Director Lee Cooper, whose first feature film this is, has totally captured the whimsical nature of Maisie aka David Raven; his essence, the way he lives his life, and a total survivor. And through carefully edited footage by Gareth Lang, and the use of time coded and dated scenes, we get to see how Raven – who at times can be impatient, demanding and totally stuck in his ways – tackles the challenges of just ‘getting on with it’ and preparing for a show to celebrate his 85th birthday.
With fabulous support from fellow drag performers Dave Lynn, Jason Sutton and his dresser in the film Alan Cardew, this documentary opens the door to a man who chose a path and stuck to it, through thick and thin, highs and lows – his own yellow brick road.
Cooper does go deep into Raven’s private life: we hear about the death of his son, and about his longtime partner Don via a beautifully shot montage sequence. Included in the film is footage of Darcelle XV, the oldest drag act Guinness World Record Holder. The scenes between the two of them are just comedy gold with Raven being extremely respectful of Darcelle XV’s talent but at the same time dismissing him as someone who lip-syncs; of course the mocking is never shown, Raven is too much of a master for that.
There are wonderfully crafted tender scenes, especially a sweeping shot of Raven’s cuddly stuffed animals and his walk to the shops shown in long shot. The symbolism in the movie is strong and adds to the magic of this very atmospheric documentary. I would of loved to have seen more of the switched off Raven, how he spends his downtime, his love for horse racing, his passion for the ponies, the way he deal with his inner demons, as he now now battles Alzheimer’s.
The closing minutes of MAISIE builds to a crescendo of emotion that is just perfect with Raven singing “If I Never Sing Another Song” and then further aspects of his life are used to form part of the end credits, and the whole 80 minutes is wrapped up beautifully. An intimate portrait of ageing and friendship. Simply a very good example of documentary film-making.