Outfest LA 2021 Audience Award winner, writer-director Lyle Kash Death and Bowling, which gets its Australian premiere at the Mardi Gras Film Festival, is a surprising, surrealistic look at a trans man’s grief and a mediation on trans lives, how gender trans folks are presented on screen and the complex motivation to be seen.
Will Krisanda plays X, an actor questioning his place in the entertainment industry, auditioning for the roles like “sad transgender man” and “transgender best friend”, who usually die within two pages. The film opens with a dreamlike sequence of X on a rooftop filmset, running towards the edge only to be replaced by a younger, twinkier cis man while the director praises him for representing his community. Meanwhile X confesses to not being able to watch himself on screen, yet at the same time desperately wants to be seen.
X’s found family are the Lavender League Lesbian Bowling Club, and X’s existential crisis deepens when ts matriarch Susan (Faith Bryan) passes away. At her funeral, X meets Alex (Tracy Kowalski) and the two become close as they fulfill Susan’s wish for her ashes to be scattered.
Kash’s debut feature is a colourful, borderline avant-garde affair that reminded me queer cinema’s edgier, art-house years (for Australian readers – think, late-night SBS in the 90s, and you’ll know exactly what I mean). With carefully composed shots by cinematographer Mike Formanski, and tightly scripted voice overs, there’s a sharp economy of storytelling here, not a frame or line is wasted. The film may barely run over an hour, but it contains multitudes.
Almost the entire cast is trans, playing both trans and cis roles. The verisimilitude this brings can not be overstated, especially when discussion goes beyond the more familiar trans narratives into the complexity of presentation and trans relationships. It also blurs the lines of gender identity and the how trans folks are perceived. Is Alex trans or cis? We aren’t given an answer. Visually, there is a constant reference to the 1950s – from the Bowling League’s hairstyles, X’s Brando-esque t-shirt and leather jacket, and John Waters feels like a spiritual parent to the movie’s style. On screen it may present as camp and colourful, but at its heart it is is raw and honest.
Kash takes a rare, deep dive into transmasculine screen storytelling with Death and Bowling and it’s all the richer for it. It’s clearly a project of real passion and that translates beautifully to the screen.
Death and Bowling plays at QueerScreen’s Mardi Gras Film Festival 2022 in Sydney, Australia on February 27th. Click here for times and tickets.