Hot Docs 2017: Our Review of ‘Susanne Bartsch: On Top’

Posted in Festival Coverage, Hot Docs 2017, Movies by - May 05, 2017
Hot Docs 2017: Our Review of ‘Susanne Bartsch: On Top’

Susanne Bartsch has donned many hats throughout her lifetime. She’s a business owner, sure. But people in New York City know her more as a party organizer. Now I can already feel the dissenting misinformed. I can feel them snubbing a woman who’s taken what seems like an arbitrary, made-up job title. But we’re talking here about being a party organizer a time when, to paraphrase James St. James, they didn’t play top 40 in nightclubs. This is a woman who sheltered club kids and let them invent and create themselves. She started this all in the 1980’s, a painful decade in queer history.

Directors Anthony&Alex catch up with this strong woman. The showed how Bartsch ameliorated the lives of people who had HIV when that disease was at its worst. She does it with her momentous 1989 AIDS fundraiser, linking homeless POC kids at the ball scene with celebrities. At a time when mainstream America wanted us dead she helped us celebrate who we were and lifted our spirits. This is, of course, one of the many moments in Bartsch’s life. Anthony&Alex also take us back to how her Swiss roots defined the person she ended up becoming.

Anthony&Alex competently structures their film, digging through Bartsch’s life in increments while weaving it with the present. Aside from the AIDS fundraiser the film also focuses on many things. One of those is her retrospective on the Fashion Institute of Technology. How she touched the lives of other figures like Michael Musto, Amanda Lepore, and RuPaul. Her life as a loving wife and mother. One of the film’s early scenes shows her checking on a baked chicken she’s making for her son. And that’s while she’s gilding her eyebrows for one of her recent parties. I can only aspire to such greatness.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you’re working.