The inspired collaboration between downtown cabaret and drag artist Joey Arias and master puppeteer Basil Twist serves as the spine for this dynamic exploration of unfettered creativity and expression. Arias and Twist conspired together to create the performance spectacular known as Arias with a Twist, a show that brought them some of the biggest success of their careers and continues to tour since its original production in 2008.
This euphoric documentary explores the dynamic creative relationship between Arias and Twist, but it also takes us on a tour of downtown New York's club, art, fashion, and performance scene starting in the late '70s, a time when these worlds were in constant dialogue, constantly inspiring each other. Director Bobby Sheehan has unearthed never-before-seen footage from the era of Andy Warhol, David Bowie, Keith Haring, Grace Jones, and Divine. The trip is bittersweet—considering AIDS would soon sweep through the scene, claiming stars like John Sex, Klaus Nomi and Keith Haring—but ultimately uplifting when viewed in light of Arias and Twist, whose work continues to evolve and carry the torch of artistic partnership.
Director's Statement Collapse
Arias With A Twist: The Docufantasy is my love letter to the arts and to the creative spirit that endures in artists like Joey Arias and Basil Twist.
I first became fascinated with people living outside the box while growing up in
Manhattan. I lived, with a teenage mother and no father, in a tenement building on Manhattan's Lower East Side. I was a white kid growing up in a completely African American and Hispanic ghetto, and I was a lonely, frightened misfit. We then moved to Brooklyn, where I was the skinny son of a single mother in a neighborhood of Italian tough guys, and my feelings of isolation continued. Then, late one night, my teenage misfit self crawled into the belly of the downtown performance art/punk rock scene—a world filled with other misfits who defied all conventional description. It was like finding heaven and hell at the same time in the same place. There were no social, ethnic, or sexual labels required for entry into this world: The only prerequisite was a willingness to accept anyone who was brave enough to exhibit his or herself in what they thought was an interesting or entertaining manner. This was New York City—below 14th Street—in the late 1970s and 1980s. It was paradise for those who had never belonged anywhere else and heaven for anyone with the need to express themselves artistically, musically, and outrageously. It was here that I first met Joey Arias.
This period of time has been romanticized by many documentaries and has been the inspiration for narrative films. However, the true essence of how small and special the actual core of this creative counterculture has been overshadowed by the success of a handful of artists and performers. Icons from this period such as Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Robert Mapplethorpe, Patti Smith, the Ramones, Blondie, the Talking Heads, and Madonna might be the names that first come to mind, but there were other, smaller clusters of artists creating work that defined who they were. Similar to "Outsider Artists," performers like Joey Arias, Klaus Nomi, Ann Magnuson, and John Sex performed simply because they were compelled to do so. The majority of these artists weren't aspiring for any sort of commercial success; they were creating for the sake of creating. Their work blurred the lines between fashion, theater, music, and fine art. I was fascinated, and I felt strangely at home.
I consumed the entire experience through my—almost legally blind—eyes and cameras. With no performance or musical talent to contribute, all I could offer were photographs, weird art films, and videos. This work led to a scholarship to New York University's film school and ultimately a career as a visual artist.
I have wanted to profile Joey Arias and artists like Basil Twist for decades. Although I have supported myself working in commercial, documentary films, feature films, and television, I never lost the fascination and romance of those heady downtown years and have documented Joey's various incarnations as he has evolved as an artist. As Ruben Toledo explains in our film "You do what you love, even when no one is watching." To me that is the essence of being an artist. Arias With A Twist: The Docufantasy is a tribute to all those people who somehow survive, create, entertain, and inspire despite, or maybe because of, what life throws their way.
Cast & Credits Collapse
Primary Cast Joey Arias, Basil Twist, Ann Magnuson, Kenny Scharf, Oscar Eustis, Cheryl Henson, Kim Hastereiter, Michael Musto, Thierry Mugler
Director Bobby Sheehan
Screenwriter Bobby Sheehan
Producer Bobby Sheehan, Sara Feldmann Sheehan
Editor Bob Whitney
Associate Producer Mike Caso, Tony Frere, Lez Rudge
Director of Photography Bobby Sheehan, Russell Swanson
Executive Producer Sara Feldmann Sheehan