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Review: “Arias With a Twist,” puppetry and drag queen fantasies.

Review: “Arias With a Twist,” puppetry and drag queen fantasies. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival.

Performance artist and Joey Arias and puppeteer Basil Twist provide an inspiring antidote to mass media’s bottom line-driven culture in “Arias With a Twist,” a “docufantasy” about the pair’s respective careers and their highly regarded 2008 theatrical team-up (also named “Arias With a Twist”). In a world increasingly obsessed with wealth, celebrity and little else, Arias and Twist are true throwbacks: imaginative, compulsive creators driven by a need to express themselves rather than a need to have their own reality shows.

Their outlet in this case was a quirky collaboration that premiered Off-Off Broadway in June 2008 and combined Arias’ drag queen fantasies with Twist’s staggering talent for puppetry. Like fellow 2010 Tribeca Film Festival selection “The Last Play at Shea,” “Arias With a Twist” isn’t a concert film so much as it is a documentary that uses a performance as the lens through which it examines an artist’s life and perspective.

Along the way, we learn about Arias’ past in the downtown New York art scene of the late 1970s and ’80s, and Twist’s lineage as a third-generation puppeteer. (Some of the puppets in the “Arias with a Twist” stage show were used by Twist’s grandfather, Griff Williams, in his orchestra.) And we get extended glimpses of “Arias”‘s inspired lunacy; I was particularly intrigued by the sequence where Arias, in a corset and ladies underwear, sings Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” while getting probed by Twist’s puppet aliens. True to the song’s lyrics, the rest of the show follows him as he travels through time and space, as Arias assumes the roles of everyone from Billie Holiday to Godzilla.

04302010_AriasWithTwist2.jpgThe doc’s cast is filled out with a chorus of notable artists, performers, and cultural critics who uniformly sing Arias and Twist’s praises. Sometimes, the compliments (from folks like Michael Musto, fashion designers Isabel and Ruben Toledo, and Cassandra Peterson, a.k.a. Elvira, Mistress of the Dark) get even more absurd than their show’s aesthetic; one calls Arias “one of the funniest people on the planet” while another compares him to Picasso.

“Arias With a Twist” director Bobby Sheehan has known Arias for decades, and there isn’t a whiff of criticism or critique anywhere in the film; from start to finish, it is as puffed up as a package of marshmallows. But so what? Arias and Twist certainly aren’t getting rich off this stuff. They deserve some recognition for their impressive work.

“Arias With a Twist” is currently without distribution.

[Photos: “Arias With a Twist,” Working Pictures, 2010]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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