“No, I wasn’t interested in seeing a film about myself,” said Joshua Grannell, the man better known as Peaches Christ. “As you can imagine, this has nothing to do with me being fabulous or anything like that, but I’m often approached to do these projects because drag is dramatic, it’s dynamic.”
“It has nothing to do other than the fact that I’m still working,” Grannell said. “And so I don’t feel like a documentary about what we’ve done has an ending yet.”
But here we are, with Frameline40 kicking off on June 16th and tickets now on sale for the world premiere of Jeff Schlags’ A Wig and a Prayer: The Peaches Christ Story. According to the filmmaker, the 19-minute short chronicles “the story of Peaches Christ, from her early beginnings in raucous variety shows to the lauded success of her Midnight Mass pre-movie experience.”
Filmmaker Schlags and drag queen Grannell went to film school at Penn State together in the ‘90s. Although the two were never close friends, they each held an appreciation for the other’s work.
“We kind or rolled in different crowds, so we were somewhere between friends and acquaintances,” said Schlags. “I always really liked Joshua. I remember he had a vision; he knew he wanted to come out here [to San Francisco].”
“I remember Jeff, and always liked and admired Jeff, but I wouldn’t describe us as close friends or anything,” agreed Grannell. “We were just classmates. I’m pretty sure that when he came [to San Francisco], he’s one of those people who didn’t realize that I was Peaches Christ. He didn’t put two-and-two together.”
According to Schlags, he told Grannell that he would be moving to San Francisco after graduation in ‘98; however, he didn’t move to the city until 2006. “I was living in the Lower Haight and I’d seen signs and posters: I already knew who Peaches Christ was, not realizing that it was my friend,” said Schlags.
“One day, I was reading The Guardian and I kind of had to do a double take,” said Schlags. “All of a sudden, I’m reading this story about Peaches Christ and then it’s like ‘aka Joshua Grannell.’ I get about three more paragraphs down the page and I’m like ‘wait a second, no fucking way. I went to school with her!’” It was just one of those moments,” Schlags laughed. “If I wasn’t paying full attention to that article, I may have never realized it.”
Even though Schlags studied film, A Wig and a Prayer is his first film since his undergraduate thesis project. Upon graduating, Schlags has worked as a graphic designer, producer, and animator in the “corporate video world.” According to Schlags, it wasn’t until he signed up for a documentary class at the Art Institute five years ago that he got the urge to shoot another film. “I got the itch. I was just getting to the point where I was needing a creative outlet,” said Schlags. “I was wanting to get back into film for years and years.”
“That’s when I asked Joshua, thinking that he’d say ‘no,’” said Schlags. “And he didn’t. He was basically like, ‘I’ve been asked many times over the years to make a documentary, and I’ve said no to everyone; but, since I know you and I like your work and we’ve known each other for so long, I’m gonna give you this opportunity.’” According to Schlags, he was in shock. “I was like, ‘oh no, what am I going to do now? I actually have to make this film.’”
Even though Schlags began filming this project five years ago, life, as it tends to do, happened: the filmmaker’s wife had two children and Schlags found it difficult to juggle a zero-budget film and a growing family. “It took maybe six months to edit [the film],” said Schlags. “I would just wait for my wife, who was pregnant with our first kid, to go to bed at like 11 o’clock, and then I would just stay up until one or two editing and just trying to stay awake and get it done. It was a feat, really a labor of love for me.”
According to Schlags, there were many times when he doubted whether or not he would finish the film, let alone imagine that it would one day screen at Frameline. “There were multiple times when I thought I was a failure, I was not going to finish this film, and if I did, it was going to suck,’ he said.
Grannell offered his honest opinion on the matter. “I thought ‘poor guy, he’s never going to finish his movie,’” said Grannell. “He shot it all five years ago, but this is what happens with movies, it happens all the time. Most movies never get finished. Most movies are never seen. So then he called me and told me he finished it, it was kind of like ‘uh oh.’”
It’s been a long process, but Schlags’ film, his first in over 20 years, is set to screen at Frameline in just a few short weeks. “I’m so happy that the premier is at Frameline,” said Schlags. “I’m happy that it’s starting here because there seems to be interest in it is already, which is great.” The filmmaker plans to screen the film at other local film festivals, and would like to see it play in other major cities, including overseas, that “have a great LGBT scene.”
The filmmaker admitted that the movie could have been much longer; however, it wouldn’t have fared as well at film festivals. “There were a lot of scenes that hit the cutting room floor, that was very hard to do,” said Schlags. “It’s just like offing your babies, but I knew I needed something shorter.” His documentary may be short, but Schlags still managed to squeeze some big names into his film, including Jennifer Tilly, Barry Bostwick, Cloris Leachman, and Heklina, among others.
Even with the film’s delay, Grannell admitted that the documentary is an interesting snapshot of a particular time. “It’s funny, I think there’s some stuff that I’ve kind of forgotten about.” “It’s a portrait piece of a particular time in somebody’s life,” added Schlags, “and I feel like I accomplished that.”
“What do I hope audience members to leave with?,” asked the filmmaker. “I kind of feel like when you see Joshua as himself, it humanizes him. People don’t know what to expect and I like that initial, ‘oh, wow, that’s Peaches Christ? And he’s so down to earth!’ She’s very different than he is, and it’s pretty cool that she can do everything she does but yet, that’s not who he is. It truly is an alter-ego. I can’t think of any other drag queen out there that seems to have such a night and day type of persona.”
Without giving too much of the film away, Schlags said, “It’s what [Joshua] loves doing. And it’s not what he intended. And it’s not to say that he doesn’t want what he has now; he totally wouldn’t change anything. Not many people know who [Peaches Christ] is, and it’s funny because you see this juxtaposition of Joshua, who is very, I don’t want to say shy, but he’s not outrageous like Peaches,” said Schlags. “He lets his beard grow in, he kind of wears a t-shirt and a hoodie, he likes to blend into crowds. When the show is over, he wants to get out of drag.”
“As far as any sort of message that I think the Peaches Christ narrative can represent,” mused Grannell, “I often try to point out that I did everything based on what’s interesting to me, what inspired me or made me happy and was able to build a career and make my living doing this. I’m really happy doing what I do. I get to make movies and I get to perform and that was my dream.”
“If you think too hard about any of this stuff, it doesn’t make any sense that it would work,” said Grannell. “Naming yourself offensively after Jesus or celebrating cult movies when everyone’s telling you that midnight movies have died: I always try to tell people, do what makes you happy and then I think eventually, success is inevitable. Make the movies you want to make, create the stuff that you want to create, perform the way you want to perform, because when it’s not, and I hate this word, when it’s not authentic, the audience knows it.”
“[The film] is a small part of his life,” said Schlags, “and it’s kind of a snapshot of that period. Yeah, there is no end, and I don’t really foresee an end for Peaches Christ. I can see Joshua doing this for years and years.”“I just think that Jeff is a great filmmaker who was in a unique position to ask me to do this and get me to say yes,” said Grannell. “I think that he’s done a great job and I’m really proud of him and I’m happy to support the film. I’m looking forward to audiences getting to see it now.”
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