringer sold this script to a major studio shingle, and Phillips or Apatow took hold of the production reigns, how could you not see Amy Schumer as Champagne, Eddie Izzard as the terrorist-pimp-retail mogul Dixie Stampede, John Goodman as Al, the owner the Shaboom Boom Room, Jim Carrey as Tony, Bruce Willis as Johnny the Gun, Steve Carell as Jack Hammer, and a cameoin’ Nick Cage as Rod? Sounds like a friggin’ Coen Brothers “Raising Champagne” joint, right? But, hey, I’m the smarmy critic who loved George Gallo’s ’70s retro-remake (that everyone else seems to hate) of camp-meister Harry “Tampa” Hurwitz’s The Comeback Trail (2021), so what in the hell do I know about film.
Well, I know that Drollinger’s 44-keyin’ is that good . . . and I’m already jonesin’ for D’Arcy’s next flick. I want more Champagne! Anne Randall’s Stacey Hanson was a private eye who sidelined as race car driver. Perhaps an Andy Sidaris homage: Champagne Express. Make it happen, D’Arcy!
Yeah, this is a great film, but the title — and the meaning behind it — may turn away streamers. But, to be honest, isn’t the fact that this is a “dragsploitation” movie already turning the weak of humor, away? That’s their streaming loss. S**t & Champagne isn’t a drag . . . it’s a full-on retro-celluloid hip thrust that sold me within one minute of its two-minute trailer.
Making its debut as a festival rollout from June through September, S**t & Champagne was acquired for international distribution by Utopia Media, which also brought the British rock document on Suzi Quatro, Suzi Q, to the world stage. Utopia’s other award-winning documents are Martha: A Picture Story, concerned with Martha Cooper, a New York-based, trailblazing female graffiti artist and street photographer, WITCH – We Intend to Cause Havoc, about the ’70s Zambian progressive-rock band of the title, For Madmen Only: The Stories of Del Close, regarding the influential comedy writer, and Sara Dosa’s really fine The Seer & the Unseen.
Utopia is headed by Robert Schwartzman — of the band, Rooney, and a writer and director in his own right — who made his feature film directing debut with the really fine comedy, The Argument, released last September. You can learn more about the launch of Utopia Media with this February 19, 2019, article at Deadline.com.
Release Information: You can enjoy the VOD release of S**t & Champagne exclusively on Altavod on September 7. If you’re an AppleTV subscriber or Amazon user, you’ll be able to stream it on October 12, 2021. For those who prefer a hard copy, a special edition Blu-ray of S**t & Champagne will also be available for purchase from Utopia Media exclusively at Vinegar Syndrome.
Disclaimer: We were provided a screener copy of this film from the production’s PR firm. That has no bearing on our review.