TOPP TWINS: UNTOUCHABLE GIRLS
Celebrating their half-century this year (2009), the Topp Twins have attained a unique status in New Zealand culture. This doco summarises the lives of the world's only comedic, country singing, dancing and yodeling lesbian twin sisters. From rural backwaters to busking on the streets of Auckland, to performances at the Rugby World Cup and London's West End stage, their appeal seems limitless. From support act to Split Enz, Billy Bragg, and Midnight Oil to headlining their own hugely successful tours in Australia, Canada, the USA and Britain, they do their own 'thang'. The twins have morphed from radical activists into Kiwi 'national treasures' and 'cultural ambassadors'.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Down to earth and with blue sky optimism, Jules and Linda Topp present one of those amazing true stories that make biographical docos so engaging. It's all so much stranger than fiction. Born in a small New Zealand community, the lesbian Topp twins came out to their conservative parents Jean and Peter Topp quite early and after the intitial shock, the parents just accepted it. And that was before the gay rights movement's successes. Irrepressible and fun loving, the girls easily attracted audiences and built a following that continues to grow.
Director Leanne Pooley and editor Tom Woodhouse have put together a well paced and satisfyingly complete picture of the girls and their lives. They don't have careers; it's what they do and who they are. There is nothing manufactured or superficial about their work, which seamlessly dovetails into their lives, along with their respective partners. There is plenty of their music, recorded live on stages around the world (but mostly New Zealand) and it's intercut with interviews not only with the Topp family but others, notably comedian and writer John Clarke, whose astute observations are a welcome addition to our own perceptions.
The film covers a lot of ground as the Topps take to the streets against Apartheid, nuclear weapons, supporting gay rights and civil liberties - and they also take their activism onto the stage. But this is done with such a positive tone it's totally unobjectionable, yet palpably sincere.
When their special, strongly united world is threatened by Jools' cancer, the filmmakers take us into the downs as Linda provides extensive emotional support during the tough times. Having seen the effects of the illness adds poignancy to Jools' request once back on stage that Linda sing - at every performance for the rest of their lives - her favourite song, My Pinto Pony and I.
For those like me who discover Jools and Linda through this film, it's a remarkably entertaining experience; for those who know them, it's a chance to go deeper into their lives and their amazing bond. And I'm not alone in my praise: the film won the first People's Choice documentary award at the Toronto Film Festival, ahead of Michael Moore's much admired Capitalism: A Love Story.
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TOPP TWINS: UNTOUCHABLE GIRLS (PG)
CAST: Documentary featuring Jools and Linda Topp, with John Clarke and others
PRODUCER: Arani Cuthbert
DIRECTOR: Leanne Pooley
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Leon Narbey, Wayne Vinten
EDITOR: Tom Woodhouse
MUSIC: David Long (and the Topp Twins)
RUNNING TIME: 84 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Rialto
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 19, 2009