By Don Simpson | May 14, 2011
Director: Leanne Pooley
I was sorry to have missed the aGLIFF 2010 screening of The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls but its nice to know that someone (Argot Pictures) had the proverbial balls to release Leanne Pooley’s documentary about the infamous (at least in their homeland of New Zealand) lesbian identical twins who mix character comedy sketches with folk/country songs. According to Lynda Topp, “We’re not comedians, we are singers who are funny.”
Who would have ever dreamed that the politically-charged performances by Jools and Lynda Topp would become so darn successful? For nearly three decades, this “anarchist variety act” has been defying accepted logic about mainstream entertainment. The Topp sisters boast an audience that spans social and economic classes: rural farmers and city folk, queers and straights, seniors and anarchistic youth. Taking on political topics such as nuclear power, the environment, apartheid, womens’ issues, and queer rights, the Topps’ performances never come across as mean spirited or patronizing; the Topps are not on stage to ruffle feathers or make enemies, their philosophy is simple: “Getting people to laugh is the most political thing you can do.”
What is most surprising is their inherent talent as songwriters — they were inducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame in September 2008. The Topps juggle their knack for humor and comedic timing with poignant and subversive lyrics, and the entire package is wrapped nicely in the flawless harmonies of what sounds like a stereo voice. Jools and Lynda work together as a pair — they also live together with their respective partners under one roof — and their knack for reading each other’s minds is readily apparent (both while performing and during interviews). In many ways, their uncanny ability to determine what the other twin is going to do or say is what really gives them an edge over other musicians.
It is the twins themselves who dominate the screen time of Pooley’s documentary (and rightly so). Pooley reveals an ample array of archival footage of the Topps at various stages in their lives — from their childhood days on their family’s dairy farm in rural New Zealand to early busking performances to various concert performances. We witness the many comedic personas adopted by the Topps — Belle and Belle, Ken and Ken, Camp Mother and Camp Leader, Raylene and Brenda, Prue and Dilly — both on stage and in interview segments (during the interviews, Pooley cleverly morphs the characters back into Jools and Lynda). Pooley also interviews the Topps’ contemporaries, friends, fans, and their parents (who have fully supported their two daughters’ [and son’s] homosexuality).
The Topp twins are an incredibly unique part of New Zealand’s popular culture, and Pooley’s documentary does an excellent job of conveying why. Hopefully as The Topp Twins tours the world, Jools and Lynda will wrangle up an even more diverse audience. Their messages clearly need to be heard around the world, and hopefully the power of this documentary will help spread their gospel.