Lydia Garnett's stunning short looks at who's really behind drag persona Wet Mess
Last year, the world was introduced to Wet Mess – or at least, renowned east London drag pub, The Glory was.
Lydia Garnett, a photographer, director and co-founder of Accent Magazine, was among those who witnessed the birth of Wet Mess – the creation of Olivia Norris. Garnett, a good friend of Norris, says that on seeing Wet Mess lip-sync Donna Missal's song 'Keep Lying' "with emotion and humour and darkness", she "knew we had to make this into a film."
This debut performance was part of The Glory's Lip-Sync 1000 competition, and Garnett says she's "pretty sure she was the only cis, female person to reach the final alongside 12 other amazing queens." Norris since took the character into the realm of moving image herself, having directed and performed Sissy Fatigue in 2019.
Garnett's film acts as an evolution of this, and a "deconstruction of Liv's drag persona," says the director. The idea behind making the film was partly to celebrate Wet Mess, and partly to interrogate this persona. "I wanted to take Wet Mess off the stage and really get to know the character," Garnett explains. "what does Wet Mess do when they're alone with their thoughts?
"It's a film about a created persona and the person underneath. The film blurs the lines between performed emotion and real emotion."
Created on a budget of under £500, the film shows a bathroom scene that acts as the stage for an emotion-packed lip-sync; looking to blur the lines between performance and rehearsal, person and persona. It asks us, in a way, to negotiate for ourselves when the performance of emotion ends, and the reality of those emotions within the performer is very, very real.
"Aesthetically I wanted to contrast Wet Mess with an everyday space and focus on one room to make the viewer feel uncomfortably close to the performance as if there's no escape," Garnett explains.
The intimacy of the film is perhaps partly a testament to the fact that the filmmaker and subject are close friends IRL: they're in a band together called Trouble Wanted, and they both play basketball with Hackney Rebels. I'm also starting a queer webcam portrait series too!
Garnett made the film with Jackie Pratt and Gonnerheous Reese, who worked on styling, costume and hair; producer Alix Eve, editor Amber Saunders and grader Karol Cybulski.